Since those were written things have improved slightly, but anyone thinking about participating should still have serious reservations:
For an established screenwriter, sure, they could do better. For a first timer...I'm not so sure.
So I'd argue that Amazon offers a compelling deal for the young writer. If I were starting out as a screenwriter right now, I'd shop my script to agents and to Amazon. If it's good enough to land me an agent, I'd go with the agent. If I'm getting nowhere with the agency search, I'd try Amazon. Either way, it's nice to have an alternative to the traditional discovery model.
Now, some people might be tempted to say "But if I can make a couple hundred thousand from a spec sale, can't I just write a ton of specs and get rich?" Probably not. The way to become known amongst studios is to take a bunch of rewriting or project-based jobs, preferably after having sold a debut spec. If you figure that the average spec could take anywhere from 6 months to a year to write, and that most specs don't sell, you're looking at a very uncertain income stream. And even if you do make a nice sale, you have to factor in everybody's cut: agency, manager (if you have one), lawyer, taxes, etc.
In general, screenwriting follows the pay function common to most of Hollywood: you spend a long time making close to nothing, but if you ever manage to make it to the higher echelons, you can make a killing. Skill plays a role in this journey, but luck is arguably even more important. Understandably, not everyone has the stomach for it. If you want to get rich, there are far easier and better paths to doing so.
Writing is really a game you have to be in because you love it so much that you can't imagine doing anything else. It can be a fun lifestyle if you manage to make ends meet, and a great lifestyle if you manage to become successful at it.
Or would TV shows have enough writers already?
Or are you asking whether it's easier to become successful as a TV writer? Again, the answer is probably yes. You stand an equally tough time breaking into the TV writing business, but if you can get staffed on a show, you can make a respectable and steady income. TV writing is much more like an office job than movie writing is. You work on a staff, you usually have an office to which you show up everyday, you make a salary, you can get promoted up the staffing ranks every few years, and so forth. Of course, there's still some uncertainty in the mix. Not every pilot goes to series, and not every series lasts very long. And "staffing season," the period of the year in which shows staff up with writers, is fiercely competitive. But there's a lot of light at the end of the tunnel, provided you can make it there. At the top of the TV writing pyramid, you have show-running executive producers and creators. If one of their shows is very successful, these folks can do extremely well for themselves.
Of course, the days of such lucrative syndication and residual deals are probably numbered. My prediction is that, as content distribution opens up, TV writers will find it easier to become a millionaire, but harder to become a quasi-billionaire. We're entering a world in which there will be fewer Larry Davids, but more Matthew Weiners. Either way, TV writing will continue to be very lucrative at the top of the field.
And the path to the top may get shorter. The days of paying dues for 10 years at the staff/producer level before having enough juice to sell an original series are relics of the network TV business as it currently exists and has existed; the democratization of distribution, and the hunger of new distributors for original content, will open up the field to younger writers. More and more young writers will get their start shooting spec pilots or series, too, and not just trying to get staffed on existing shows. It's not unheard of, this day and age, to make a name for oneself on the internet and then get drafted by Hollywood. Look at Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island cohort, for instance.
As a movie writer, you never really rise to that level of money or power. Sure, you have folks like Steve Zaillian or Aaron Sorkin, who make millions and can command a lot of respect. Some even become household names, or win Oscars. But they never quite become masters of the universe the way that hit showrunners do.
Sort of an anomaly/exception, in as much as he's done both.
As have free options. Something everyone tells you not to do and most people end up doing anyway.
It sounds like a cool concept, but sounds like a very lousy deal. Or am I missing something?
As you've mentioned, and as I concur, your odds of getting discovered in Hollywood are somewhere just shy of your odds of getting beamed aboard the Enterprise. So Amazon's system represents a slightly better way to get a calling-card film made out of your script. Nevertheless, it's a much shittier deal for anyone who's had a script sold or made. So this seems like a one-and-done sort of deal. Get discovered on Amazon, then go get an agent in Hollywood, and eventually, make lots more money than through this system.
Amazon's system needs some way to scale up as the writer's career does. Or else it's always going to be stuck as a AAA farm team for Hollywood. That might not be a bad thing; at least it's a toehold in the business. But it's not going to bring down the system anytime soon.
Unless, of course, the entire cost structure of the film industry changes, and Hollywood stops being able to afford higher-end writers' paydays. Which may indeed happen, sooner or later. Hollywood has a cost-side crash on its hands eventually. It's anyone's guess as to when, but it will happen. Revenues can't keep declining, year over year, while talent costs and budgets keep climbing.
So, if your script's been floating around for a year or two and hasn't gotten any traction -- no agent, no options, hasn't made The Black List, hasn't placed in any notable competitions, etc. -- then sure, submit it to Amazon. But the hard truth in that case is that the script is likely just crap.
On a side note: the point of writing a spec isn't necessarily to sell it. Specs are to screenwriters as GitHub is to coders. That said, 2011 was actually a banner year for specs, with at least 109 sold.
To your other point, I do fear that Amazon has basically engineered a system whereby the good catches swim the Hollywood, and the flotsam floats into Amazon's net. Time will tell.
The thing about tying your script up with Amazon is that it handicaps you social proof-wise. If your script is in development hell, that means someone actually bought it. If your script is on Amazon, that just means you have an Internet connection.
An Amazon script won't work as a calling card because nobody wants to read a script they can't buy -- unless the reason they can't buy it is that someone else already has. When submitting scripts, you want to be able to say either "This amazing script can be yours for the low low price of 1 million dollars," or "Time Warner bought this script for 1 million dollars. I'd love to work with you on my next one."
With Amazon's current terms, there's just a much higher chance that all your work will have been for naught.
Anyway, for those who aren't aware of how Hollywood behaves:
So... the question is; are you a liar or just ignorant?
a. I didn't downvote you. I don't meet the karma requirement, and even if I had the karma, downvoting is for "mean and/or stupid comments." The comment I'm now replying to qualifies. Your original comment did not.
b. You were right that Hollywood has a reputation for stealing a script if they like it. What isn't true is that Hollywood actually steals scripts.
I'll give you a comparable example: Catholic priests. Catholic priests have a reputation for molesting children. But what percentage of Catholic priests actually does so? How does that percentage compare to the percentage of molesters in the rest of the population?
Follow that down the rabbit hole and you'll see the problem with your hasty generalization.
Now, to your links:
1. Sounds like a legitimate claim. The lawyer saying "screenplays are stolen all the time in Hollywood," on the other hand, does not. That's just a lawyer posturing in the interests of his client for media coverage. I've followed many similar suits. The vast majority of them are completely bogus.
2. This one is a lot of FUD. You can't get around copyright by "simply tweaking a few details." The actual standard is a "sufficient degree of similarity." That's why, if the first article is accurate (not a given) and Reed Martin isn't stretching the truth in his explanation of the similarities, he has a good case. Without hearing more about the "stolen" version of Rounders, we can't say whether Jeff Grosso isn't just paranoid. Most likely the similarities between the two boil down to "guys playing poker," give or take. Maybe he should sue the creators of 21, Shade, et al., too?
3. The Supreme Court declined to hear a case, as they do with most of the cases that come their way. There's no support for your claim here.
4. It isn't at all clear from this case that any theft took place. What is clear is that there were sufficient similarities that the studio should have paid Buchwald regardless.
5. http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/matrix.asp Nope.
If hearing all this makes you angry, I recommend going for a jog. It's better for your health than fuming at the keyboard.
But this is what matters when it comes to the way people will try to sell their scripts. If hollywood has a rep (true or not) for stealing scripts then people will be wary.
>Follow that down the rabbit hole and you'll see the problem with your hasty generalization.
Which? I said they have a rep for stealing scripts. They clearly do. The majority of what they make these days is also sequels and remakes, which calls into question if they have any creativity and adding to the perseption that anything original they make is likely stolen.
As for the articles, I literally did a search for "hollywood steal scripts" or some such and dumped in the first five. Clearly theft is happening at least somewhat and clearly they have a rep for it (deserved or not).
It's not even that there are ethical reasons people in Hollywood don't steal scripts. The reasons are practical: if your script is good, it's going to cost me a lot less to pay you for it than it would cost to pay some other more established writer's quote to develop a new script from the same premise.
Which is oddly similar to the buy vs. pirate internal debate I have seen several people go though on hard to find content.
EX: Underworld did not use any of white wolf's IP. There was a negotiation, but in the end the studio 'went in another direction' that just happened to look the same as if they had used their IP.
With all due respect, this is a big and mostly incorrect leap. If intellectual theft happens in Hollywood, it's typically an exception and not, as you're implying, a general rule. It certainly isn't something studio execs keep in the back of their minds as part of the development process. That's outlandish.
Most studios are extremely frightened of litigation over this very topic. So much so, that when I worked at a TV studio buying scripts, I was not even allowed to open any unsolicited material sent my way. If someone sent me a package, and I didn't recognize the return address, I sent it off to legal, to be returned unopened. About 99% of the scripts and ideas I was pitched came about in meetings with agencies and/or producers, who were also bringing the same material to all of my competitors.
The behaviors you're ascribing to studios seem to be occurring at the producer level. There's a high variance of ethical and professional conduct among production companies and producers, in as much as they're not public companies like the big studios and networks are. They don't have a set rulebook. Most of the more established producers are unlikely to steal material, because it's a terrible long-term business strategy (a producer's reputation is his meal ticket). That said, are there some shady folks on the fringes of the business? Yes. Anyone who says otherwise is being willfully naive. But the idea that people at studios actually calculate theft into their buying or development strategies is patently absurd.
"What stops the other studio from farming out the 'high concept' to someone else to write an also ran."
Three things stopped me from doing that, and stopped my peers from doing that:
1) Personal and professional integrity.
2) Relationships and reputation. (Hollywood is an extremely relationship-driven business. As a development executive, I was worth approximately nothing; what made me relevant to my employers was my network of writers, agents, and producers I could bring to bear for projects. Burning any of these people would have been career suicide).
3) Fear of litigation.
In that order.
However, despite following the case closely at the time, I've never heard about any negotiations between White Wolf and Sony at any stage of the film's development. On the contrary, emails from within White Wolf indicate they were completely unaware of the film until the first trailer was released. Do you have a source for your claim that there were negotiations?
To answer your question: nothing stops a studio from piggybacking on someone else's concept, and nothing should. The Asylum's entire business model is based on it (though they also engage in the somewhat unethical practice of copying names, when they can). White Wolf has no claim to the basic ideas underpinning the World of Darkness. There's nothing unique or innovative there.
The same thing applies to The Vampire Diaries (books and TV show), Twilight (books and film), True Blood (books and TV show), and so on, of course.
Does anyone know the average payday for a script writer for large-scale Hollywood productions?
Websites like Reddit definitely have great content, but as parent commenter pointed out, this content is necessarily the kind of content that appeals to the average user, and there is no room for outliers.
I think the Amazon model for deciding is still a better sample of an audience than a bunch of grey-haired men sitting around a board-room table whose first question is "will this be profitable?"
Hint: Unsubscribe from any sub-reddit that new users default to being subscribed to...
The conflict between art and craft is present in almost every kind of media, in my opinion: Whether it's books, music, or movies. The only difference is that some media are cheaper to produce and thus more open to art.
The higher the up-front costs for a medium, the less room for art. If it isn't resolved on the script level, it will get punished at the box office.
I assume, this is what worries Amazon, too: Writers who think of themselves as artists are probably those who are unlikely to sell their script(s); but they are also the ones desperate enough to submit it to Amazon. There might be a nice idea in some of these scripts, but they probably need some additional work.
Of course, a bunch of guys who have no clue about art or craft aren't going to produce anything worthwhile, no matter how many of them participate.
Still, I can see them needing more time to ramp up before making any strategic changes angled at displacing the studios.
The goal of Amazon Studios is to work with Hollywood
to turn the best projects into major feature films.
It's really been Amazon's core strategy all along: the classic "cut out the middle man."
Caught up in that system are some truly creative, kind, brilliant, hard-working people. Take writers, for example. I've spent a good portion of my career working with writers. Screenwriters are some of the coolest, geekiest, smartest, craziest, most endearingly awkward people I've ever known. They're not unlike the engineers I've worked with in other capacities, actually. Writing code and writing fiction are obviously very different trades, but the souls of the crafts are very similar.
I think they don't fit because it's boring. It's scaling up and updating of "I'll help you sell your screenplay" newspaper ads. Open to everyone but with predatory terms.
Another middleman to the studios.
It's not innovative and it's not killing anything.
It's been a long time since I really paid close attention to the movie industry, but I remember that one way money was raised, and risks shared, was in the divvying up of distribution rights (and or options on those rights) between domestic theatrical release, DVD sales, cable TV rights, and rights for same in overseas markets.
Amazon is in an interesting position in this regard, they are positioned to make money on physical and digital distribution to consumers through both individual sales and amazon prime subscriptions. They also make money on the home theater systems people use to consume this stuff. And, of course, they are getting into the eBook publishing business. Controlling the film rights to books gives them even more leverage over holywood.
It wasn't until now that I made the connection between the squeeze Amazon is putting on book publishers, and how much leverage that gives them over Hollywood. Good for amazon, but good for Apple too.
I also note that IMDB is an Amazon property, and that IMDB is both a way for consumers to discover media, but also it has made some headway in helpingsource the skills needed to make movies.
> What is a test movie?
> An Amazon Studios test movie should be an inexpensive, full-length movie
> that tells the whole story of the script in a compelling way, with very
> good acting and sound.
I'm not a filmmaker, but from what I understand, it is much more convenient to send out a script than it is to produce and edit a movie, and then send that out. Going by what's presented in Jordan Mechner's "The Making of Prince of Persia" , sending out a script sounds very easy, and very common, and it sounds like the people who receive scripts will actually read them to determine if they're good. It sounds like there is a lot of professional feedback.
I don't see how Amazon Studios is going to improve on that, or even match it. Getting feedback from professionals is very different from getting feedback from Youtube junkies.
With such a vast oversupply, I would not be surprised if there are plenty of people who are willing to make a movie for the chance to make a Hollywood movie (indeed, a lot of indie shorts and full-length flicks are already attempts at just that).
Or, just look at it through the lens of the tech startup industry. You think people aren't doing small projects on the side, for free, with friends, in the hopes of scoring something bigger?
Two strangers separately receive a note in the mail detailing how the other will die. The notes details the day and date of the strangers' deaths, an approximate location and a vague notion how it will happen. The notes provides small clues of their identities and thus both set out to id each other and prevent their deaths.
Ultimately, though, their quests to save one another ends in tragedy, as they mistakenly kill each other. Sorta you can't fight "Fate," type story.
Well if that sounds like a good idea for a movie or short-film I'd love to see it made
Edit: Offering script ideas (crowd-sourcing scripts) could possibly be a good "kill Hollywood," idea. Where the most popular crowd-sourced scripts get funded thru either KickStarter or Amazon Studios.
Am I retarded? Is this really a joke? I don't get it...
"To that end, we have established a first-look development deal with Warner Bros., the biggest movie studio in Hollywood."
I'll pass. No one should be making any deals with Hollywood anymore.
If this was Amazon's attempt to fund movies for its own distribution, that would be awesome. But it's not.