There are few things that I like more then zombie flicks; wait, let me rephrase: good zombie flicks, which is why I always have my ear to the ground in search of the next great flesh-eating entertainment buzz. Lately there has been a lot of this buzz surrounding the new film-to-be Zombies Vs. Gladiators. I even saw an article about it in one of my go-to horror mags: Fangoria. But, what sounds like great fun on the screen may actually be a real life nightmare and cautionary tale for writers.
Amazon Studios has well been on my “possibly a scam” list since they first tried to reinvent the metaphorical studio wheel. What in theory seemed like a great way to circumvent the nepotism in the studio system and get a movie made, in actuality may be a great way to take advantage of writers (it’s all in the fine print baby). This thought seems to be underscored in this week’s goings-ons with Zombies Vs. Gladiators.
The original script for this movie was originally shopped around town by writers Gregg Ostrin & Michael Weiss. Now, I have not read the script myself, which is available to read here if you are so inclined, but it was turned down by every studio and the word is, it was for good reason. Fast forward a bit and the script was submitted in 2010 to Amazon Studios in a last ditch effort to get it made.
Once the script was uploaded it was contractually obligated to grant Amazon a free 18 month option period, among other things. At the end of this option period Amazon had the provision to renew for another 18 month at a $10,000 price tag. If the script were to win the monthly or yearly script contests the writers would be paid a $200k prize purchase price. Zombies Vs. Gladiators did not win either. Now I’m no lawyer but this pretty much leaves Amazon exempt from paying the $200k purchase price, while legally allowing them to develop and shoot the scripts, potentially distributing and profiting from a movie they barely paid for.
Amazon put the script out for their public rewrite contest. Ultimately this contest was won by writer Lauri, who was one of several writers that did a free page one rewrite. Assumable Laura was paid the $10,000 prize for her rewrite, and now Amazon has signed on horror legend Clive Barker to do yet another rewrite, and to direct the flick. You can be sure he signed on for REAL money, not prize money.
If you look over the press releases for Z vs G you will not find one mention of the original writers, whether on Amazon’s page or on third party pages such as Ain’t It Cool News. Not only this, but you have to wonder, will the original writers ever be paid a purchase price, and moreover, will they, at the very least receive a “Story By” credit? They certainly aren’t receiving any credit now.
This all makes me very nervous. A big conglomerate like Amazon has a heck of a lot of power, and lawyers to back it up. Many question loom in my mind but maybe the biggest is, what if the original script, and the final script are nothing alike with the exception that gladiators fight zombies. We could make twenty movies like this and they would all be completely, and more importantly, LEGALLY different. If this happens, do Gregg Ostrin and Michael Weiss get any credit or pay? As a writer THIS is what I find truly bone-chilling…. And I write horror movies!
Now, I wonder, what do Gregg and Michael think about all this? It seems as though they are hoping (or praying) for the best. On the Amazon Z vs G forum Michael posted this: “We are excited and hope (that) Clive (takes) it to the next level.”
Overall I think this situation should be closely watched and used as a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of submitting to Amazon Studios. The only bonus I can see is that Gregg and Michael may be getting more exposure then they would have otherwise, especially if the original script is as awful as everyone says it is. I guess the true question is, is this the exposure they want? “Our script was so awful every studio turned it down and it needed several page one rewrites?” Maybe… there are a lot of hack writers with careers. I ask you though, is it worth the risk if you’re not a hack?