Whatie Looks at Amazon Studios (PART 3)

by Whatie

Amazon Studios offers television writers a different approach to selling their original series ideas. In parts 1 and 2, I looked at what Amazon Studios is. Here in part 3, I am looking at the practical aspects of working with Amazon Studios: namely, how to submit and what they pay.

Amazon Studios wants what any other studio would want: a pilot script and a concise description of the show. For the pilot script, they ask for standard television script format, just the same as you would prepare for any other purpose. For the description of the show, they essentially want a short document that they call a mini-bible, which is nearly identical to the document we in Tvwriterland call the leavebehind. They want a concise description of the premise and characters, a logline, and a list of possible episodes, just like a leavebehind. In effect, submitting to Amazon Studios is a lot like submitting to the People’s Pilot contest.

Of course, there’s the question of money. How much does Amazon Studios pay? We all want to know whether we’ll get a good deal or be screwed if they accept our work! So, here’s the deal: If Amazon Studios likes your series, the first step is promoting it to the Development Slate. That means they have decided to actively pursue your series as a possibility, and their story department gets involved. (This is where you’ll get story notes and the like from the people at the top.) You get $10,000 when they promote you to the Development Slate. Once the story department has done its thing and Amazon Studios has definitely decided to shoot your pilot, you get $55,000 for the series idea and the pilot script. This is in addition to your earlier payment, so your running total is now $65,000.

At this point, Amazon Studios is buying the rights from you and the project becomes theirs. In addition, for every episode they produce other than your pilot, you will receive a one-time creator royalty of either $3,500 if your show is initially distributed via broadcast or cable television channels, or $2,500 if your show is initially distributed as webisodes or goes direct to DVD. You will receive one payment per episode that anyone creates and airs, and no further royalties after that. Of course, if you personally write additional episodes, serve on the staff, or otherwise contribute to the making of the show beyond your initial project submission, you will get paid for your work, but that’s a separate contract negotiation.

You are also entitled to a percentage of any merchandise sold. This percentage starts at 5%, but they reserve the right to reduce your percentage to as low as 2.5% if they should choose to grant any third party a percentage of the merchandise, in effect giving away your percentage without asking so that they can keep their own profit margins intact.

All in all, the money isn’t a bad deal. Sure, the traditional big studios typically do much better. However, Amazon Studios may well give your project life that no other studio will ever offer. Whether you suffer from un-agented obscurity or you just have a special script that regular networks don’t want but which the people may like, the new paradigm here may well be the answer.