Amazon Studios Wants to Fund Tomorrow’s Auteurs

Hollywood is just so 20th Century Fox, reckons Amazon, as it goes into the Movie Business


With $2.7 million up for the taking, Amazon Studios should start a stampede by wannabe scriptwriters and directors. The Internet giant launched the venture yesterday, in an attempt to make movie-making more “open and collaborative.” Hollywood, as Amazon’s promo video implies, is far too old-school and untrustworthy a concept for the 21st Century.

The idea of Amazon Studios is to open up the movie-making process so that, rather than just liking a script and green-lighting it, you see a script, direct a bit of it, have experts and movie insiders opine on the work so far. Writers and directors can upload their scripts, storyboards and films (which must be at least 70 minutes long) right away–the latter of these can even shoot a part of someone else’s script they’ve seen on the website right away–while wannabe critics can offer up their opinions.

Throughout 2011, there will be monthly awards, where Amazon will give away $140,000 to one best movie and two best scripts. Then, at the beginning of 2012, the best film overall will get $1 million, while the writer of the best script will walk away with a tenth of that. Run by Amazon’s director of digital product development, Roy Price, the idea is to modernize the way that movies are made. “It’s much easier now to make movies, but it’s still as hard as ever to break into Hollywood,” Price told the LA Times. “We think we can play an interesting role in changing that.”

Amazon’s partner on the venture is one of the oldest of old-school Hollywood names, Warner Bros. Pictures, with judges including Jack Epps, Jr. and Michael Taylor, Top Gun screenwriter and Bottle Rocket producer, respectively. They will get first dibs at Amazon Studio’s best projects, and Amazon will get an 18-month option on each project. As the LA Times points out, this is a competition for newcomers only, as more established writers and directors wouldn’t do it without payment.

Amazon is open about the fact that its Studios could make the firm a lot of money. Anyone whose project makes it to the red carpet will get $200,000, plus an extra $400,000 if the feature makes over $60 million. Is the collaborative process really conducive to getting a movie made, however?

General wisdom has it that most movie directors are single-minded to the extreme (David O. Russell of I Heart Huckabees springs to mind here), and Hollywood is mightly litigious. Might an Amazon Studios feature lead to lawsuit central, as anyone who posted suggestions on improving a feature feels their contribution entitles them to remuneration? Either that, or we’re going to see the longest credit roll in history, with extra space given to script consultants and 19th assistant directors.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.