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Amazon Studios Director Roy Price Talks Second-Year Changes

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by Anne Thompson
April 6, 2012 4:29 PM
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It's more than a year since Amazon Studios launched its radical new approach to making movies. Where are they now? Well, Amazon Studios director Roy Price has finalized a development slate of fifteen projects in the works, along with a real production company complete with a team of pro creative execs culled from the ranks of Shadow Catcher Entertainment (vice president of production Michael Lewis), Marvel (CE Michael Chong), Montecito Pictures (CE Brianna Little) and ICM (CE Julian Claassen). And Price wants to "add to the development slate," he says.

Price means business. And he has been willing to make revisions, in true Amazon style, in how this radical system actually works. For one thing, readers told them that folks who submit screenplays online want to get immediate feedback--they don't want to wait as long as 18 months. So now they will get it within 45 days. Either a script gets optioned or rights revert to the writer.

Some screenwriters who prefer not to submit their scripts to public scrutiny (reaction can be brutal) now have the online option to submit privately, while agencies and WGA writers can submit to Amazon Studios' People's Production Company.

That means that inevitably, Amazon Studios, recognizing that many of the best and most experienced writers actually belong to the Writers Guild or Animation IAATSE, is now a signatory to both.

"The goal has always been to create value for movie fans and opportunities for writers and filmmakers," says Price, who has yet to greenlight a project or sell anything to first-look partner Warner Bros., although that deal is still in place; executive Courtney Valenti is their most frequent liaison. "The development process takes time," he says. "We're making progress. We've learned a lot."

The creative team at People's Production are "working with producers, writers and filmmakers to push projects forward in more traditional ways offline," says Price. In other words, Amazon is figuring out why Hollywood works the way it does. Price's innovation is to use Amazon's massive movie fan base (ranging from China and Zimbabwe to Sherman Oaks) as a research tool to refine and improve projects to give moviegoers what they want--before anyone spends $80 million on it. While Pixar refines its primitive animatics during production on animated movies, they're gaining feedback from the smartest writers and directors in the business, not regular folks.

Amazon funnels their rich feedback into the development process. Price says that while much of it is negative, "all of it was useful." He's also using regular recruited research groups. Price believes that these projects will be commercial: hence the relationship with Warners. "The system can work for any kind of movie; we're interested in knowing what people think no matter what kind of movie it is. If you can get 50,000 people that's more reliable research than a small number."

Amazon put nine test movies--out of 700 submitted-- up on their site and on Amazon Instant Video. Some were commissioned by Amazon. Some of these filmmakers and writers are gaining traction with the Hollywood talent agencies. USC grad Rajeev Dassani directed a January test movie with a budget of $100,000, "The Nevsky Project," and landed representation from WME's digital department. Matthew Gossett, who won the $100,000 best-script prize for his thriller "Origin of a Species," is now represented by Mosaic. Budgets vary, says Price, "from $50,000 to three or four times that."

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