In an effort to expand its original video content, including movies and TV series, Amazon announced this morning the launch of a free, cloud-based screenwriting software program called Amazon Storywriter. In addition, the company says it’s expanding to include drama submissions, and will no longer take a free option on scripts submitted to the Amazon Studios website, allowing WGA members to upload directly to the site.
Previously, Amazon accepted script submissions for feature films, primetime comedy series for adults, and series for children aged 2 to 14, but this is the first time that Amazon will now consider drama series submissions as well.
Amazon Studios launched in 2010 to serve as a way to crowdsource the process of finding new scripts for films and series. It offers a way for writers to upload their content online and make their projects public in order to gain feedback from the larger community. However, its launch and a related “script contest” were immediately fraught with confusion and controversy as a number of writers warned of Amazon’s then-free 18-month option on scripts from the moment they were uploaded, as well as other issues with copyright and authorship.
That submission program has evolved over the years, however. Amazon Studios’ prior policy, until today, stated it had the exclusive right to buy a movie script for $200,000 or TV script for $55,000 from the day it’s uploaded up to 45 days out. It can then pay $10,000 to extend that option for 18 months, which it can do up to two times, according to its FAQ.
We’ve asked Amazon to clarify if the terms on its site are still accurate, given its news related to the elimination of the free option.
The company has not yet responded, but we’ll update when it does.
Update: Here’s how Amazon Studios explains its new options policy:
Before, it would take a 45-day unpaid option when receiving scripts, and it would pay $10K if it wanted to extend that period. Now, if Amazon is interested in a script on its site, they will reach out and offer a paid option that matches or exceeds any applicable guild minimum, and the writer can choose to accept or reject the offer. The updated Terms are here.
Because the Amazon Studios script submission program was meant to attract newcomers, dabblers and others who are not yet established in the world of scriptwriting, it makes sense that Amazon would eventually roll out its own software to enable screenwriters to more easily craft their scripts. TV and movie scripts have a certain format and style to them, and new writers may not know how to get started.
Amazon Studio has already greenlit a series that came in through this online platform: “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street,” a kids’ series that’s now on season two.
Amazon Storywriter helps with the style problem by auto-formatting as you type, and supports import and export of PDF files, FDX files, and Fountain formats. In addition, the software saves the work online, in Amazon’s cloud, and includes a Chrome application for both Mac and PC.
This is the second software program Amazon has introduced for scriptwriters. The company released Storybuilder in late 2013, which is like a virtual version of the notecards writers use when plotting out a story’s progress.
But while Storywriter is meant to help newcomers participate in Amazon Studios, the change to the way scripts are optioned is meant to help better cater to more established writers. As Amazon explains, this means that members of the Writers Guild of America and the Animation Guild members can now submit their original material through Amazon’s online submission process.