Historically, the process of submitting and developing film/TV projects has been largely out of reach for people outside of Hollywood. The established Hollywood system requires most writers to have a portfolio of work that they can show to an agent or manager in hopes of getting represented. If a writer does get representation, their agents/managers then pitch their scripts to studios in hopes that the script will be optioned and then bought. Hollywood operates mostly on an intense referral system, making it difficult for new writers to break in, especially if they don’t live in Hollywood and have not yet secured representation.
Amazon Studios is trying to change this. They are using crowds to source and develop new film and TV projects. Anyone (established screenwriter or not) can submit film scripts, TV series ideas and pilot scripts, or short concept videos on Amazon’s online platform in hopes of being picked up by the Amazon Studio development team.
Amazon Studios is using crowds at many points during the development process including:
- Sourcing new material. Allowing crowds to submit scripts increases the size of the top of the funnel and gives Amazon exclusive access to new projects that other studios, that rely mostly on agents and well-established writers, do not have access to.
- Identifying good projects. Amazon has been fostering an online community that can read, rank, and comment on submitted scripts. Because there is a huge influx of projects submitted, the small Amazon Studios development team must rely on crowds to bubble the more promising projects to the top.
- Iterating on top projects. The open system allows writers to identify problems with one another’s scripts and make suggestions for how to improve the story/characters/structure for each draft until the project is ready for packaging/production.
- Testing selected projects. Amazon will create short videos to test the viability of new project concepts. They can look at how their platform audience reacts to the concept (did they watch the video? All the way through? Comment on it?). This allows them to see if there is a potential audience for their film/TV show BEFORE they pour a bunch of money into producing it. This can help them avoid costly failures.
Writers are incentivized to submit scripts because Amazon Studios will option the ones they are interested in at offers at or above the WGA minimums. The writers can then decide to take or reject this offer. However, it is less clear how they incentivize the crowd to participate in identifying good projects and iterating on them beyond a pure love for reading and fixing scripts. Some sort of monetary incentive (whether it’s a flat fee or points on the back-end) will be necessary to retain top talent and scale.
Other challenges to this crowdsourcing model include:
- This platform may not attract top talent. The historical system, though it may seem archaic, does do a good job of attracting and filtering the best talent. If you are a stand-out screenwriter, odds are you will rise up through the traditional system. Thus, Amazon’s platform might only attract second-rate writers. And if they do find a diamond in the rough, that diamond will probably get an agent really quickly and leave the platform for better opportunities.
- People don’t know what they want. Testing projects before they are made can be risky. Perhaps the film is totally execution-dependent, and the actors and director will make it come alive in a way a crowd couldn’t have predicted. Or in true creative innovation, the crowd is often unable to see the vision without it being produced first. Thus, crowds might turn down potentially amazing projects.
- Crowds may dilute creativity. Many development executives will tell you that too many voices at the table can ruin a project. Filmmakers often have a very clear vision, and the good ones should be left alone to bring that unique vision to fruition. Too many voices at the table can dilute or dumb down a creative vision to the point where it is not special or unique anymore.
- The platform may be predatory. Writers submit on Amazon Studios when they have no other way of getting their script seen. Therefore, Amazon has the leverage to underpay writers. Though they have to pay WGA minimums, the deals many of these writers get are probably far below what they could have secured via the traditional system. But for many, this might be the only way to get discovered, so they are willing to take that chance.