Amazon Studios Revises Terms for Writers

About 18 months ago I blogged about the new Amazon Studios venture, in which screenwriters submit their projects to the internet commerce giant for crowdsourced development and possible production. There was a lot of initial interest in Amazon Studios when it was announced, but I, like many other observers, found the terms shockingly poor for writers. I asked, why would you give “a company with a $74 billion market cap an 18-month free option on your original project?” Especially when, according to Amazon Studio’s original terms, there were scenarios in which that original work could have been exploited with you receiving nothing? I asked for responses via Twitter, and received many. Here are two: “Open source style rewriting of scripts clause by Amazon is completely offensive. This is how they promote ‘original’ voices?” And, finally, “Contest is worthless to serious writers and filmmakers.”

Well, now Amazon Studios have revised their terms, and they now offer significant professional protections for all applicants. The company’s director, Roy Price, discussed some of these changes with Anne Thompson at Indiewire, while John August and Craig Mazin revised their take on the company on their podcast this week. They originally trashed the venture, calling it “a sweatshop,” but now Mazin says:

This was reported a few days ago, but Amazon quietly and calmly has become a WGA signatory. So, if you submit your scripts to them, first of all you now have a lovely option of saying, “Actually, I’m submitting my script to you and I don’t want anyone to be able to touch it.” In fact, you have an option that says, “I don’t even want anybody to be able to read it. I just want you to read it, Amazon.”

Amazon is now saying if we purchase this literary material, that is to say exercise the option, or if we hire you to do any writing, we do so under the full MBA. So you get credit protections, and you get residuals, and pension, and health. And all of that great stuff.

It’s a huge, huge thing…. I think that Amazon has gone from something that I sort of viewed as this toxic repository that was abusing writers, to an excellent new option for professional screenwriters.

Mazin makes another very significant point here: by signing with the Writer’s Guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement, Amazon sets a precedent for writers for negotiations with other tech companies — like Google or Facebook, for example — who might one day try a similar venture.

A comprehensive analysis of the changes at Amazon Studios can be found over at The Bitter Script Reader’s blog. The commentary there comes in the form of a guest post from the Auditorz of Amazon, a blogger who previously was quite vocal with his own criticisms of Amazon Studios. He too is positive about the changes:

What’s gone:

Test movies.*
Screenplay contests*
Million Dollar Prize
Semi-finalists
Finalists

User generated test movies are (thankfully) for the most part gone. Previously users had to guess the projects A.S. was interested in, or simply try to make their own project and HOPED Amazon liked it. There are rumors that A.S. is going to fund -some- test films later but those details are still rumors at this point.

The monthly contests AND the million dollar prize are both gone, baby, gone. This is great because it shifts Amazon from contest based crazy-town to an actual studio development environment.

And, most significantly:

There is no scenario where someone can claim any of your rights money by revising your original script or movie via Amazon Studios.If someone creates a revised version of an original script, they may be eligible to receive a share of any contest winnings. But rights payments are not shared. If a theatrical movie is released from an original script on Amazon Studios, the creator of the original script or movie gets 100% of the rights payments. People who are revising scripts or making video content (like trailers) based on scripts are going for award money and are helping someone else get their movie made. But they are not sharing in the rights money.

For more, read the complete articles at the links above. And if you’ve worked with or are working with Amazon Studios and would like to share your experiences, please comment below.