Amazon adds new string to its bow with film studio launch

Amazon is branching out into the movie industry. But can an online committee really create great films?

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 20 Jan 2011
Not content with filling our every retail need, from books to bacon, online giant Amazon is now teaming up with Warner Bros. to launch Amazon Studios - a website where film-makers and screenwriters can submit film scripts and ideas. Once the films have been uploaded, they’ll be shown to Warner; if one is subsequently developed into a film and released in cinemas, the amateur auteurs could pocket a cheque for $200,000 (or perhaps they can take it in Amazon vouchers if they’d rather).

It’s a risky venture for Amazon. The movie industry isn’t all big bucks and Hollywood glamour, particularly when internet sites get involved. Back in 2008, social networking site MySpace teamed up with British film companies Vertigo and Film4 to give its users the chance to participate in the movie-making process.  The result was Faintheart, an online film which, although praised as innovative, largely sank without trace. The experiment certainly wasn’t repeated.

To some extent it’s also a risk for Warner, since this is a big departure from the normal commissioning process. Even in this day and age, the best guarantees of blockbuster success are big names and an even bigger marketing budget. Independent productions can be hugely profitable too, but it’s a lot more hit-and-miss.

Viewers might also be sceptical about a film that has effectively been put together by a committee of online users. Amazon will be relying on a ratings system where a panel of industry experts, including professional screenwriters and directors, will assess whether the film can be commercially successful.

Collaboration is, of course, the name of the game these days. And it’s good that Amazon is providing budding filmmakers with a cheaper, easier way to get their scripts in front of people who can turn them into films. But the devil will be in the detail; some writers are already complaining that they’ll lose too much control over their script once they upload it.

And that may be the biggest problem here. Successful independent films are often the result of a single compelling creative vision. Could it be that this decision-making-by committee ends up spoiling that? Ultimately, if this process doesn’t produce films that people want to go and watch, it’ll be a short-lived experiment. We shall see (or not, as the case may be).

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