Saturday, February 05, 2011

Amazon Studios, Winners and Collaborators

At the end of January, the first script winners were announced. Congratulations to Marty Weiss and Richard Stern, as Amazon Studios describes them, a "couple of dads." A little close reading reveals that they are also a couple of film school grads. Weiss has an MFA from NYU, and Stern is "ten years past his film studies." The latter might not actually mean film school, but my point is that it sounds like there has been some concerted study/training. A film student myself, I don't consider that a bad thing. I've put a lot of money and time down on the theory that writing is a craft that requires dedication, discipline, and is vastly helped by good training, whatever form that takes. Perhaps there are those who emerge like Athena--fully formed screenwriters, chock full of wisdom and ready for battle, but I'm sadly not one of those, so the fact that these winners have made choices similar to my own gives support to the idea my choices might have some merit.

On the other hand, part of the implied mythos of the Amazon Studios contest from the beginning was that there are people in the hinterlands with stories unlike any we have seen, and that this new development paradigm would find and open the unwieldy Hollywood gates to them--the online equivalent of finding a Lana Turner at the soda fountain... in Idaho. I'll be keeping half an interested eye out to see if that happens at some point.

The other big news is that Amazon decided to revise their collaboration rules. There was a lot of criticism of the total access for would-be collaborators that was one of the distinguishing characteristics of the original contest, so this move has met with a positive reaction such as this "slightly less terrible" post from John August.

The community itself had also constructed some unofficial collaboration rules inside Amazon-town, and woe unto those who didn't catch on to them fast enough, as in this forum discussion. In general, I think the neighborhood watch team that has emerged (comprised of community members, not Amazon) is pretty even-handed, but the response was on the harsh side for this guy, who did a proof-read and posted it with a note saying that all he’d done was a proof read, only to be accused of adding a “rewrite” as if he was being sneaky or something. The Amazon construction of the site encouraged his actions--but the community constructed code of etiquette was obviously highly discouraging, despite the fact that the Amazon rules were clear that changes had to be significant for any rewriter to garner any of the cash prize.

I currently have two collaborators listed on Children of Others. The first was a very similar situation to the one above. Somebody I didn't know offered up some light edits and attached a note saying he laid no claim to the work. My reaction: I thanked him publicly in my forum for his time and effort. It's less confusing for edit notes to appear on the script-- the whole reason for uploading crappy RTFs instead of PDF was so people could make edits. My second collaborator was somebody trying out some audio software, so again, it's my original work as sound file of some sort. He asked my permission, and I said yes. It has been stated that all versions get read, so it should be impossible for any revision, even a bad one, to torpedo anyone's chances, since an amazing and unadulterated previous version would simply out-perform any sub-par revision attempts. (Of course, it would be nice to think the reason I didn't place this round is because they only sent the sound-file version to the reader, and thus my work was overlooked... but I have to trust, for my own sanity, that there is some kind of system that works better than that.)

In general, I’m fine with the collaboration change. It gives people freedom to choose for themselves, and hey, I'm pro-freedom. Plus, for the most part it the concession was academic, since no one was doing much major rewriting anyway. Philosophically however, I'm a little sad, as I have a certain nostalgia for group murals at parties, where the charm is that you don’t know who’s going to come along and what they’re going to do. There's a certain kind of utopian vision being dismantled here.

My script still has a collaboration setting of "open." Stop by and revise, if you desire. Write something good, so we can win, and split the check!

A final note, I stumbled across this personable blog post by Chris Regan, who was the source of the above forum link (I had not seen it before), and who covers some of the territory that interests me, but that I did not discuss in this post.

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