The Screenwriting Bug

Posted Sunday, January 23, 2011, 8:04 PM

Back in November, online bookshop (and more) Amazon.com launched a somewhat controversial new venture, Amazon Studios. The idea is for amateur screenwriters to have an opportunity to showcase their product in a way that hadn't been available before. Instead of going through the messy existing Studio system, something that is still operating in the same way as it did in the 70s, the 50s, even some is legacy from the 20s, which is to say a laborious process that requires you to be listed already in various places within Hollywood before you're allowed to even get noticed let alone be taken seriously, Amazon set up a competition, in association with Warner Brothers Studios, to let anyone upload a completed feature length screenplay and get it read by their judges, and potentially win a large sum of money, perhaps even get it greenlit to be made and earn an even larger sum of money. It didn't matter where you lived, how old you were, or who you knew, this was a real opportunity to get your film noticed by genuine Producers and Directors associated with a huge Studio.

There are, however, inevitably a few catches. One of the biggest is that they Option your script for 18 months. That is, they have first refusal on whether the screenplay can be developed during that time. Sometimes when Studios Option scripts they will pay the author a nominal fee, occasionally as little as a few dollars, but also sometimes many thousands. Amazon is paying nothing to anyone, and yet every script that is entered, potential winner or not, is now trapped in their system. None of them can be submitted to any other Studio until the 18 months are up. And even after that there's some additional jiggery pokery that may keep it locked up for even longer.

The rules also allow for, and encourage, other people to read and rewrite your screenplay. This may be the most controversial part of the whole deal, as nobody wants their work to be trodden on by some clumsy idiot who thinks it needs more gore or their sense of comedy is more fart jokes. But that's part of the potential deal, so you have to accept that.

In the real Hollywood approach to rewrites, your screenplay is sold for a nice hefty sum before it can be rewritten, and it's usually taken over by experienced professionals, with a promise of screen credit. It may turn your original idea into something unrecognisable to you, but if your core idea remains, you get some amount of respect for your contribution.

I don't think the rewriting side of things at Amazon Studios has been too successful, as that's a lot of work for someone to put in for almost no real gain. I think it's one of those ideas they came up with at 2am to encourage interactivity amongst contributors, but in reality was a nutty plan that wouldn't ever work very well.

They have a third part to the competition, which is completely ridiculous, which is to get people to take an uploaded script and make an entire full length film of it. No budget, so it can be rough as guts, but that has the biggest potential return as the largest prize goes to the winning film. It's hard enough to find the time to make a ten minute short, there's no way anyone can make anything halfway watchable that is supposed to be 90 minutes long. It would take six months just to organise it, let alone shoot it, and the end result won't be any better than an Ed Wood film.

Anyway, I submitted my first and only completed screenplay, Pegasus Rampant, PDF copy available here, to their competition, because I knew it was never going to be actually made, especially as it's just sitting on my hard drive, and I need some more feedback so I can learn to write more, and do it better. I figured that overall it was worth the minor inconvenience of the restrictive rules. I wouldn't do it for every screenplay I may end up writing, but for this one time it's an educational experience if nothing else.

I put it online in November, but after 8 weeks it's only been downloaded less than 30 times. I have no idea how often it's actually been read, but I would guess less than half of them have bothered, perhaps as few as only two or three. Committing time to reading a 100 page screenplay is something most people can't easily spare.

So even though it's been downloaded only an average amount of times (plenty of other screenplays have had less downloads than I have, but some have had hundreds more - though I think some are cheating by getting friends and family to repeatedly download and leave fake reviews to game the system) it has had no actual reviews at all, at least on the Amazon site. I did ask some friends elsewhere to help me out by reviewing it, and one guy did, which was very considerate of him, and he had some good advice too. But one review is not quite what I had hoped for, really.

I don't even know if my screenplay was read by the Judges. They claim every single entry was given at least a once over before being accepted or rejected, but I've seen no proof of that beyond vague reassurances. Perhaps my screenplay is prize-winning genius but they just haven't read it. Doubt it, but you never know.

I did not get into the finalists for the first competition, so I don't really expect to be in the finalists for any others (all screenplays are automatically eligible for all ongoing monthly contests) because if it's rejected for one, why be accepted for others, even if I upload a new draft? Unlikely, but then as the competition starts to crumble due to the dodgy rules, maybe things will change in my favour.

Here's a site with some reaction to the mess and potential opportunity the Amazon Studios competition has garnered. It's a somewhat angry and poorly constructed site, but its points are reasonably made, and are a realistic appraisal of the whole situation.

I've been adjusting the screenplay since the aforementioned considerate review, and thus getting back into creative pursuits again, after a deadening few months where I've been out of sorts trying to get my life in order. This has inspired me to return to a script I had begun a year or so ago that had been left incomplete, one that I had always considered an exciting tale and a lot of fun. And in order to get into the right frame of mind for getting back to it, I thought I'd look through some artwork online to inspire me, and before I knew it I had gathered together a few resources to make my own image.

Flintlock: A dashing 18th Century Highwayman is enlisted by a covert Government agency to protect the King from spies and saboteurs. A swashbuckling romance of magnificent adventure, devious espionage, and villainous treachery.

In this image, which is desktop-wallpaper-sized at 1680x1050, the picture of Flintlock himself, the Highwayman, is actually a composite of 7 different images blended together. The face, the mask, the hat, the coat (x2), the hands, and the pistols are all separate pics I found that I cut up and pieced together, trying to match lighting, angles, and colours to get it right. Then I added in text, more flintlock pistol iconography, and textured the bejesus out of it, and huzzah. I think it has a lot of atmosphere, and is quite inspiring.

So after I've written up the new draft of Pegasus Rampant, it's back onto Flintlock, I reckon.