Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #637: Amazon Is Full Of Piranhas!

Welcome to the show folks...

Amazon, the good folks who put your local indie bookstore out of business, are looking to get into the movie business. They are holding a screenplay contest with the promise of all kinds of great prizes and an open door to Hollywood and a bright future.

Except some writers are a little disgusted concerned about the terms of this contest.

Here are some of the things that concern them, and me:
Amazon Studios invites filmmakers and screenwriters from all over the world to submit full-length movies and scripts, which will then get feedback from Amazon readers, who will be free to rewrite and amend. Based on reaction (“rate and review”) to stories, scripts and rough “test” films, a panel of judges will award monthly prizes... You agree to be automatically entered into any future contests for which your work is eligible. The specific contest rules for future contests will be posted on this page when they are announced.
What do you see wrong in that little picture?

First: The fact that this contest is run by
Amazon is kind of fitting, because this contest is essentially tossing a hunk of raw bloody meat (AKA your screenplay) into a pool of hungry piranhas (your new "writing partners").

Literally hundreds, if not thousands of people are going to be "revising" and "rewriting" your script, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it, because you essentially forfeit all rights and control over said script as soon as you enter.

Amazon says it's okay in their FAQ:
Can I make it so that no one else can revise my original work?

No. But if someone makes changes that are bad, their version is not likely to get a lot of attention. And if someone comes along and makes your work better, you’re more likely to win a prize and get your project made. Sometimes other people can bring a different viewpoint or a different set of skills that take the story in a new direction or add new elements that make it even more compelling.
Of course, if your script is particularly heavily nibbled, the judges, and their infinite wisdom may never get around to seeing your original work, because your script is in the midst of blood and thrashing carnage in the dark, murky, and muddy water of the Amazon.

Now the folks at Amazon think they're doing some wonderful new and novel "crowd-sourced" creative endeavor that will make everything beautiful, unicorns will prance down Sunset Boulevard and Zooey Deschanel will show up at my door and declare--- anyway I digress.

What this project does is take the worst habit of the major studios: Taking scripts and passing them around to multiple writers like a doobie at a Phish concert for rewrites, and not only multiplying it at an exponential level, but also my second point--

Second: There are none of the protection for credits, residuals and anything else that might make joining this contest worthwhile for the guy who actually wrote the winning screenplay. If it gets sold to a studio, someone else could do a rewrite, and completely eliminate the original writer from the credits.

The studios have to follow strict guidelines for credits and payment because of decades of legal wrangling and labor disputes forged those rules. They aren't perfect, but they're the best the extremely flawed system can get at this time. Amazon's contest doesn't even offer you that.

And what this about entering your script into future contests where the rules haven't even been decided on?

I mean that's disturbingly vague, wide open for future abuse of writers by Amazon. Whose to say that future contest doesn't involve just taking the winning screenplay and giving the winning writer a flaming bag of dog-shit and a swift kick in the nuts as their grand prize?

And like the unsolicited rewrites by strangers, there doesn't appear to be an opt out feature.

That's not good, not good at all.

Why did Amazon go all James Frey on this contest?

The answer is simple, they got too clever.

I'm sure they sat around the conference room, looking for ideas to justify their continued employment, and someone piped up with the screenplay contest idea.

Then they started coming up with great ideas to "improve" on just having a screenplay contest. They looted the latest hot buzzwords like "crowd-sourcing," and then passed it all over to their lawyers, who then had to justify their employment, by tossing in all sorts of what I call legalistic bend-overs.

Basically, they decided to do something "different" from the Hollywood studios, by then taking all that is bad about doing business with the studios, and amplifying them into the realm of the ridiculous, while dumping all that's good, namely money, credit, and career advancement.

It's a shame, because they could have done something good with this, but instead, they screwed it up royally.


  1. Amazon has spent the last year trying to convince me that I don't actually want to be a customer of theirs, by managing to make every one of their decisions look like...well, like it was made by a bunch of guys operating a fly-by-night internet business out of their garage in the late Nineties. Apparently, they got all of their professionalism out of the way in their early years, so they can now fail up in proper corporate fashion.

    Though, as a budding writer, I am REALLY uncomfortable with this quasi-feudal system that everyone seems interested in supporting as some kind of 'incentive' to stay with big publishers.

  2. Yeah, I'm sure that every professional writer who's ever published a real story will be jumping on this ship.

    In a pigs eye.

    In actuality, the 5 billion amateur "writers" out in the world will be sending in a gazillion scripts to see if they hit the lotto. IOWs, anything good signal will be lost in the extreme noise and whatever undergoes "survival of the fittest" will be fanboy drek straight from the slash fiction forums.

    Bottom line: big publicity for Amazon for a tiny investment.