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Amazon Studios has announced many new changes in the way it operates: http://studios.amazon.com/. The initial free option is only 45 days, and scripts can now be submitted privately to Amazon. They pay $10000 if they want to extend the option for another 18 months (with a possibility of one more extension). If they exercise the option, the sale price is $200k.
It all sounds quite good. I guess the only downsides are the free 45 day option (still not bad as it's a short amount of time), the paid option period being rather long (but this may be okay considering a lot of places pay a lot less for a 12 or 18-month option), and the fact that they can make your script public if they do the paid option, and can rewrite it however they want (using any writer they want) at that point. They claim all studios will do this anyway, but I thought you could have a contract wherein you have to be offered the rewrite job first. The Amazon rules don't seem to give you any guarantee like that.
Thoughts? Pros and cons?
I was willing to abide the 18-month option period, but dropped out last year (amid some fanfare on the auditorz site) when some of the zon's more glaring promotional choices became known. (I'm referring mainly to AMERICA'S BEN FRANKLIN, but there were other slabs of intolerable dreck that got gold stars while worthy efforts like Paul Gierut's EYES OF DARKNESS were ignored).
Looking back, though, I can see that it was the idea of the 18-month option that made perceived mistakes by the 'zon intolerable. It's one thing to lose a contest ONCE to a flea-bitten dog. It's another thing to lose again and again, month after month, to a series of mutts. The first situation is disappointing, the second intolerable over the long term.
So the 45-day option opens the door to my submitting some of my lighter-weight second tier material. Definitely. As long as it only has to lose once or twice, the agony of defeat is manageable.
I would caution you and anyone contemplating using Amazon Studios. Always read the fine print, especially if someone is offering something free and perhaps “too good to be true.” CAVEAT EMPTOR -- buyer beware.
The following provisions should alert you to the overwhelming superiority of Amazon’s position with respect to your rights in your work, in ancillary benefits, in derivative benefits, and in any and all revisions, whether yours or someone else’s.
I believe Amazon even reserves the right to Frankenstein bits and pieces of all work posted or submitted to their site and not give due credit b/c what they appropriated does not amount to credit-level worthiness. They are not Guild signatories, thus Guild has no legal right to intervene or offer relief.
You also give up many legal rights in case of dispute, such as injunctive relief and even filing suit. Furthermore, the odds that a project will have a single writer is slim if not at all. Thus, you would be sharing the principle amount of monies w/so many other writers so that you may only see a fraction of what you would get at market value.
Your work, your creation, your baby, should be protected via Agent, Manager, Attorney or you risk losing your script, proper credit, and market value. The following are just some of the questionable provisions that fine print will hide on you until a dispute arises. Then you’re really screwed. At the same time, I’m not advocating for one not to join Amazon Studios. But if you do, look not at what they offer, but what rights you give up!
6.2.3. Our Rights to Create New Works During the Community Development Period. During the Community Development Period, you grant us a worldwide, royalty-free, non-terminable, sub-licensable, transferable right, to copy, use, edit, add to, modify and otherwise alter your Original Property to create, develop and produce derivative works based on the Original Property in the form of treatments, screenplays, writer's pitches, trailers, videos and other written, audio or audiovisual works (each a "Derivative Work"). 6.2.4. Our Rights to Distribute Your Original Property and Derivative Works During the Community Development Period. During the Community Development Period, you grant us a worldwide, royalty-free (except as specifically provided in Sections 9 and 15 below), non-terminable, sub-licensable, transferable right to:
6.3. Non-Derived Elements.
6.4. Limitations on Your Rights During any Private Review Option Consideration Period and any Community Development Period.
6.5. Grant of Rights from Amazon to You in Revisions Grant of Rights from You to Amazon for Revisions and Other Content. You irrevocably assign to us all right, title, and interest in and to your Revision worldwide for the term of copyright protection in your Revision. You acknowledge that your assignment gives us the exclusive right to use your Revision in any manner we choose, worldwide, during the entire term of copyright protection accorded to your Revision, in all formats and all media now known or later invented and to permit third parties to make any use of your Revision we deem appropriate, on and off of Amazon Studios, and leaves you with no right to use the Revision.
Effect of Removal. [you lose all rights to everything other than your original work (even if it is your own revision (?)]
No Guild Jurisdiction.
Credit Determinations. 22.6. No Rescission or Injunctive Relief.
Again, these are just some of the provisions of “The Agreement” that raised alarms and rang bells. Hope this helps.
Yeah. Those points were made early on last year by John August and Craig Mazin, and nobody then or now denies their validity.
But you have to consider things from your own particular creative vantage point. If all you have in your creative arsenal is three or four scripts that you've worked on from time immemorial, with a limited palette of further ideas to develop, then I'd definitely caution you away from submitting to the 'zon. Hell, if you're uncomfortable in any way shape form or fashion with somebody taking your baby out in heavy traffic, I'd say stay away.
But if, like myself, you have a trainload of scripts and a ton of ideas for further development, and no venue except the contest scene for promoting them, then -- why not?
What amazonstudios is, is nothing other than the bear you will face in any event at the end of the day, WGA signatory or not, if your script is optioned: they'll give you a pittance, "develop" your pride and joy in a way that suits them, and you'll be lucky to get your name under the "written by" caption onscreen -- especially if it's John August or Craig Mazin doing the rewrite duties.
That's my P.O.V. on it, anyway, and unlike contretemps we've had in the past around here, I'm not going to defend it. Just realize that once you write your script and send it out there, it's a turkey shoot whichever route it takes through the forest.
Both Paul and James have some good points, and got me thinking. If they could slice-and-dice your script after paying only the $10,000, then definitely not a good deal.
But if that can only happen after they buy it for $200,000, then it's probably no different than what any studio would do. It would be nice if the original writer got the first crack at the re-write, but I doubt even a studio would guarantee that in writing.
I'm not a lawyer so it would be nice to have some clarification here.
It seems to me though, with the multiple contribution philosophy of Amazon, it's unlikely any single writer would actually get the $400,000 bonus if the movie made over $60 million. That is, unless you happen to be a genius...
You all bring up good points. Definitely the contract needs to be read very, very carefully. My take was that those amounts of money: the 200k, and the 400k bonus, are not to be split no matter who they bring in to rewrite your work later; those amounts go to the original author. Also, there is more protection, at least for a while, if you do the private submission. I think at least then, nobody will be able to slice and dice your work for the first 45 days. But after that I think Amazon can post it publicly if they want and invite other writers to have a go at it. I agree with you, Robert, that $10,000 may not be enough to compensate one for that, but $200k is, especially considering any studio can do the same thing once they buy your script.
Anyway, this is all speculation on my part and (disclaimer) does not constitute legal advice, particularly since I'm not a lawyer!
If you go to deadline.com, they have a write-up about Amazon Studios that may clarify/shed light on their new policies. At second glance, maybe Amazon does offer something real. I'm still leery due to their fine print, but that could be the result of my cynicism.
I was leary of them last year, but the new rules are somewhat better. 45 days is for sure better.
I think this format is much improved. I'd rather tie my screenplay up for 45 days and they are obligated to at least give you a yea of nay at the deadline. Better than letting it sit up there unread with no feedback at all. (Yes, I had one up there, it sat and got lost in the crowd so I had it pulled.) Given the 'winners' of the past, I still don't what they are looking for in a script, but hey. ya never know.
I'm just glad for the "remove" button.
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