Amazon Studios contest debate

The latest free-for-all screenwriting/filmmaking contest is underway at Amazon.com, which unveiled a weird peer review site that combines all the worst elements of Project Greenlight and Triggerstreet. But they’re also giving away lots of money, and there IS a chance someone will sell a script or possibly get a movie deal. The biggest negative though is by entering you must agree to give them an 18-month “option” on your project.

On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous and I wouldn’t fault anyone for saying it’s stupid to go along with those terms. So, of course, I entered two of my scripts. Here’s my thinking: INUGAMI and LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE have done very well in contests, and I did just about all I could to market them — targeted agents/managers, equery blasts to producers and studios, networking at screenwriting conferences, etc. In fact, I’ve gotten lots of reads and good feedback. But no sales, or offers by reps to go out wide with either one. So what do I have to lose by giving up the rights to sell it for 18 months when no one is buying anyway — at least not through the conventional routes?

Also, I’ve optioned scripts before and it can take months for anything to happen even when you’re dealing with legit producers. If you’re a new unproduced writer, chances are there isn’t going to be a lot of heat on your project. And if you’re dealing with producers or managers who have stuff in active development, your project might not be very high on their list of priorities. If someone should come along and make an offer on either of my scripts, I seriously doubt Amazon Studios will try to stop it from happening… and if they wanted to, they would have to pony up money to exercise the option. I’ll take that deal any day of the week.

The daunting reality aspiring screenwriters must face is the odds are nothing is going to happen with your script, whether you enter contests or not. I don’t expect to win any competition that allows “peers” to rate scripts. What happened with Project Greenlight and Triggerstreet a few years ago was pretty ugly. Writers were asking other writers to give them favorable reviews, and if you didn’t, some would “torpedo” the reviewer’s script with negative ratings. Many of the reviewers didn’t know the first thing about writing. Yet their scores were given equal weight with more experienced screenwriters or filmmakers.

However, I did actually get some useful feedback and there were readers who genuinely enjoyed my screenplays. For a writer, isn’t that the main reason we do it? If you write a script and no one is reading it, for all practical intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. So I’m putting my stuff out there, and hope you’ll download the scripts if they sound interesting to you.

BTW, please don’t feel obligated to post reviews on the Amazon Studios site. Just by downloading it, you’ll be helping me because when the download counts go up, more people will tend to read those “more popular” scripts. Some are showing thousands of downloads already, which seems pretty fishy to me… but I’m tempted to download those too just to see if the scripts are any good.

Anyhow, here’s the links to the Amazon Studio site and little about my projects…

INUGAMI

http://studios.amazon.com/scripts/264

A dead fortune teller. A skeptical private eye. An ancient Japanese curse. The fear is real, but the terror is all in your mind…

Think CHINATOWN with Shinto witchcraft. It was inspired by a real life murder of a Japanese fortune teller in Hawaii years ago, combined with a Japanese werewolf-type legend I read about. Earlier versions made the finals of the Austin Film Festival contest and quarterfinals of the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships (top 4 percent of 6,044 entries). “R” rating, low to medium budget.

LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE

http://studios.amazon.com/scripts/145

Family/adventure big budget project. A Scrooge-like resort developer and group of misfit kids discover the mythological little people of Hawaii are responsible for big problems at a Kauai resort… but revealing this secret could threaten the very existence of these Polynesian munchkins, who have survived for centuries in a hidden valley as a Lost Tribe that time forgot. (This was written with IMAX 3D in mind to highlight Kauai’s spectacular natural beauty.)

An earlier version had been optioned by Talk Story Productions, but that deal fell apart and rights have reverted to me. The latest draft made the finals of the Page International Awards, beating out over 5,000 other scripts in the process. It was also in the top 5 percent of last year’s Nicholl Fellowships competition.

Speaking of the Nicholl contest, a writer from Maui (Daniel Cretton) won one of the coveted fellowships this year. There was a nice write-up on him in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that shows just how significant some of these competitions can be. Congrats, brah!

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6 Comments on “Amazon Studios contest debate”

  1. Rich Says:

    Thanks for wading through the Amazon Studio paperwork. I, like you, got good reviews from several contests this summer, but I got to think about this Amazon Studio thing for a while longer. I’ll look for your script in my exploration.

    • richfigel Says:

      If you have NOT sent your script to agents/managers yet, I would not recommend putting it on Amazon Studios or any other public site. I know they would frown upon it. But if your script has been out to reps for a couple of years and they all passed, then what do you have to lose?

      Good luck!

      • Rich Says:

        Good advice, and that’s the situation I find myself in. Though sometimes I feel like getting anyone to take a look at a script is like asking them be a daily calibration source for the TSA full body scanner. What do you call a TSA agent who pats people down all day long?
        A junkie.

  2. richfigel Says:

    Yep, it’s tough getting reads… Are you doing targeted queries, or have you tried mass equeries?

    What’s your logline/pitch?

    • Rich Says:

      Targeted and limited networking. The problem is the script is a period piece drama, and the market seems to be into the 3D annimation and lots of CGI. I consider mine in the tone and color of “The Changling”, “The Pianist” and “The Reader”. All of which are deep human drama painted on a rich cinematic canvas. I might have to wait until the audience’s taste mature. I was once told most screenplay don’t have any expiration date on them. Therefore, it’s time to work on another one. I’m open to any suggestions.

  3. richfigel Says:

    Period piece drama is a tough sell… unless there’s an edge to it. Look at cable — HBO, Showtime sometimes will do American period if it’s got some grit or sex.

    Where’s it set? There are still companies in England and France that will do period drama.

    Or adapt it as a book and try to get that published. Seems most dramas that get made these days are book adaptations.

    I’m adapting some of my scripts to books. Also, have been working on WHISTLER’S MISTRESS as a book first because it’s period — sort of like SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, but it’s about the semi-true story behind Whistler’s famous painting and drama/comedy involving his mother and mistress. No way anyone would look at that as a movie, unless the book came out first!


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