It's more than a year since Amazon Studios launched its radical new approach to making movies. Where are they now? Well, Amazon Studios director Roy Price has finalized a development slate of fifteen projects in the works, along with a real production company complete with a team of pro creative execs culled from the ranks of Shadow Catcher Entertainment (vice president of production Michael Lewis), Marvel (CE Michael Chong), Montecito Pictures (CE Brianna Little) and ICM (CE Julian Claassen). And Price wants to "add to the development slate," he says.
Price means business. And he has been willing to make revisions, in true Amazon style, in how this radical system actually works. For one thing, readers told them that folks who submit screenplays online want to get immediate feedback–they don't want to wait as long as 18 months. So now they will get it within 45 days. Either a script gets optioned or rights revert to the writer.
Some screenwriters who prefer not to submit their scripts to public scrutiny (reaction can be brutal) now have the online option to submit privately, while agencies and WGA writers can submit to Amazon Studios' People's Production Company.
That means that inevitably, Amazon Studios, recognizing that many of the best and most experienced writers actually belong to the Writers Guild or Animation IAATSE, is now a signatory to both.
"The goal has always been to create value for movie fans and opportunities for writers and filmmakers," says Price, who has yet to greenlight a project or sell anything to first-look partner Warner Bros., although that deal is still in place; executive Courtney Valenti is their most frequent liaison. "The development process takes time," he says. "We're making progress. We've learned a lot."
The creative team at People's Production are "working with producers, writers and filmmakers to push projects forward in more traditional ways offline," says Price. In other words, Amazon is figuring out why Hollywood works the way it does. Price's innovation is to use Amazon's massive movie fan base (ranging from China and Zimbabwe to Sherman Oaks) as a research tool to refine and improve projects to give moviegoers what they want–before anyone spends $80 million on it. While Pixar refines its primitive animatics during production on animated movies, they're gaining feedback from the smartest writers and directors in the business, not regular folks.
Amazon funnels their rich feedback into the development process. Price says that while much of it is negative, "all of it was useful." He's also using regular recruited research groups. Price believes that these projects will be commercial: hence the relationship with Warners. "The system can work for any kind of movie; we're interested in knowing what people think no matter what kind of movie it is. If you can get 50,000 people that's more reliable research than a small number."
Amazon put nine test movies–out of 700 submitted– up on their site and on Amazon Instant Video. Some were commissioned by Amazon. Some of these filmmakers and writers are gaining traction with the Hollywood talent agencies. USC grad Rajeev Dassani directed a January test movie with a budget of $100,000, "The Nevsky Project," and landed representation from WME's digital department. Matthew Gossett, who won the $100,000 best-script prize for his thriller "Origin of a Species," is now represented by Mosaic. Budgets vary, says Price, "from $50,000 to three or four times that."
Three of the test films are in the development slate of 15 projects, one of which won the Amazon Studios best test film contest prize of $1 million, family Grimm's Fairy Tale musical "12 Princesses," from USC music grad Rob Gardner, who made it on his own. "It's going into rewrite," Price says. "We have an open writing assignment on that now. People can apply for that through the website. Agents can call People's Production."
"I Think My Facebook is Dead" is a contemporary comedy about the impact of social media on real world dating. And script-winner "Alchemist Agenda" is an action adventure. "We're getting better at soliciting and understanding the moviegoer point-of-view and fan feedback," says Price.
Will Amazon have a movie in front of cameras before the end of the year? The clock is ticking on a serious financial outlay and overhead to date–in contests alone, $1.9 million. Maybe yes, maybe no, says Price: "Once we get the script right it takes time to find a director and put the project together." They'll get there.
Here are the new rules:
o As before, writers can submit a script for review publicly on Amazon Studios, but now they also have the option to submit privately to the Amazon Studios team.
o Following a 45-day option and evaluation period either:
§ Amazon Studios will add the project to their Development Slate by purchasing the script or paying $10,000 to extend the option; or
§ The writer gets back their rights to sell the script. The writer can also choose at this time to remove the project from the site or leave it on the site to receive feedback from the creative community.
Open Writing and Directing Assignments
o Amazon Studios will regularly offer open writing assignments for projects on the Development Slate. Currently paid writing opportunities are available for 12 Princesses and I Think My Facebook Friend is Dead.
o Starting today, test movies will be funded by Amazon Studios. Amazon Studios will occasionally offer paid directing opportunities for projects on the Development Slate.
o People’s Production Company, an Amazon Studios production company, is now a signatory to the Writers Guild of America Minimum Basic Agreement.
Here's the letter Amazon posted on their homepage to their community:
Filmmakers, Screenwriters, & Movie Fans –
Thank you to everyone who supported Amazon Studios in our first year. Over 7,000 scripts and 700 test movies were shared with movie fans around the world. Today, we launch our second year of development with some exciting changes.
We are changing the script submission process in three ways. Starting today, writers can submit scripts publicly on the site, as before, or privately to our development staff. When you upload your script, we have a 45-day option and evaluation period. If, during that time, we don’t buy your script or pay you $10,000 to extend our option, you get back your rights to sell the script
In 2012, we will regularly offer Open Writing and Directing Assignments for projects on our Development Slate. Paid writing assignments are currently open for 12 Princesses and I Think My Facebook Friend Is Dead. Visit the Opportunities page for more information. Filmmakers, stay tuned.
Fifteen projects discovered on the Amazon Studios site in 2011 comprise our Development Slate. Throughout the year, we intend to continue adding projects to the Development Slate and attaching top talent to help advance these promising stories.
If you are a WGA writer, you can learn more about opportunities offered through Amazon Studios production arm, People’s Production Company here.
We look forward to working with you to turn original stories into great movies!
The Amazon Studios Team