Crowdsourcing goes to Hollywood as Amazon makes movies

* Amazon has 21 movie projects, 9 TV projects in development

* Amazon to post trial videos and seek feedback

* Aim is to avoid "big bombs" -Amazon Studios chief

By Alistair Barr

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc isproducing its own movies and TV programming using the consumertracking and data crunching skills it developed while becomingthe world's largest Internet retailer.

Essentially, Amazon is crowdsourcing the creation oforiginal content -- movies such as "Zombies versus Gladiators"and the children's TV series "Magic Monkey Billionaire."

The retailer hopes the approach will result in more hits andfewer flops than the traditional Hollywood practice of filteringcreative ideas through three-martini lunches with studio bossesand movie stars.

Like rival movie provider Netflix Inc , Amazon isdeveloping its own content to supplement movies and TV showsfrom Hollywood's back catalog. Amazon pays an estimated $1billion a year to stream programming from others over its PrimeInstant Video service.

Since late 2010, the company's Hollywood studio, AmazonStudios, has let aspiring screenwriters and film makers uploadthousands of scripts to its website.

It has an exclusive, 45-day option to buy movie scripts for$200,000 and TV series for $55,000. It can also pay $10,000 toextend options for 18 months.

Instead of green-lighting a feature-length film or TV pilot,Amazon first helps develop the scripts it options into trialvideos. It posts these online to solicit reviews and feedbackfrom its millions of customers. Writers use the feedback toadjust scripts, hoping to boost the chances of creating a hitwhen Amazon spends millions of dollars turning projects intofull movies or TV shows.

"Hopefully we can avoid big bombs," said Roy Price, head ofAmazon Studios. "Our notion for what the world needs may be aroller-skating movie or a battleship film, but that could bewrong. We can do tests and find out that, actually, no one caresabout this project or that one. If you do that before you spend$200 million on it, that would be good. Good for customers andgood for the business."

For instance, Amazon took its nine best test movies from2011 and posted them on Amazon Instant Video, the company'sstreaming video service. Customers viewed the projects hundredsof thousands of times, according to the company. It is usingreviews and feedback to re-write scripts.

Amazon also collected data on how long customers watched thetest videos and how many watched all the way through.

"That form of implicit feedback is as useful, or more usefulsometimes, than the explicit feedback," Price said. "This toldus something about the marketability of these ideas."

Amazon Studios recently turned "Blackburn Burrow," a moviescript by screenwriter Jay Levy, into a digital comic to getmore consumer input.

The comic, recently the most-downloaded free comic onAmazon's Kindle store, comes with a survey for feedback on whatpeople thought about the story, according to Levy.

"If you look at the amount of data Amazon collects everyday, it's incredible," Levy said. "This way, they begin to getactual feedback about the story and will create something thatpeople really get invested in."

Bringing market research to the creative process is nothingnew, of course. Hollywood tests movies with focus groups all thetime. But it is not done on such an open, large scale asAmazon's approach.

"You often don't get audience feedback until you almostrelease a movie," said Edward Saxon, Oscar-winning producer of"The Silence of the Lambs."

"Film-making is an iterative process - a draft and thenanother draft. Amazon is very smart to find more places alongthe way to get feedback."

Saxon is one of a handful of big-name producers who havesigned on to Amazon Studio projects. He is helping develop"Children Of Others," about a woman who takes her last chance ata fertility clinic, only to find that her unborn child may bethe first wave of an alien invasion.

Amazon Studios currently has 21 movie projects and nine TVprojects in development.

The movies will be made for theatrical release - Amazon hasa deal that gives Warner Bros. Pictures the first crack atbringing them to the big screen, known in industry parlance as a"first-look" deal. Any TV series will be distributed on Amazon'svideo streaming platform as exclusive shows, according to Price.

Amazon has been clear about what it wants to spend and itknows movie-making costs money, Saxon said.

"I am betting my professional energy that we are going tosee a good number of Amazon movies, and I hope mine is one ofthem," he added. "The movie we're making is going to competewith the big boys."

(Reporting By Alistair Barr; Editing by Peter Lauria and DavidGregorio)

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