Amazon Gets Into Movie Business, in First-Look Deal With Warners

Amazon Studios will host screenwriting and filmmaking contests and hopes to produce feature films

Amazon.com is getting into the movie business. Instead of a studio lot or theater chain, however, the internet retailer is relying on a variation of crowd sourcing.

Under its new online Amazon Studios program, announced on Tuesday, filmmakers and screenwriters will be invited to submit their full-length movies and scripts; if the response to a project is enthusiastic enough, the company will help get the movie made through a first-look deal with Warner Bros.

If Warner's passes on a particular project, Amazon Studios can then try to sell the project to another studio.

In addition, Amazon will offer a total of $2.7 million in awards to the top submissions received by Dec. 31, 2011.

The program will strengthen Amazon's presence in Hollywood. While the company offers movies for digital download, it hasn't made as big a mark in the industry as either YouTube or Netflix.

Beginning immediately, writers can add scripts, and filmmakers can upload full-length test movies to the site. Test movies may be made from an original script or from any script submitted to Amazon Studios. Test movies must be full length (more than 70 minutes), but they don’t have to be “full budget.”

Amazon executives told TheWrap that pains had been taken to ensure that none of the materials would be pirated, although they did not elaborate on their precautions.

Visitors to the site then will be able to review the scripts and films — or even upload their own alternate, revised versions. The idea is to assess a film’s potential before too much money is spent on its development.

If a filmmaker or screenwriter creates a project with an original script and it is produced in theatrical form by Amazon Studios, they will receive a rights payment of $200,000. If the movie makes more than $60 million at the domestic box office, there will be a $400,000 bonus.

The rights payments associated with releasing a length film are not included in any monetary awards

Amazon said that winning screenplays and full-length test movies will be selected on the basis of commercial viability.

The first Amazon Studios industry panelists will include: screenwriter and chair, Writing Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Jack Epps, Jr. (“Top Gun,” “Dick Tracy”); producer Mark Gill (former president of Miramax and Warner Independent Pictures); screenwriter Mike Werb (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Curious George,” “Face/Off,” “The Mask”); and producer and chair, Production Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Michael Taylor (“Bottle Rocket,” “The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper”).