Whatie Looks at Amazon Studios (PART 3)

by Whatie

Amazon Studios offers television writers a different approach to selling their original series ideas. In parts 1 and 2, I looked at what Amazon Studios is. Here in part 3, I am looking at the practical aspects of working with Amazon Studios: namely, how to submit and what they pay.

Amazon Studios wants what any other studio would want: a pilot script and a concise description of the show. For the pilot script, they ask for standard television script format, just the same as you would prepare for any other purpose. For the description of the show, they essentially want a short document that they call a mini-bible, which is nearly identical to the document we in Tvwriterland call the leavebehind. They want a concise description of the premise and characters, a logline, and a list of possible episodes, just like a leavebehind. In effect, submitting to Amazon Studios is a lot like submitting to the People’s Pilot contest.

Of course, there’s the question of money. How much does Amazon Studios pay? We all want to know whether we’ll get a good deal or be screwed if they accept our work! So, here’s the deal: If Amazon Studios likes your series, the first step is promoting it to the Development Slate. That means they have decided to actively pursue your series as a possibility, and their story department gets involved. (This is where you’ll get story notes and the like from the people at the top.) You get $10,000 when they promote you to the Development Slate. Once the story department has done its thing and Amazon Studios has definitely decided to shoot your pilot, you get $55,000 for the series idea and the pilot script. This is in addition to your earlier payment, so your running total is now $65,000.

At this point, Amazon Studios is buying the rights from you and the project becomes theirs. In addition, for every episode they produce other than your pilot, you will receive a one-time creator royalty of either $3,500 if your show is initially distributed via broadcast or cable television channels, or $2,500 if your show is initially distributed as webisodes or goes direct to DVD. You will receive one payment per episode that anyone creates and airs, and no further royalties after that. Of course, if you personally write additional episodes, serve on the staff, or otherwise contribute to the making of the show beyond your initial project submission, you will get paid for your work, but that’s a separate contract negotiation.

You are also entitled to a percentage of any merchandise sold. This percentage starts at 5%, but they reserve the right to reduce your percentage to as low as 2.5% if they should choose to grant any third party a percentage of the merchandise, in effect giving away your percentage without asking so that they can keep their own profit margins intact.

All in all, the money isn’t a bad deal. Sure, the traditional big studios typically do much better. However, Amazon Studios may well give your project life that no other studio will ever offer. Whether you suffer from un-agented obscurity or you just have a special script that regular networks don’t want but which the people may like, the new paradigm here may well be the answer.

Whatie Looks at Amazon Studios (PART 2)

by Whatie

In part 1, I talked about the concept behind Amazon Studios and what I liked about the new approach.  Here’s what I don’t like.

Of course, Amazon Studios has taken the new “crowd power” mentality all the way home, as well. Originally, when a writer posted a project on Amazon Studios, that writer automatically agreed to allow anyone at all to revise the script and upload a new version of it. Of course, that revision did not replace the original; both versions would sit on Amazon Studios to collect comments, and people could read them both and decide which one they liked better. Now, the revised Amazon Studios TOS says that writers may opt either to allow anyone to create revisions or to “control” who can make revisions by making the upload of that project’s revisions an invite-only process.

Frankly, I hate this. Comments and critique are one thing, but letting some random stranger take my stuff and rework it pushes every control-issue button I have. Sure, as anyone savvy in the television industry will point out, once a sale is made, there’s always a chance – no, make that a likelihood – that somebody will make changes to my work that I cannot control or stop. The difference there is that this happens AFTER the sale has been made. I have given up my rights to creative control when I signed it over.

At Amazon Studios, you agree to give up your control before you’ve made a sale, and there’s no guarantee a sale will ever take place. (In fact, if you look at percentage odds of how many projects go on Amazon Studios compared to how many Amazon Studios actually buys, well, the odds are not in your project’s favor.) Not only that, but the doors are way too wide: literally anyone can mangle your script to taste and post it for all to see, anyone at all. Someone could take your poignant love story and throw in aliens invading the wedding to do anal probing.

You might simply suggest that a writer like me could opt to make a project’s revisions invite-only and avoid that problem entirely. Well, technically, that is true; however, in practice, it is not. I have come to the conclusion that writers who make use of this option get lower ratings than their piece otherwise deserves, accompanied with sharper public comments. If you believe that the Amazon gods in charge actually give weight to the ratings and comments, then that means said writer has damaged the project’s chances by making this choice.

Such writers may also get private harassment (through the IM system) from people I dub “crowdheads” who fervently believe that such behavior is both selfish and outdated, and therefore makes you both a bad person and a loser who cannot get anywhere in this modern information-sharing world. Mind you, none of these crowdheads are professional writers, but they certainly know more than you do about what it takes to succeed in the professional world. (Well, okay, sarcasm aside, they probably do have a better handle on what it takes to succeed on Amazon Studios, since they embody the philosophy behind the new approach.)

On the plus side, I have to say that, out of all the television projects I have looked at on Amazon Studios so far, none of them have actually been revised by someone other than the original writer. That’s right: not a single one. None. Zero. Many people have left some very helpful comments and critiques, sometimes including some explicit suggestions for how that person would fix this or that issue or line, but not a single one has gone so far as to upload a revision.

So, you know, maybe the boogey man isn’t so scary, after all.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Whatie Looks at Amazon Studios (PART 1)

by Whatie

Have you heard about Amazon Studios yet? They’re the newest thing in television production. Yes, you heard me: television production. Sure, they started as a movie studio, but now they’re doing television, too. So far, they’re only interested in half-hour sitcoms and children’s programming, but don’t be surprised if they keep growing and start asking for a wider variety of formats. After all, they’re Amazon, and they want their fingers in everything.

What is this monster television studio that Amazon is creating? It certainly isn’t your traditional production studio. It only takes a quick glance to figure out that they’re doing just about everything differently from the traditional old-school (American) studios. But what exactly are they doing? And, more importantly, is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Or, to phrase the question as you’re probably really thinking it: Should I jump in or run away screaming?

I did a lot of research to figure out that answer, and I’m here today to tell you all about what I found and what conclusions I drew for myself.

Amazon Studios is based on the idea that, instead of letting network and studio execs examine potential series ideas in secret, the selection process can be a public one. A potential series creator offers a series idea on the Amazon Studios website, and anyone who wants to can read the offering, rate it, and comment on it. Although the Amazon Studios executives still make the production decisions, they (supposedly) rely primarily on the comments and ratings offered by the general public to guide their choices.

If it stopped there, I would be inclined to like this idea very much. Network execs and studio heads are often horribly out of touch with what people actually want. There’s no harm and a lot of potential good in asking people what they think BEFORE the studio spends lots of money on the concept. Plus, of course, critique is always good for the writer. You never know what comment might contain that nugget of gold that pushes the writer to the next level, or just helps the writer see the script in a new light.

Furthermore, Amazon Studios doesn’t require an agent or any credentials at all. Anyone who has created a series and put the necessary words on paper can play.

As a writer, I can only love that part, too. Someone has to leave the door open for the newcomers!

Unfortunately, there’s also a dark side.

TO BE CONTINUED…