Amazon the Movie Studio? Yeah Right.11/17/2010
Commentary from Jesse Harris, Award Winning Filmmaker and Executive Director of NFFTY, National Film Festival for Talented Youth
On Tuesday, Amzon.com launched Amazon Studios, what they are calling “a new online business that invites filmmakers and screenwriters around the world to submit full-length movies and scripts to make money, get discovered and get their movie made”.
Amazon’s plan is to hold monthly and yearly contests where they will award Best Film and Best Script awards, giving away 2.7 million split up amongst many projects and individuals. If all you heard was this, it might sound like an interesting idea and a project that aims to support aspiring filmmakers. But it’s not. It’s a PR stunt and an insult to writers and directors everywhere.
Here’s the fine print, and what makes this so shady. First, Amazon Studios isn’t funding great ideas, they are asking for them for free. If you submit a script or “test movie” as they are calling it, you give Amazon an exclusive 18-month option for your project without any pay. Meaning you can’t pitch or sell your idea to anyone else during that 18-month period. If Amazon decides to option it, you could get up to $200,000, but most likely not. As stated in their official rules, Amazon reserves the right to divide up the cash award to multiple individuals who may have contributed to your project. Meaning if someone provided feedback on your film as part of their social feedback platform or if someone submitted a similar project, they may decide to give multiple people who weren’t the original creator, a piece of that prize, or as the rules also sate, “or, if we determine appropriate, no award money at all”.
It gets worse. Because Amazon Studios doesn’t think their users will want to read full screenplays, they want filmmakers to submit, “test movies”. What’s a test movie you ask? This is how Amazon describes it: “An Amazon Studios test movie should be an inexpensive, full-length movie that tells the whole story of the script in a compelling way, has very good acting and sound, but that doesn’t necessarily have polished production values.” So Amazon wants you to produce a feature length film with no budget, but it must have excellent acting, music and sound? But low production values in other ways is okay? Your other choice is to create a feature length (has to be at least 70 minutes) animatic or storyboard that shows people what your movie would look like. But remember it still needs to have great acting and sound. So basically you have to create a full-length animated film or a no budget live action test movie as your pitch. What a joke.
Oh and if they like your test movie and want to re-make it into a fully funded film, they can take your project to Hollywood and kick you out as the director. They say this on their site.
Basically the goal of Amazon studios is to take original ideas from inexperienced filmmakers and pay them very little or nothing for their work, all while creating an interesting social experiment for their users and a fake PR stunt that Amazon is revolutionizing Hollywood and supporting the next generation of filmmakers.
I can tell you from experience that breaking into Hollywood is hard. I do agree that there should be far greater encouragement from the studios to seek out new talent. But this is not that. If Amazon wanted to support fledgling filmmakers, they could start by supporting the film festivals and organizations that are already working hard to support filmmakers. They do none of this now. Or they could create a real production company that seeks scripts from talented filmmakers without an exclusive option and then fund feature length independent films every month, rather than expect filmmakers to make 90-minute test movies for the fun of it. Think Project Greenlight on a bigger scale. There are plenty of talented up and coming filmmakers in the world. What the independent film world needs is more funding for their films, not an online panel of random folks to give feedback and steal their ideas.
Amazon Studios wants to make films that they can own and make money from. Don’t be tricked into thinking this is a project that aims to actually encourage and support new filmmakers. Amazon may have the power to muscle their way into Hollywood, but we as filmmakers have the power to say no.
READ MY UPDATE: http://nffty.org/explore/your-say/jesses-amazon-studios-update
At only 24 Jesse Harris, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), is leading the next generation of young and talented filmmakers. Variety agrees, and named Jesse Harris one of 25 talents who transformed youth entertainment in 2009 for his work at NFFTY. At the age of 17, Jesse wrote, directed, financed and ultimately secured multi-city theatrical release for the feature length drama, Living Life. The film tells the story of a teenage boy battling cancer and how he changes other people’s lives in the process of reconciling himself to his illness.
Learn more at: www.jesseharrisfilms.com