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Amazon is muscling into the movie business. And the 15-year-old Seattle-based Web behemoth wants everyone to come along.
Under a new first-look deal with Warner Bros., Amazon.com has launched Amazon Studios, a user-generated online development and production outfit built around monthly contests and community feedback. The end result, if all goes as planned, will be feature films derived from the best user submissions that Amazon Studios produces for theatrical release.
To feed the studio’s development, filmmakers and writers around the world are invited beginning immediately to upload feature-length films and screenplays to the site, which triggers an 18-month option on the material. Each month starting in January, based on community feedback, two scripts and one test film will be designated the best of the bunch and awarded cash grants — $20,000 for each screenplay and $100,000 for the film.
At the end of next year, one screenplay and one film submitted by Dec. 31, 2011, will be chosen as the annual winners. That script will nab a $100,000 prize and the film a $1 million prize.
Meanwhile, much like with user-contributed book reviews and other interactive elements of the site, Amazon will encourage participants to take the raw material uploaded and submit their own revised or advanced versions. The system is designed to discover new talent and run potential material through a kind of public test-screening process — and of course provide Amazon with a new profit center.
Warner Bros. will have first shot at any film project Amazon Studios decides to push into production. (Should it pass, Amazon is free to shop the project elsewhere, and extensions of the material’s option, should the writer or filmmaker wish to continue with Amazon Studios, would merit another $10,000.)
Upon the release of a finished film from Amazon Studios, the filmmaker or screenwriter who originated the project will receive a rights payment of $200,000. Should the film gross more than $60 million domestically, a $400,000 bonus will be triggered.
“Everyone is looking for the next Irving Thalberg,” said Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios. “What if the next Irving Thalberg is 6 million movie fans?”
An industry panel will assess the commercial viability of potential productions. The first Amazon Studios panel will include screenwriter and writing chair of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Jack Epps Jr. (Top Gun); producer and former Miramax president Mark Gill; screenwriter Mike Werb (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider); and producer and production chair of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Michael Taylor (Bottle Rocket).
“Amazon Studios is a great idea,” Epps said. “Getting feedback is essential for creative artists to improve their work. By letting anyone submit a movie or screenplay to be considered for a major motion picture, Amazon Studios is really opening the doors to Hollywood.”
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