Amazon adds storytelling tools to its arsenal.

updated 20140114

Amazon Studios was launched 3 years ago to develop feature films and episodic series. In a new effort to pack another punch to its arch enemy Netflix, as well as increasing its original content catalog, the company has rolled out the beta for “Storyteller,” a free online storytelling tool that converts scripts into storyboards.

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After uploading a script, Amazon Studios is supposed to scan it and then identify, match, and add scenes, as well as locations and characters from a library of thousands of characters, props, and backgrounds. Wow! I liked the concept right away, and followed all the steps to create an account and upload a short adaptation. In theory, the script can remain private or shared with other people to receive feedback. The document must be an RTF or PDF to be uploaded. Final Draft can save both formats, but Celtx can only export PDFs.

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• The interface

In terms of colors and navigation, Storyteller looks VERY similar to Adobe Story or Adobe Lightroom.

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• Options

Perhaps because we are still working with a beta version, there are very limited options to change “Actions, Emotion, Wardrobe, and Eye Direction.” We couldn’t find an easy way to storyboard a dialog with our sketches.

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• The deal breaker

It is important to remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially when dealing with large corporations.

• You get a chance to get paid for your script.
Yes, but Amazon Studios claims a 45-day exclusive option for free. The 45-day option period will restart each time you contribute a revision of your project. And Amazon can extend the option twice for 18 months each time by paying $10,000 for each extension.

• You will get $200,000.
Yes, but only if Amazon acquires ALL the rights to your script.

• You will get another $400,000.
Yes, but that’s if the script becomes a movie, and if that movie is theatrically released, and if it makes more than $60 million in U.S. box office receipts in its initial release. That’s a lot of ifs.

• Conclusion

I’m not impressed. Screenwriters, filmmakers and photographers transitioning into digital cinema have access to much better storytelling tools without sacrificing their rights. The storytelling tool might develop into something more robust—who knows. Perhaps the collaboration aspect could attract enough people to make it worthwhile. Or maybe Amazon will rethink its heavily tilted arrangement. What’s your take?