IS AMAZON STUDIOS A THREAT? JIM MCKAY AND I DISCUSS
After posting last week about the new Amazon Studios, director Jim McKay and I have had an email discussion about this new crowdsourced development entity. There’s been much criticism — from me but many others around the web — of the minimal protections given writers, who grant Amazon an 18-month free option and the right to have the tech giant’s online community give input to and even rewrite their original work. (Read my earlier post here.) Jim isn’t as alarmist as some about the new venture; his take is rather nuanced. Here’s our conversation, reprinted with permission.
McKay: I liked your article on Amazon Studios. My two cents: it seems to me like what they’re doing pretty clearly isn’t for or focused on the community of filmmakers as we know it. They’re looking for the next “double rainbow” guy or the next Blair Witch idea so they can exploit it, which is kind of fine because the people who come up with those ideas are most likely not filmmakers. They have nothing to compare the scale of the contractual agreements to, and they will just be happy to get chosen.
Filmmaker: Why do you think it won’t attract people who self-identify as filmmakers?
McKay: Artistic collaboration is cool, but no artist really wants to have a web-wide world of strangers giving input into their idea — unless they’re doing conceptual art and that’s part of their project. Read the comments page on any random article on-line and you’ll see what kind of feedback and input you’d be dealing with! The whole thing is just another interesting marketing idea from the business world but another distraction for real filmmakers.
Filmmaker: I get what you are saying although I’m not sure I totally agree. I would if the final destination wasn’t Warner Bros. If this were any other kind of a company, or a non-profit arts organization, I think the experimental approach to development would be more laudatory. But I think someone who comes up with something as good as a Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity should be afforded the base-level protections a more established filmmaker gets. And I guess as a precedent-setting thing I find it a little alarming.
McKay: I hear you about precedent, but i really don’t see this as anything other than a trolling exercise. It works in the same way as the TV channels who are developing series based on web shorts. For real filmmakers, an opportunity like this, to get a film made and get it out into the world, has always been a process with few protections. Hell, I paid for my first film completely out of pocket (not including finishing costs) and now people I don’t even know own it, it isn’t on DVD and won’t be until the film reverts back to me after the 25 year deal. I had to pay $2,500 just to get my own print of it made a couple years ago. I paid for most of Our Song, too, but don’t own that, didn’t make any profit other than getting my investment back, and probably won’t ever see any money from it in the future…. Maybe I’m an exceptionally stupid dealmaker, but I don’t think so. I know of lots of small filmmakers who made first and second films below minimum wage and without real ownership. But at least we got to make them the way we wanted to. They were ours, creatively.
Anyone who actually gets picked for this thing might get ripped off on this project, but chances are they’ll immediately set up something else and they can go make their money from there. So i don’t really disagree with what you’re saying here — I just think, like the Paramount Justin Beiber division, it’s probably not going to amount to anything significant for real indie filmmakers anyway, so it’s better to focus our energies elsewhere….