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Screenwriting : Amazon Studios - Good, Bad or Ugly by Tony McFadden

Tony McFadden

Amazon Studios - Good, Bad or Ugly

Anybody have any experience with Amazon Studios? Interesting model they have - $10,000 if moved to the development pile, $200,000 if it gets to feature film stage. What's the catch?

Chris Perham

I was wondering the same thing Tony. The ONLY thing I've heard from a fellow screenwriter is that he submitted something and had to threaten litigation to get them to release the rights to his work...but I've had no interaction with them at all.

CJ Walley

The catch is it's simply a very fixed rigid deal with all the terms up front. Once you upload your screenplay to Amazon Studios you are effectively surrendering most of your rights, it's theirs for 45 days at least (used to be 18 months) and they can chose to extend their ownership indefinitely. If they option your script they pay $10K per 18 months, if they buy the rights they pay $200K (minus the first option extension), if it makes over $60m in a theatrical release they pay a further $400,000, if they make a spin-off they pay another $100,000, any TV shows based on it pay out $1500-$5000 per episode and subsequent merchandising profits following that earn you 5%. The issue is wether or not that's a good deal since typical studio deal can vary so much. On one side maybe you get a $1 option, a studio buys your script for equal or less than WGA minimum <$100,000 and you get a crummy deal which sees you no residuals. On the other maybe your script gets optioned for $20,000, the studios get into a bidding war over it and one buys it for $1,000,000 plus you get a 3% budget deal with a high cap and residuals. The movie gets huge funding, smashes it at the box office and you retire in your new mansion. The issue really boils down to how much you really think your script is worth, how willing you are to shop it around and how competent you are in negotiating a good deal. What is inviting about Amazon Studios is their open door policy, you upload, they read. That can be a welcome offer against the apathetic response to hundreds of queries. They are good people, they picked out one of my features as a notable project, have promoted it on the front page of their site and in their consider list for almost a year now and tweeted about it to 40,000 of their twitter followers. They did all that with zero rights over my work and to help promote me to the industry. That's a nice gesture. The biggest issue with Amazon Studios at the moment is stigma. When they first started they weren't a WGA signatory and held rights for 18 months for free. This brought them a lot of bad press. They then went on to reward huge sums of cash in development competitions and failed to put out much PR about it. Some people have already gotten rich out of AS. Due to being very open about their development slate content the quality of scripts have been criticised by many writers. And with projects having stalled for so long there's a pessimistic feeling nothing is ever going to get made. A lot of people believe they are too good for the current deal, and that's fair enough. But be aware they paint an overly negative picture of AS's capabilities, especially if they've received a pass. There's also a lot of people who have an invested interest to feed that attitude; producers, managers, producers and agents, since the AS system effectively bypasses them. They have become a WGA signatory, writers with agents now go through a more traditional system, they are employing credited writers, they have reduced the initial free option to 45 days and are churning out episodic productions. They are starting to be taken seriously now. but acting more and more like a traditional studio. The consensus seems to be shop your script traditionally and submit to AS only when you're out of options and considering shelving it.

David Taylor

Nice one CJ.

Tony McFadden

Thanks CJ. Excellent overview.

Laurie Ashbourne

Perfectly stated, CJ. When AS first opened their gates I was one of the outraged and dead set against. They corrected those horrible aspects and now, I'm one (of several) of their contracted consultants that review projects. I still don't like a few of the features they have in development from their early days -- and I'd be surprised if they see the big screen. Only time will tell when they finally do get one in production and released but it seems their ability to adapt and fix what isn't working will help them get it right in the ever-changing landscape.

CJ Walley

Wow Laurie it's so cool to be speaking to one of their project consultants! I'm also really pleased that AS has a female Production manager and uses female consultants - kind of a big deal to me :) Your point about adaptability is such an important one. AS seem to have a really organic trial and error approach, they are clearly prepared to make mistakes and learn from them which I believe will net them some long term gains.

Tim Lane

Nice explanation CJ. Although all that is in the upload agreement people have gotten so used to just checking the "I Agree" box that they fail to read the fine print (not that any of it is that fine, hidden or anything. It's all there you just need to read before you sign.) Like you said it's not a bad deal; it's just the deal they offer. Take it or leave it ... but definitely read it.

CJ Walley

Yeah and you need to check it every time incase the agreement has changed.

Tony McFadden

After years of conditioning by Apple/ITunes to just click "Accept", it felt strange to read through the entire thing. I've submitted to Amazon Studios (but privately, for now). It's my first screenplay, and my expectations for a cliffside mansion are still (somewhat) tempered by reality. Thanks for the feedback, everyone. (Title and logline here: http://www.stage32.com/profile/28311/scripts_screenplays)

Gareth Worthington

The only thing I would say is the automated service is not personal. You get no real feedback and you sit waiting for more than a month to know if your work is even considered. This is despite the fact that your work is siting in the 'deciding' status within hours of submitting (which prob means it was auto rejected from the system) but you're left hanging. Not helpful to my mind.

Laurie Ashbourne

Gareth, when projects are submitted they first have to through a filter to see if they fit submission guidelines, length, language etc. it's purely technical but it is determined by live people. Once they get through initial evialuations then they are assigned to an analyst.

Tony McFadden

I read the FAQ, Michael. Had no serious reservations. The 10k for an 18 month holding/development period seems low, but it's really a binary thing for me right now. I've had excellent (as in meaningful and not pandering) feedback through various stages of development. The binary nature of the 45 day turnaround doesn't bother me. IF it gets added to the development pile, it's something I can add to my CV. If it doesn't, it tells me there's more work I need to do personally and with the screenplay. This is my "ironing out the bugs" screenplay. I've got plot lines for another half dozen just waiting to go.

Gareth Worthington

Hi Laurie, if that is true then they are the most efficient company I have ever met as my work went straight to deciding in a matter of hours! ;-)

Laurie Ashbourne

I'm not sure if the 'deciding' status doesn't also apply to the initial technical evaluation -- it may. But they are efficient!

Tony McFadden

Have any of the Amazon Studios scripts made it to production?

Wesley Saint Louis

Well one major red flag for me is you have no rights to your project within the 45 day evaluation period. If they like your project, they have all the rights to it without any guarantee of your involvement. If your film makes over $60 million in box office, they'll give you $400,000... That does't seem fair at all

Tony McFadden

If a screenplay I wrote ended up as a plus-$60 million dollar movie and I got (all up) $600,000 I'd say thanks and start auctioning my next one. Realism says in the vast pile of screenplays out there I will be lucky to get a development deal at this stage in my career. The positive I'm taking from this, should I not get past the first gate, is that more people are reading my work. And there are other avenues after this one, should it not pan out.

CJ Walley

@Gareth yes the 45 days is painful but certainly a lot better than the 18 months it used to be. AS do a great job of churning through an onslaught of submissions. It would be good if they could just pass on concepts they definitely aren't interested in. @Wesley If you think you have a $60m+ script and are adamant you want to be involved in the production, you really shouldn't be uploading it through an automated website system. That said, the deal could certainly be improved with a percentage residual. @Tony no features in production as fair as I know, but quite a few series pilots made now. The attitude toward AS changed overnight when they were released.

Tony McFadden

Tangentially, my screenplay is currently private on AS. What are the pros and cons of going public in the 45-day window? Other than the potential for all kinds of legal headaches when it's stolen and turned into an Adam Sandler movie...

CJ Walley

LOL in my opinion the only pro of going public is the potential of getting reviews off other writers.

Tony McFadden

Since the only opinion that matters during the 45 day period is Amazon Studio's, I'll keep it private, If they option it it will automatically go public. If they don't, I'll add it to the logline and get some (additional) feedback.

CJ Walley

Yeah, if you're happy with it being featured as a notable it would have to go public too. I agree the only opinion that matters really is AS.

David Taylor

""You can make a bad movie out of a great script, but you can't make a great movie out of a bad script"".

Tim Lane

David, of course you can, they just have to do what t they did in the first half of your statement; ignore the script.

Brent Mikkelson

some people have done well through Amazon and hats off to them. For the most part it's kind of a joke.

William T. Fanelli

Alpha House is funny. Betas has some promise as well. Anyone know if those originated from the development pipeline being discussed here?

Danny Manus

There used to be some major catches, but now it's a pretty good deal. One of my friends made $150K from Amazon in 2012! Another made 20k.

Padma Narayanaswamy

I have also posted a script Race to the Senator and I hope to SAI 's grace it will be a good deal.

Victoria Rosendahl

I've pitched one script and a treatment for a writing assignment. Didn't get either of them. I believe they are now hooked to Universal so it may be a good way to go. At least give it a try. At the time I pitched for a writing assignment, the pay was under WGA minimum ($33,000 instead of the WGA $92,000 min).

Tony McFadden
Tony McFadden

(hoping that gets to 30 in the next month)

Laurie Ashbourne

There's no set time. Average 2-4 years for a studio film, Dallas Buyers Club was more than a 10 year journey.

Danny Manus

Ada, normally takes anywhere from 2-10 years to get a movie made. Remember, Lincoln took 11 years and that was WITH Spielberg. Dallas Buyers Club took 10 years. Even my company's film A Cinderella Story took 7 years. SO, yeah...it takes a while for most films.

Tony McFadden

...and FWIW, amazon blocks it in development for 18 months with the option to go a second 18 months.

Laurie Ashbourne

The process isn't always about money. Often it's about creative differences, script rewrites or other parts of the creative process that just takes time to evolve.

Tony McFadden

Interesting, Ada. Where's that talk coming from?

CJ Walley

Almost everything posted about AS in the Commissary is pessimistic speculation.

Danny Manus

No, that is not true anymore. Amazon changed their policies a year or two after they started so that the changes people suggest are not made on your script. Yes, you do option it to them, but you do not lose the rights to your story.

Tony McFadden

@Alle, Amazon Studios, should they decide to create a movie with my script, will give me $200,000. Once the movie is made, if it grosses over 60M, I get a further $400,000. Some think this is mice nuts. I don't. And once Amazon pay me for the script, it is theres to change, tweak, alter, fuck with or anything else they want. (They can also option it, effectively tying it up for 18 moths, for a measly $10,000. Not sure how I would feel about that...)

CJ Walley

Even when writers could rewrite other writers scripts, the original scripts had to be set to be open to any rewrites or open to rewrites upon request, you had to effectively invite others to redraft your original work. Those features aren't available now. Obviously if Amazon option it they can make changes as they please, but that's pretty much the deal with any studio. $10,000 per 18 months isn't too bad, most of the options amateurs seem to get are $1options to independent producers. I feel what really matters is the likelihood of your script getting made, how happy you are with the direction it takes, your involvement etc...

Padma Narayanaswamy

I would like to know about the 45 day period and the exact processing in Amazon . Do anybody have any idea?

Tony McFadden

My 45 days are up tomorrow. I'll let you know what happens next. I CAN tell you that the 45 days are reset every time you upload a new version of your script...

Padma Narayanaswamy

Thanks Tony

Tony McFadden

Thanks Sam. Well done!

Padma Narayanaswamy

Thanks Sam for the info and congrats.Actually I am held up I cannot market it .

Johnny Cinematic

Fantastic thread! Very informative and cautioning...

Tony McFadden

Amazon passed. I've added a synopsis to my logline. Will be revising the screenplay and resubmitting... https://www.stage32.com/profile/28311/scripts_screenplays

Padma Narayanaswamy

I am not so worried people there wrote that Amazon will not accept scripts from non English speaking script writers. That is why I do not submit to any film festivals . I network here because people recognise talent.

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