What Amazon Studios Should Actually Be Doing

Here’s the really ironic thing about the whole Amazon Studios controversy.

People keep telling us the movie industry is on the verge of massive changes. Legal downloading, illegal downloading, narrowing of the theatrical window, overseas revenues outstripping US domestic revenues, crowdfunding, internet TV…

I’m not saying any of these things are bad. There are ways they could harm the industry, if badly handled, and ways they could be enormously good for all of us. But the fact is, there are practices going on right now that are harming the industry, and if we’re going to embrace systemic change, now would be a good time to tackle them.

You’d expect Amazon Studios – with it’s determination to provide a whole new approach to the movie business and create a new business model that generates new ideas and encourages fresh talent –  to be doing exactly that.

Unfortunately, their entire ethos for producing new scripts is entirely founded on the one thing that makes so many Hollywood movies bad. Too many cooks spoiling the broth.

For years, Hollywood has effectively been on a slow drift towards crowd-sourcing scripts. We don’t call it that, but that’s what it is. Most studio tentpole movies have several credited writers and dozens of uncredited ones. When a hot book or character or even board game is acquired by a studio, they invite in dozens of writers to pitch their take on the material – and, it’s alleged, take anything they fancy from those pitches, expecting the writer who gets the job to forge it all into some kind of coherent story.

Even once the development process is over, the tinkering continues. Production is regularly shut down for emergency work on a script, which may or may not solve the problem. Release dates are moved, and some movies shelved indefinitely.  Just last week, a well-known screenwriter was hired to rewrite the script of a major movie that’s already finished shooting, so they can have months of reshoots to repair whatever they feel is wrong with it.

This is a dumb way to run a business. And while I appreciate that no producer or exec wants to be in that situation, and the pressures of money and release dates can force scripts into production before they’re ready, maybe it’s time we all took a step back and refocused the business on what matters. You can have the best release date in the world, the most amazing ad campaign, and a cast to die for, but none of that will save you if you have a script that isn’t ready yet.

So, Amazon Studios, here’s what you ought to be doing. If you actually want to make money out of the film industry, stop pissing about with prize money and test movies and open-source scripts with endless amateur rewrites pulling the story in different directions, and make the most of your big advantage –

You’re outside the system. You aren’t burdened with release date schedules and over-excited marketing departments – because you have a whole new product delivery system that bypasses theatrical distribution!  So make the most of your freedom, and do the one thing that’s always worked.

Go out into the real world and find an experienced writer (or writing team) with a strong concept, good characters, and a passion for their craft. Work with them – yourself, in private, not by deputizing the development process to random people leaving their opinions on your site – and make that movie as good as you possibly can.

Then, and only then, make the damn thing.

If you’re not prepared to do that, then any real writer is bound to ask themselves whether you really want to be in the film business at all.

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