Monday, December 13, 2010

Amazon Studios - shaking up the indie universe?
Script-writing and film-making competitions giving indies a chance to get to a big audience.
Prizes of $20000 to $1million. Entry fee of zero. Plans to produce the best of the entries as commercial productions in association with Warner Brothers. So far so good.
Then comes the unusual rules especially with regard to copyright and ownership. Amazon Studios is an experiment in online collaborative creation for its community. When you enter a script anyone can download it and read it. There's more! Anyone can revise it and post their revision into the competition, although it does present as a child of your project webpage, and if they win anything then the judges share it with you depending on how much revision happened. Scripts become openly available for anyone to film them as a test movie and enter that in the test movie part of the competition. This is making Amazon Studios controversial on writers blogs and forums - eg this article and its reader comments:

IMHO Amazon Studios is an exciting initiative well worth our time and attention, but I agree with the "ScriptMag" columnist (link above) that any writer should approach this with all-new projects created especially for the Amazon Studios purpose. If you take your pet idea and throw it into Amazon Studios, and it does not rate, then the Amazon usage rights you have agreed to may be a barrier to some future opportunities for it.

At present, Amazon Studios seems to be flooded with about 1300 scripts and almost no "test movies". It looks to me as if most of the projects are from writers having another go with scripts that have been getting nowhere for years in other competitions. An indie group big enough to get a public voting momentum started could do well - yes - (sigh) - there is also a public voting element to this.

Here is a good Amazon Studios discussion on test movies. I esp. like the contributions of "Mark Vetanen".

Another distinctive element is that Amazon Studios is about feature-length movies. Filming test-scenes of only part of a script is allowed and they will be published but they cannot win prizes. I have been in there making comments about this on the forums and as feedback to the organisers - well I'm just that kinda guy really .... eg:

Amazon Studios needs to welcome, encourage and give prizes for test scenes ie test movies of part of a script! OK smaller prizes for test scenes but prizes and as fully recognised contributions. A long form "test" movie is still a big project for your target emerging film-making membership - too big. So far in the flood of entries I can not find any example of a new test movie as a contribution in the true spirit of the experiment happening here which is evidence that you need to make the test movie side smaller and simpler to "get the ball rolling" on that side of collaborative development.

HOWTO compete? I suggest 2 approaches:

Approach #1. Search for an existing script there that motivates you. Make the test film of that. My problem is that so far I have not found a great script to motivate me. My closest candidate so far is "The Lightshockers" (use the search) - but for me it is too much like "Inception" and needs to either separate itself more or come closer while ramping up its political-satirical themes. I like the central idea/character: a brain surgeon goes spy action hero against the government intelligence agency which is abusing its powers by running bad bad bad experiments on her patients ...

Approach #2. Impro! ie the "Theatresports" and "Whose Line is it Anyway" improvisational acting approach. Start a project with an improvised test movie - then write it up as a draft script and develop it through follow-up sessions of scripted filming and more impro sessions. Your "Project" can then have both script and test movie competition entries developing together.

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