Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Experiment, Day 2

Day 2 of the Amazon Studios Experiment: After launching at 5pm last night, as of 9:30 this morning, the numbers of entrants has grown from the original seven to 110. The most "popular" script has about 300 downloads. No scripts have any comments or notes as of yet.

My script, which, by the way is a science fiction story called "Children of Others," has had 14 downloads.

I will confess that my initial feeling, seventeen hours in to the process is "despondent." In terms of helping my script become an actual movie, I have to question the wisdom of my decision, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I can't, and probably don't want to, compete if this becomes a popularity contest. When I spoke to the Amazon rep after being invited to submit, he assured me that the judging would not be based on public response, which was something I felt good about. After throwing my efforts behind two of Paul's Coke competitions, a PSA, a music video competition, and a Dorito's Superbowl contest, I feel my friends and family are saturated and maxed out by these kinds of things--and with good reason. Yet last night, I found myself writing one of "those emails" to lists of people, asking for their support, again. Except this time, instead of offering a thirty-second video to watch, I'm asking them to download a hundred page screenplay--formatted as an RTF! I don't expect them to read it--I would be very unlikely to read someone's screenplay. But without even the pretense of that expectation, the exercise becomes purely one of showmanship, and makes me simply a tool to bring random eyes to the site. This makes me feel very crappy about myself as an artist, and maybe as a person. The one redeeming factor is that so far, there are no advertisements on the site--although since it is branded, it does create more brand familiarity for Amazon-but I can't imagine they need it.

The second reason I question my decision is that I have had some interest from a couple of people at small production companies, and by agreeing to an 18 month option, I've kind of thrown that interest away, especially if my script ends up buried in the last pages of the site, with no notes or revisions.

That being said, however, I entered into this knowing there was some risk. I've said I am doing it as an experiment--so while I have my suspicions and fears, I am not going to draw an absolute conclusion on Day 2. I am still interested in how Amazon might work with and tweak this model.

In the old days, the task was to obtain enough information. Now-a-days the challenge is to sift through the mountains of information that arrive from all quarters of the world. Big companies who sponsor these contests are generally satisfied to simply let their vast sea of entrants break into factions, a few of which make the most noise, and float to the top. The "judging" aspect might or might take public opinion into account--but since the main goal is publicity for the brand--it's all good for them no matter what. Amazon, on the other hand, says that they want to create an actual development model and produce actual movies. What does that mean in terms of filtering through all the information (scripts)? If they want to actually make a movie, there is some onus upon them to find a genuinely viable project.

In actual development in Hollywood (from my admittedly limited experience), the very first step is convincing anyone to read a script, and then accruing support for the script from other people who hopefully form a conduit to 'the right' people--all of this in order to progress to the next part of development--which is refining the story by any number of parameters. But the first hurdle, of course, is to get people to read to begin with, and then say something.

So far, the Amazon model seems to be reflecting that very process. The first step seems not to be a meritocracy based on the creative quality of the work (although that will come into play down the line), but a system that rewards a different kind of labor--the labor of lobbying and marketing, nudging and cajoling. And as in the "real world" this paradigm is frustrating for writers who by their nature tend not to be politicians or salespeople-- because the initial gate that must be passed through is the one we have the least amount of skills and training to handle.

So this is something I am watching for... Might Amazon's process of developing this site actually do something to change the model? Or, in reality, is the model a necessity?

To end on a FINAL POSITIVE NOTE: As I was writing this, I saw a the voicemail light on my phone blinking. The message was from an old and dear friend of mine in Indiana. She said "I downloaded your script, and I've started reading it. Did you and your husband have to go through all that stuff...I mean, not the aliens--but that other stuff? "

By that "other stuff" she is referring to the world of infertility, which was one of the things that really compelled me to write the script.

This call made my morning--that my friend would think about me enough to read, and that what I wrote affected her. As a writer, it is awful to think that everyone who reads your stuff does so out of obligation, be it personal or professional. It makes you think about how the world really doesn't need another writer and you could do more service to everyone by being a small business owner or a fireman. On the flip side, it's a great feeling when you occasionally get the sense that someone has been affected by something you wrote in the same way that you are affected when you read things by other people. Then, for a little while, you believe maybe you are doing what you are meant to do.


  1. Very interesting! I'm curious to see how this whole Amazon Studio thing plays out, while I'm still wary of it myself. Also, do you mind if I post this blog link to the Google Buzz feed?

  2. Yes, me too...
    Feel free to post. Thanks. I'm planning to try to document the experience for a while...although I often get distracted from these kind of plans.

  3. I just downloaded the script and I'm planning to read it on the train to Baltimore for Thanksgiving. (Although, srsly, RTF? Amazon, whyyyy?) Looking forward to it!

  4. I KNOW! I was astounded too. The number of pages will be expanded if you have a PC, and you won't have page numbers at all if you have a mac. Embarrassing, but they say they will try to have PDF capability in a couple weeks. Apparently it is a fairly small team working on the project.