Amazon Studios; A Warning To All Screenwriters
Imagine you fire up Final Draft one day to find you’d been locked out of using it or opening your screenplays. Picture logging into Celtx to learn your account had been terminated and your drafts removed. Envisage firing up your computer to discover your DropBox account had deleted all your working files. This nightmare scenario may sound crazy but, if you are a writer dependent on Amazon Studios, it might be a very real possibility — and you may need to jump ship as soon as you can.
Anyone who’s known me for the past four years will know I’ve been a very active and vocal champion for Amazon Studios. Often maligned for various poor decisions in the studio’s past, such as taking ownership of script submissions for up to eighteen months or not being a WGA signatory, Amazon Studios has been seen in a poor light within the screenwriting world. While they have made some very positive changes, dropping their entire slate of scripts optioned through their open amateur writer submission system and choosing to stick with incumbent industry writers a couple of years back still leaves a bitter taste in many mouths.
That said, I’ve always had a deep admiration for them. Here is a studio holding its door open and allowing any writer from any background to submit their work for consideration without any cost. That’s big in an industry moving toward pay-to-play. It doesn’t matter if they failed, they at least tried. They pared back their default option agreements to virtually zero, they became a WGA signatory, they brought in the brilliant producer Ted Hope as head of movie development, and they started creating and distributing some amazing content — they even recently won an Oscar. On top of all this, they have optioned one amateur script “The Wall” via their open submission system, which has been green lit and put into production. That’s hell of a turnaround.
They’ve always been good to me too. I submitted a script of mine “For Your Dreams” during my first twelve months of writing and was delighted to have it spotlit as a Notable Project. This didn’t mean it was optioned, received notes, or anything like that, but Amazon took it upon themselves to promote that script, and me, via their site and their social media profiles. As a result, I’ve always felt a little indebted to them and thus I have hung out within their community helping to motivate new writers, discuss craft, and spread the good word.
For four years I’ve been putting a lot in via their community forums. I’ve also been engaging in their review system and receiving reviews from others. It’s not been an entirely smooth ride I admit. Their forums are barely maintained and regularly suffer visits from trolls. They have also been a feeding ground for people who like to tear down new writers. However, that’s hardly a unique state for an online writing community.
I’ve also always given Amazon Studios first refusal of my work. I’ve always really wanted their system to prove itself. I’ve always wanted it to lead the way for other studios to follow…
Then a strange thing happened.
First I got an email stating some posts of mine had been deleted for spam and then, just ten minutes later, I got a second saying they had removed posting privileges for my account, again for spam.
That sounds bad but the reality was far far worse.
Attempting to visit the Amazon Studios website informed me that my account had been deactivated and trying to view my profile page brought a page removed message.
Without warning, with little reason, with no chance to argue my case, they stripped me of everything I’ve ever built up on there over the past four years. Thousands of hours of work where I had visited daily to help people. All my scripts removed. My notable project spotlight torn from me. Reviews others had left for me deleted. They had wiped me out of existence.
The post in question? Well that’s hard to say as they provided no explanation. They did however delete a thread I’d created about Script Revolution; so let’s get into that before I explain where this gets -really- scary for screenwriters.
The Offending Posts
For anybody who doesn’t know, I run the free script hosting website www.scriptrevolution.com — a site which I built with my own hands and launched in mid-2016. I funded the site entirely myself for the first year and now allow others to contribute via Patreon. It’s an altruistic project to help all writers of all backgrounds connect with filmmakers. It’s growing fast and, at this time, boasts over a 2,250 scripts and over 1,500 members. It takes up an enormous amount of my time and causes me a tremendous amount of stress, but I really want it to make a positive difference to the industry.
Script Revolution poses no threat to Amazon Studios or its members, in fact it even allows writers to add their Amazon Studios profiles to their bios. I’ve always been very careful about how I share news about it. I’ve been on the web and building websites for around twenty years now. I know what spam is and avoid creating it. So, seven months ago, I created a single Script Revolution post and fielded a lot of questions from members within it since. It was a civilised and positive discussion. I never created new threads for news. I kept it all in one place as not to in any way dominate the forum. In my time, I’ve moderated a lot of forums and still do to this day. I know what is and isn’t spammy behaviour. As I say, this thread existed and was commented in regularly for seven months without any issue, and then suddenly, blam!
What was particularly disheartening to see wasn’t just that my thread had been removed but that there was a new thread clearly left by someone who has a problem with me and most likely the person who reported me for “spamming”. The thread can be found here. I have no problem sharing it because the claims are so false and ridiculous. The account for who posted it can also be found here. Yep, that’s somebody under a blatantly false name with zero contributions who’s signed up only a week ago to attack other members.
This is all it takes to destroy years of contributions by an Amazon Studios member. You can just sign up, report a post, and take everything from one of their biggest champions.
Like I say, the moderation with their forum is flaky at best. There are a lot of submissions that clearly break guidelines that are left online. Regardless, surely any action they took against me should have consisted of deleting my Script Revolution posts and giving me a warning. Not trying to wipe me off the face of the planet. That would have still been unfair, but it would have been a lot less brutal and damaging to me as a writer.
- Amazon Studios may delete entire accounts for debatable infractions without any warning.
- Amazon Studios may allow anybody to sign up and quickly get another writer’s account deleted out of malice.
- Amazon Studios does not appear to offer any form of dialogue or chance to form a rebuttal on the part of those reported.
Now The Really Really Scary Bit
Amazon Studios launched their own online screenwriting software known as Amazon Storywriter. This is a nice, free to use, and lightweight bit of cloud software that allows anybody to write well formatted screenplays. I’ve been recommending Storywriter since it came out. Not everybody can afford screenwriting software and anything that lowers the barrier to entry is a good thing.
Now, as of this moment, I can still access Storywriter and can still see the drafts where I have played around with it in the past.
But this is terrifying. Who’s to say where Amazon Studios draw the line in deleting member content? They have taken everything else from me. Who’s to say that couldn’t include scripts I’d been working on within their writing software? Keep in mind they have deleted every script draft I’ve ever submitted. Those may have been my only copies. Hell, some of those drafts genuinely were the only copies I could get to.
Just to clarify, they have not blocked me from Storywriter. They have not deleted my content from Storywriter. You can export and download drafts from Storywriter. They have just deleted everything else I’ve ever submitted. For all we know, that may just be due to how the mechanics of the system work — and for all we know, that may change.
Understandably, this has shaken my confidence. Amazon Studios is essentially supposed to be a screenwriting community where writers create, submit, review, and discuss scripts. This isn’t like banning someone from a forum. This isn’t like barring someone from submissions. This is all out wiping of content that careers can be built on over petty trolling by bitter individuals. In my case, I’m doing good, I don’t really need my Amazon Studios account to progress, but did love being a big part of that community. I did love motivating and helping others. I also know there are people building a portfolio or reviews on there. I know there are people who’s entire motivation stems from the feedback they’ve gotten on there. This is cruel. This is not how you nurture an online community. You cannot treat creatives like this.
I absolutely cannot, no longer, recommend Amazon Studios to new writers. Even if my account is somehow reinstated, the fact is they tore everything away from me in the blink of an eye and may do so with others. If this is how they treat writers at this level then it puts into question how they treat writers on any level.
I cannot continue to recommend Amazon Storywriter. While my content appears safe, there’s no way I could use it now without a trepidation that my work could be deleted at any minute. I do not feel safe putting my material on any platform related to Amazon Studios.
If you are looking for a list of screenwriting software alternatives (some of which that are free), click here.
I will no longer be submitting to Amazon Studios at all. I know that seems petty but I’d really rather not get involved in an organisation that behaves like this.
As For My Troll
I’ve genuinely no idea where the animosity has come from. A few months back, I pointed out a competition someone posted was blatantly fraudulent and recently I agreed with comments that a poster on there could be nicer to other writers. That’s it. What’s becoming weird is that creating a free script hosting website seems to be rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. I can’t really do anything about that. I’m doing it with the best intentions and certainly won’t give in, even if it does mean having my online profile attacked by someone.
So screw you, troll, and screw you too, Amazon Studios. I don’t care if your anonymous loser in a basement or an entire faceless corporation. I’m going to continue to try and give writers access to free exposure whether you like it or not.