The company that pioneered online book sales wants to go Hollywood.
Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, is launching a website that lets users upload scripts and sample movies and then use community tools to evaluate and edit one another's work. Submissions judged the best by a panel of experts and company executives will be brought to Warner Bros., where Amazon has signed a deal in hopes of producing feature films under the Amazon Studios name.
Amazon Studios director Roy Price said his company put the venture together 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 from storyboards to fully produced films to the Amazon Studios site. Other users will then be able to comment or rate the content and even revise it without the permission of the original creator.
In exchange for putting their material in play, users give Amazon an 18-month period of exclusive rights — an "option" in industry parlance — to their work. That type of restriction without payment is likely to deter established 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, Amazon said. Through the end of 2011, the prizes will total $2.7 million.
Amazon can then take projects to Warner Bros. If Warner passes, Amazon can pitch the projects to other studios. A writer or director whose submission is turned into a theatrically released film by a studio would receive $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 faced by most projects submitted by even well-known producers in Hollywood, the chances of any material uploaded to Amazon Studios turning into a movie are slim.
Still, Price said, 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."