Amazon Studios: Democracy In TV Series Development

Amazon Studios announced this week they had greenlit production of a pilot for an hour-long contagion thriller series, Hysteria.  The story follows neurologist Dr. Logan Harlen as she returns to her hometown of Austin, Texas to investigate a psycho-physiological disorder that seems to spread through social media. Mena Suvari of American Beauty stars as Dr. Harlen. Former pop-star Shaun Cassidy, creator of the 2005 – 2006 ABC mystery/horror drama, Invasion, will write and executive produce.

Started in 2010, Amazon Studios, a fledgling division of the online retail giant, follows a unique entertainment development model in that it solicits ideas for television shows, movies, and comics via online submissions and uses audience feedback to decide which to develop. Per the Studios’ FAQ page, the process provides both an open door for creators, and invites audience participation. In addition to finished scripts, Amazon tests “premises, storyboards, posters, videos, test movies, pilots, promos, and other formats.”

Once submitted, the Studios’ development team takes 45 days to make a decision whether to pass on or to option material. Development staff works with some creators whose material is optioned to further develop their submissions, and then posts them on the Movie Development Slate or Series Development Slate – the rosters of promising projects that make the submissions available to site users for comment and recommendations. Creators of material added to the Development States are paid up to $10,000.

If series ideas are approved by site users, the Studios’ team develops them into a pilot, and the finished pilot is posted on the Amazon Instant Video site for viewing. Viewers are invited to provide feedback. If pilots are made into a series, producers are paid via royalties, bonuses, and merchandising points.

Notable Movie Projects and Notable Series Projects are projects that the development staff sees as having potential, but that don’t match the Studios’ current needs. The Studios’ post the material, encouraging creators to incorporate audience feedback.

The Studios’ site also includes tools to assist creators with building stories and generating storyboards. Hollywonk, the Studios’ blog, keeps followers current on the latest developments.

The Studios’ launched their first two original series last fall – the comedies Alpha House, starring John Goodman, and Betas. This summer, they’ll debut three kids’ series – Tumble Leaf, Creative Galaxy, and the live-action, Annedroids. Six other series have been ordered – including the supernatural drama, The After, from The X-Files creator, Chris Carter, and Bosch, an L.A. homicide detective drama based on a series of bestselling books. A complete list of their series is listed on the Amazon site.

2014 is the Studios’ third pilot season. Other pilots this year include the dramedy The Cosmopolitans from indie feature writer/director Whit Stillman; the drama Hand of God, starring Ron Perlman of Sons of Anarchy; and a Civil War-era drama written by Carlton Cuse of Lost and Randall Wallace of Braveheart.

Amazon Studios’ original series are available exclusively to Amazon’s Prime members through Prime Instant Video.

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