Archive for November 26th, 2010

Crowdsourcing Movies

Apparently this came about while I was on vacation, but Amazon has set up Amazon Studios in an attempt to not just distribute DVDs to consumers but with the hope of distributing actual movies to theaters.  Which, to that point, sounds like an understandable goal for the company.  I encourage people to watch the five-minute clip art laden introduction film on that link to get Amazon’s take on what exactly its goal is.

You didn’t watch it, did you?  Alright, the idea is to get people to upload either scripts (85+ pages) or movies (70+ minutes) that can then be edited by any registered user of the site.  They get judged, Amazon gives out prize money, and somewhere along the line they hope to put out a movie that makes $60m at the box office.  They call it a democratization of the film industry, but there’s already a term for such things: Crowdsourcing.  They want to rely on an unpaid massive online community to make first drafts, to edit, to provide film clips, edit music, basically anything that a studio would spend several millions of dollars on.  And, in the end, they want and your collaborators to split $10k for your best script of the month or $100k for the best movie.

In the end it looks like the cap on winnings for a script are $720,000 which is an extremely theoretical figured based on a script winning first script of the month ($20k) and then of the year ($100k), then getting picked up for a commercial release ($200k) which ends up pulling in over $60m in domestic gross ($400k), and having no collaborators step in along the way to end up splitting the money.  At no point and I going to claim that $720,000 is chicken feed.  Nor that the monthly $20,000 prize for best script isn’t a hell of a prize, especially for a contest that’s free to enter.  What makes me dubious is the crowd sourced nature of it, that anyone can come in and make a change to your script, get added to the list of writers, and get a hunk of the pie as determined by the judging committee.  The original author can never receive less than 50% of the prize money a script earns, but with no way of locking scripts it still means that anything being put out there is essentially becoming public property.

It’s the wikipedia method of script writing.

In the end will people get money?  Well, Amazon is already promising several millions of dollars in prizes in 2011, $140k each month and $1.1m at the end of the year.  They’re investing nearly $3m in this project if I’ve got my numbers right, and that’s before they decide to try for a theatrical release of any of these films.  Will people get discovered?  Perhaps.  Is there something about the whole thing that makes me anxious?  Absolutely.  Too much stuff ends up poorer for the input of multiple writers, and there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about involuntary collaboration (though you’re volunteering for involuntary collaboration as soon as you submit a script or revision).  And I have a block I can’t get around about taking a complete stranger’s script and deciding that I know the story he or she is trying to tell better than the original author does.

I may end up participating in the future, but color me an observer for the time being.

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