By Rich Figel
Awhile back, I posted an item about the new Amazon.com contest for screenwriters and filmmakers, and entered it myself because they have been giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes each month -- yes, month. My LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE script made their inaugural Top 50 Semifinals list in December (out of over 2,000 entries) but advanced no further. This month, I had an Amish horror script land in their Top 50 again, out of 4,000 submissions now posted on the site. SNALLYGASTER is about a half-bird/half-reptile monster out of Pennsylvania Dutch folklore that preys on wayward children (college kids and Amish teens on rumspringa, in this case). Alas, I did not win one of the two $20,000 prizes they gave out for best screenplays.
However, that's not why I'm tooting my own horn. Another writer I know through online screenwriting forums just won $100,000 yesterday for making the best "test movie" this month. What's a test movie? Amazon Studios says it can be anything from actual film footage to storyboards with voice-overs. They don't expect to see finished products -- in fact, they want to see projects developed from script pages to table reads, then storyboards and test movies on their site. They're even providing stock music that filmmakers can use without worrying about copyright infringement. Amazon Studios is actively encouraging collaboration between writers and filmmakers through their contest.
And yet, I don't know of many Hawaii filmmakers or writers who are taking advantage of this opportunity. Believe me, winning $100K is a game-changer. My friend, Gary, who just won is now planning on moving from Canada to L.A. so he can be closer to the action and cash in on the publicity from the Amazon Studios contest. To be honest, I haven't tried to make a test movie because I was worried it wouldn't be as "perfect" as I would like. I'd want it to look like a real Hollywood movie -- and that would cost money I don't have. Gary said he was basically "practicing" with his first test movie before tackling one of his better scripts. He was stunned that he won.
NOTE: Amazon is also giving an annual award prize of $1 million for best test movie. Deadline to enter is Dec. 31, 2011.
Too often, in life we don't do things because we're afraid they won't turn out as good as we want. I believe in the old adage: Better to try and fail, then not try at all. Don't use perfectionism as an excuse for not attempting something, like I did. Go for it. Put your craziest, wildest ideas out there and see what others think about it. What's the worst that could happen? They laugh or say, meh. But if one person says, "You know, that could work"... then perhaps you just might have a million dollar idea.
I think the main reason there haven't been more test movies entered is that most aspiring filmmakers start out working on shorts -- small films that are under 10 minutes usually. But to enter the Amazon contest, you have to submit a test movie that is at least 70 minutes long, and many filmmakers would have trouble expanding their short to feature-length or aren't screenwriters themselves. That's why, in theory, the AS site could be a nice marriage between writers and aspiring directors/producers/actors and cinematographers. In practice, the results have been mixed so far.
There ARE some drawbacks involving Amazon's "option" agreement, which entrants need to be aware of. Read all the rules first, by going to the AS website (click here). Anyhow, I would love to work with some local filmmakers on adapting one of my entered scripts as a test movie. Here's what I'm looking for: storyboard or comic book artist, actors for table reads and voice-overs, cinematographers, and aspiring producers.
Some pay is possible for the storyboard work, and those who are involved with making the test movie will receive a portion of the $100K prize if our project should win. Before contacting me though, please check out my Amazon Studios page and read the script that most interests you. Here's the link: http://studios.amazon.com/users/921
The one that I think would work best as a storyboard/test movie is INUGAMI, which is essentially a Japanese version of the werewolf legend, set in San Francisco. It has a neo-noir vibe -- think CHINATOWN with Shinto witchcraft. R-rated, some profanity and gore. Actor Cary Tagawa has been interested in developing it, but wasn't able to raise the financing. The meth-addicted/inugami-cursed murder suspect was written with Jason Scott Lee specifically in mind. Unfortunately, my ex-manager in Hollywood never got the script to him. Anyone know him?
Speaking of movies with local connections, Star-Advertiser columnist Mike Gordon had an item about a former Kailua resident, who stars in a low budget indie film called WHEN HARRY TRIES TO MARRY. I live in Kailua, but I don't know Stefanie Estes -- however, I do know one of the screenwriters, Ralph Stein. He sent me his original HARRY draft about 10 years ago, and I thought it was a very good premise: young guy whose parents are from India decides American-style love marriages don't work, and opts for a traditional arranged marriage instead... then falls in love with a non-Indian woman.
But I thought the script had problems, and told Ralph honestly what I thought. The tone veered from sweet family comedy, sort of like MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, to raunchy R-rated sex jokes. That's what happens in collaborations sometimes. Different strokes for different folks. My advice was to pick one or the other genre, and stick with that tone. During the filming, he emailed me a couple of times and was upset because his writing partner -- who also directed and lined up the financing -- was going more in the G-rated direction, which Ralph didn't like. When it was released, the critics weren't kind to the movie. Many of the things the reviewers said echoed my concerns when I read the script.
Which goes to show that if you don't fix the problems at the idea/rough draft stage, it's likely the end results will be flawed as well. That's a lesson you can apply to any business plan or venture. Make sure you and your partners are literally on the same page before you start investing time and money in any project.
Last chance to catch our Career Changer TV segments on kumu hula, who are performing at the Merrie Monarch Festival, and Dr. Rob Yonover's life-saving ocean rescue inventions. Daily viewing times and on-demand OC16 info are on our website. You can also watch videos from the show on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Our new episode begins airing Thursday, May 5 after the semifinals high school softball game.