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Amazon Goes Hollywood

The movie business is notoriously fickle, expensive and challenging, to say the least. But Amazon is jumping right in to what it sees as a totally new opportunity — leveraging the power of "aggregated opinions" to cull the best ideas to submit to Hollywood. Amazon just launched "Amazon Studios" — the new site invites amateur screenwriters and filmmakers to submit screenplays or home-made movies, which they're calling 'test films.'

Amazon.com
Amazon.com

Amazon is luring in projects with the incentive of a total of $2.7 million in cash rewards that it'll pay out between now and the end of 2011. The awards will range from $10,000 to $1 million, but the real prize is getting a movie made.

The e-tailer has given Warner Brothers a "First Look" at any of the projects. It's giving them this 'first right of refusal' for free because Warner Bros. is the largest and most powerful studio — and has a good relationship with Amazon as a retailer of its movies. And for Warner Brothers it's a no risk proposition — it gets to cull from top submissions.

So why is Amazon investing millions in such a tough business? They say they expect to generate profits from their film projects. But there's something much more profound happening here: Amazon is deepening its ties with Hollywood. It's also establishing its expertise in a new middle ground that uses technology and the wisdom of crowds to bring amateur ideas to a professional spot on the big screen.

This builds on Amazon's investment in offering technology to help content creators. 'Amazon Studios' could perhaps integrate with Amazon's on-demand business. "Create Space" allows consumers to self-publish and distribute books, music and movies, making CDs or DVDs on demand. Amazon Studious could drive potential filmmakers to these kinds of options.

Amazon is hardly the first company to try to produce amateur film ideas on a professional scale. But Amazon is doing this now because inexpensive technology is making it easier and cheaper than ever for anyone to make what they're calling a "test movie." We'll see if that lower barrier to entry gives Amazon Studios a happy ending.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.