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Amazon.com going into movie producing with new website, first look deal with Warner Bros.

November 16, 2010 |  5:00 pm

Hollywood has seen some unusual entrants to the business of film producing over the years, but the world's largest online retailer might just be one of the least likely.

Amazon.com is launching Amazon Studios, a new website that lets users upload scripts and sample movies and then use community tools to evaluate and edit each others' work. Work judged the best by a panel of experts and company executives will be brought to Warner Bros, where Amazon has signed a first-look deal, in hopes of ultimately producing feature films under the Amazon Studios production label.

Amazon Studios director Roy Price said his company has put together the venture in order to apply digital technology to the still arcane process of submitting and developing movie projects for studios.

"It's much easier now to make movies but it's still as hard as ever to break into Hollywood," said Price, who is also Amazon's director of digital product development. "We think we can play an interesting role in changing that."

Users can submit full-length scripts or additional material ranging from storyboards to fully produced films onto the Amazon Studios site. Others users will then be able to comment or rate the content and even revise it without permission of the original creator.

In exchange for submitting material, users will give Amazon an 18 months of exclusive rights, an "option" in industry parlance, to their work. That type of restriction without payment is likely to deter working filmmakers and screenwriters and make Amazon Studios a home for rookies only.

However, a panel of judges including "Top Gun" screenwriter Jack Epps, Jr. and "Bottle Rocket" producer Michael Taylor will look at the highest rated material and award monthly and yearly prizes to screenplays and films. Through the end of 2011, the prizes will total $2.7 million.

Amazon will then have the ability to take projects to Warner Bros. or, if it passes, other studios in hopes of getting them made. Writers or directors whose script or sample film is turned into a theatrically released film by a studio would get paid $200,000 by Amazon.

Unlike first look deals with established producers who work on the studio's Burbank lot, Warner Bros. is not committing any money to Amazon -- only agreeing to look at ideas that it submits. Given the long odds for most projects submitted by well known producers in Hollywood, the chances of any material uploaded to Amazon Studios turning into a movie are slim.

Still, Price said that Amazon Studios is not designed as a vanity project or simply to get low budget movies made for his company's DVD sales and digital distribution businesses.

"The goal is to get commercial feature films made and distributed through the studio system," he said. "That's the only way this project can make any money."

--Ben Fritz

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