Amazon Studios–A Den Of Unprofessionalism

Rather than go into extensive detail, I’m simply going to blog verbatim my profile from my Amazon Studios account. I am sorely disappointed and disiullusioned by the gaming that has been allowed to dominate that contest.

“I want to go on record about the fracas surrounding this contest. I have never seen so much unprofessionalism in all my days, nor have I seen contest moderators that allow it continue for so long.

I feel that I am not in control of my entry any more. People are rating and commenting things that blow my mind. Does the negative campaigning bother me? Not so much. I’ve already gotten everything I hoped to gain from entering this contest. But so much ill will and discord…whether anyone at Amazon Studios wants to believe it or not, this does seem to all center around one particular uploader and a group of his friends from a certain art school. Too much proof has been presented to me to believe anything otherwise.

At the end of the day, we should all remember that this is about A NOVEL. An AUTHOR. Exploring new marketing and promotion options, NOT about whether machinima is better than motion graphics or vice versa. Everyone but me and a small handful of other participants seems to have completely forgotten this. Now egos are dominating the contest, and both public and private unprofessionalism (via Studio Mail) are setting the tone. Sadly, these are the impressions I will take back to the writing community, that this is the kind of dog and pony show you get when dealing with Amazon Studios.

Back to my profile:

I am a storyteller. A writer first, a machinima director second. I believe story trumps all else–no matter how eloquent the prose or how impressive the camera work, without a story, all you have is empty words and wasted frames.

So why have I, a writer at heart, gravitated toward machinima? Short answer: machinima is a type of 3D animation based on video game technology, which gives it it’s distinctive look and style. It’s a technology available to armchair animators and does not require extensive training in digital arts. Royalty-free software has been developed for use in commercial application. Workproduct derived from this software infringes on no gaming copyright and is owned exclusively by the creator. In other words, it’s the perfect visual platform for someone who does not aspire to be a professional filmmaker.

I discovered machinima as a storytelling tool in 2010, and since that time have been exploring its uses in the mainstream, not just in the underground communities that have enjoyed it for years. One thing I’ve discovered is its value in the production of affordable book trailers, which are fast becoming a marketing staple for all new novels, especially ebooks.

Most authors do not have an unlimited budget. This means that for most of us, lavish, live-action book trailers employing professional actors and slick editing chops are completely impractical. One must balance the cost of any promotional strategy against the profit it will generate. The efficacy of book trailers is still largely untested in the literary community, although it seems Amazon is beginning to explore them as a viable marketing tool. Still, very few independent authors can take the financial risk involved in creating one.

While today’s audience (myself included) has been deliciously spoiled by Pixar-type animation with its flowing, individual strands of hair and fluid motion capture, that technology is not currently available to most amateur filmmakers. Commissioning a book trailer made with this technology would rival or possibly exceed the expense of a professional, live-action project.

Is machinima right for every book trailer? Good heavens, no. Will everyone adjust to its peculiar brand of animation? Of course not. But based on reactions within the literary community, I can guarantee it’s right for some, and that many writers can envision their own characters “live” on the screen as machinima avatars.

Now, a word or two about myself–yes, I’ve written novels. No, I haven’t sought to publish them. . .yet. The publishing industry has been in upheaval for a few years and I’ve felt no pressure to entangle with it. Amazon brought things sharply into focus in 2011 with the announcement that their ebooks were outselling print copy. Much debate has raged in literary circles about the demise of traditional publishing and the “plague” of self-published ebooks. Personally, I think the kerfluffle amounts to little more than brick and mortar stores (and New York’s Big 6) hitting the panic button when they see their new bottom line.

But I digress. Although I have yet to put any real energy into seeing my manuscripts turned into novels, other works of mine have appeared in various trade publications and online magazines like Amarillo Bay. I’ve been heavily involved in and credited with the revision and pre-publication critique process of several novels including The Messenger, Exposure, The Story Makers, The Rest Of Forever, and Secret Confessions Of The Applewood PTA, all available for purchase on Amazon’s main site. I’m also an active machinima critic for Sims 2 and 3 derivative works, partnering with another adult machinima director to bring the art of storytelling to the hordes of kids who populate that community.”

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6 responses to “Amazon Studios–A Den Of Unprofessionalism

  1. Rhonda, if amazon allows the one-star bandits to sabotage your ratings the way they did, my days of buying books, reading and writing reviews for amazon will soon be over. My faith in justice may be permanently crippled. I’ll keep listening to the Underdog theme song on you-tube while thinking there is indeed no hope for the human race. I will personally sabotage any institution that allows such unprofessionalism in a simple contest that was meant to promote a novel and the growing industry of book trailers. I care about books. I care about fairness and honesty.

  2. Carol, I received a reply from Amazon Studios that said the spiteful letter Samuel Scott wrote me via the private inbox did not violate their policy. Laura has received no communication from them whatsoever about the insults he hurled at her. They have completely ignored her, the same way they ignored Scott and, as far as I know, are ignoring Gary Thompson.

  3. When Amazon Studios first started, the idea was to generate feature films through a process not unlike Hollywood’s,but with a more open approach to the talent and participation. It sounded like an interesting idea. I talked to them about one of my scripts, but then opted to not participate, because of the murky approach to rights (at least in Hollywood, they explicitly cut you out and pacify you with a $5,000 check). Plus the fact that AS opened it up to literally anyone, zero credentials or not. The way AS was set up, any amateur could “borrow” your idea. Since most people on the fringes of the film biz don’t start with a lot of ideas on anything, chances were, anything good enough to borrow would be borrowed and driven into the nearest sink hole.

    I didn’t realize AS had detoured into machinima and this contest you’re talking about. But unprofessionalism, as you call it and I understand it, was built into the original model. Especially if they adjudicate the quality with a pseudo-popularity contest–they don’t have enough participants to prevent cliques and gang tackles. I wouldn’t have steered you there, if you had asked.

    Personally, I was glad to see Amazon trying to do something about the mess of current American film-making, even if the model was flawed. Just as I’m glad they’re working on private space flight. I wouldn’t agree with Carol here that there is anything unusually unethical about Amazon, just because this particular effort is a bust. At least they’re trying. And for authors, they’re doing sensational things–but that’s more in their mainstream probably. They don’t have a clue about film-making.

  4. All the things you said here are absolutely in line with my own experiences there. I will not be toying with Amazon Studios again.

    But I always hate to say “never.” Who knows what I’ll do in the future. I hate participating in competitions of any sort, always have, but like the pain of childbirth, the unpleasantness (and often the stink of corruption) always seems to disappear when it’s over.

    No question that there is a clear bias being perpetrated by Amazon Studios. It’s evident to anyone who investigates the voting patterns. I get the message–they don’t like machinima and will do nothing to encourage more of it in their community. Fortunately for me, it’s the consumer who always gets the last vote.

    I’ve had perfectly legitimate five-star ratings simply disappear from my entry. People I don’t even know, or don’t know well. And some people I DO know, who contacted me privately to let me know that Amazon won’t communicate with them about the removal, or cites some vague participation guideline that doesn’t apply to their situation. Only contest moderators could remove these ratings. It’s a very sneaky way of manipulating the contest from within, to make sure that a damned machinima production does not come away as fan favorite. Everyone who knows me knows I am not a conspiracy theorist. But what am I supposed to think when presented with this kind of evidence?

    Yet Amazon Studios refuses–simply refuses–to enforce those same participation guidelines and stop the campaign voting of the SCAD students (Savannah College of Art and Design) who dominate the contest. This has been brought to the attention of contest moderators time and again, by me and people other than me. These kids are allowed to use votes as retaliation, to denigrate other entries, to “talk up” their friend who has a contest entry (#29), and the participant himself is allowed to send belittling, snarky private messages to scold those who don’t comment or rate in his favor.The proof of this is all right there in the open, in black and white. I can share it with anyone who asks to see it.

    It’s not animation in general that is taking the hit here. Entry #29 is also animated–sort of. The contest splash page called for entries of all types–live action, animated, text-driven. . . . Machinima has long been considered the “red-headed stepchild” of the animation world, and I guess we have a long way to go before perceptions change.

  5. The bias against machinima surprises me. We have indie authors publishing their own novels via amazon, avoiding Traditional Brick and Mortar publishers; this led to indie film makers promoting these books. It’s the American way — entrepreneurs, dreamers, anyone willing to work can make big things happen. Why is machinima getting such a bum rap while odd cartoonish anime (sp?) and karaoke remain unfathomably popular? There’s no accounting for taste or what sells in the marketplace.

    • Well, if we are being totally candid here (and I hope we are) machinima’s “bad rap” isn’t completely undeserved. Just take few minutes to google “machinima” and watch some of the video returns you get. . .egads. There has been no real push for strong, original storytelling using machinima as a medium since. . .since. . .well, never.

      So until now, it has struck a dissonant chord with both storytellers and traditional animators, who really can produce slicker, better, more seamless 3D films using other technology (think Pixar.) Until now, what has been the real draw for machinima? Weak storytelling + mediocre animation results = no audience and plenty of ridicule.

      Yet fans of machinima persist (thank God!) because they have a vision for what machinima “could” be. And why not? Being a middle-of-the-road animation technology does not equal being the least watchable or the most crude. In machinima’s most recent history, I’ve discovered some true artisanship and a treatment of classical storytelling that was largely missing from its earlier incarnations. As the community settles, fewer machinima directors than ever are hardcore animators. Instead, they are storytellers who’ve found a new medium. It’s just going to take a few more revolutions around the sun for machinima’s potential to truly be realized.

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