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Amazon.com Launches Movie Studio

amazon-logo.pngThe world’s largest Internet retailer Amazon.com is known for many things besides shopping – Kindle eBook readers, for example, or its cloud computing infrastructure known as Amazon Web Services – but Amazon as a movie studio? That one seemed to come out of left field, didn’t it?

Well, it's true – kind of. Amazon is indeed getting into the movie-making business with the launch of a new portal called Amazon Studios, but it’s not a traditional studio by any means.

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Instead, Amazon’s latest venture invites independent filmmakers and screenwriters to submit their content to the site in order to get discovered and possibly even have their movie made by Warner Bros., the “real” studio behind the project.

Crowdsourced Movie Production

The Amazon Studios portal provides tools that allow anyone to upload their content, be it a script or a full-length movie called a “test movie.” These “test movies” have to be more than 70 minutes, but don’t have to be “full budget,” explains the company.

Once online, other Amazon members can read the scripts, watch the movies and even edit the content, by uploading their own alternate or revised versions. Members can also provide general feedback on the items uploaded to the site.

Amazon Studios will also award cash prizes in regular contests to those with the best scripts or movies. The first contest, underway now, is offering $100,000 for the best movie and two $20,000 awards for the best script. (Details here). In 2011, Amazon will dole out $1.1 million in awards, with $1,000,000 for the best movie and $100,000 for the best script. (Details here).

Winners are selected by a judging committee, an unknown group of “experts” and company execs, who will determine which items are worthy of Warner Bros.’ attention.

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Warner Bros., as the only Hollywood studio partnered with Amazon, has a "first look" deal with the new site, meaning Amazon Studio winners will be considered for future theatrical feature films. In addition to the cash rewards, winners actually get to meet with Warner Bros. development executives.

Said Roy Price, director of digital product development for Amazon, the company hopes that the new site will help filmmakers experiment and collaborate with each other. Filmmakers can make movies with the scripts posted online, for example, while screenwriters can upload scripts to get their movies made.

Internet Community & Movie-Making: Sometimes You Get "Snakes on a Plane"

The goal of the project is to “democratize” the process of breaking into Hollywood – and for that, we (and anyone who’s seen some of the drivel that keeps getting produced there) are grateful. That being said, the Internet community doesn’t always have the best judgement when it comes to what makes a great movie. Let’s not forget the “Snakes on a Plane” debacle of 2006. Probably one of the first cases of crowdsourcing movie production to fans, filmmakers even reshot parts of the movie in response to fan feedback: they added more snakes, more gore, more death scenes and even the now infamous line, ” I want these mother….. snakes off the mother…. plane!”

Of course, the movie bombed. It made just $1 million more than its production budget alone. What works online doesn’t always translate to the big screen, you see.

Granted, in that case, there wasn’t a “test movie” involved, like the kind Amazon is proposing – fans at the time were reacting to what they knew of the film’s plot. Seeing a low-budget version of the film online may have changed things – it’s hard to say. After all, the Internet community has an odd sense of humor at times.

As for whether the new Studios project is an oddball offering for Amazon, a site primarily thought of as a shopping portal, it’s not, really. For one thing, the end product Amazon is funding will end up as inventory on its virtual shelves. Amazon also has a history of “democratizing” access through Internet technology. Its cloud computing infrastructure delivers the power of large server farms to even the smallest business or individual and its lesser-known, but fairly popular, on-demand, scalable workforce at Mechanical Turk crowdsources large jobs by splitting them up into smaller tasks performed by anyone with an Internet connection and a bit of time to kill online.

Amazon Studios fits in nicely with those types of democratizing, crowdsourced ventures. Whether or not it will lead to the next major blockbuster, however, is yet to be seen.

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