Amazon wants to automate the movie-making process

Amazon wants to automate the movie-making process

Summary: Hollywood, you are staring fate in the face. And its name is Storyteller.

TOPICS: Amazon
Photo: Bernard Goldbach/Flickr

This morning, Amazon took the wraps off Storyteller, a new tool that promises to "help writers and filmmakers bring their stories to life."

Sounds awfully Disney-ish, sure. But it's an early broadside at Hollywood.

Storyteller is a free (beta) online tool that turns scripts into storyboards, with characters and dialogue and sharing functionality for collaborative teams. After you upload your movie script to Amazon Studios, the tool will identify the scenes, locations and characters from your descriptions, then "cast" them from its own library of characters, props and backgrounds. You can upload your own background images, change characters' facial expressions and positions, and add captions as needed.

When it's all finished, you can upload it to Amazon Studios, where the general public can view it and give feedback on it.

The core idea of Storyteller is to help filmmakers focus on what they do best, without getting caught up trying to create manifestations of their scripts. It automates an otherwise time-consuming, manual process: prototyping ideas. For this reason alone, it's a natural evolution and a welcome one, reducing the time ahead of the creation of the final product while lowering the burden of entry to filmmaking.

But there are a few interesting issues that Storyteller raises.

First, the tool undercuts the illustrators who have typically found work drawing storyboards. As we have seen in music recording and book publishing, the more manual approach will gradually become a luxury as free digital tools become "good enough" to handle this process.

Second, the tool's sharing abilities prompts a classic question in the arts: who knows best, the audience or the auteur? Crowdsourcing creativity is a hotly contested topic between those who believe in a singular vision versus those who believe in the wisdom of many—in this case, faceless Internet users.

And finally, it shows how Amazon (like Netflix before it) is increasingly interested in the entertainment industry beyond purveying others' wares. Amazon Studios launched in 2010 as an outlet for fast-track development of feature films and episodic series from the public; upload a script and be notified within 45 days if it is optioned. The company has greenlit several to date, to appear on Prime Instant Video.

Amazon dominated e-commerce and disrupted book publishing. Can it do the same for television and film? And where does that leave Hollywood?

It's still too early to tell, but the company is carefully and quietly mounting an assault on the industry. Stay tuned.

Topic: Amazon

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • I don't think illustrators really have anything to worry about.

    I don't think illustrators really have anything to worry about. It's likely to have its own limitations and quirks - and to be honest, they probably *do* already have their own professional tools that they use. It's a pretty vertical market, so I don't know exactly what's out there, but I don't imagine that nothing has happened for the last 20 years.

    "And where does that leave Hollywood?"

    Probably in the same place it's always been. I don't think you can flip a switch and cause them to suddenly die.
  • Well, amateur and college flicks can't be any worse than

    the overly-glossy, regurgitating tripe Hollywood does these days.

    All this will do is lower some costs - to the customer only - don't expect creation tools to get any cheaper, and with subscription models for apps becoming popular the content creators/wealth creators/workers that film and put together all these rubbish movies for clueless and intellectually indolent viewers now have to pony up money constantly as opposed to larger chunks every few years. Especially as Premiere Pro CS4, at its core, works just as well as CS6 or the CC version...

    Hollywood won't go anywhere. Everyone else bothering will just see lower returns, never mind more piracy (since Apple and Android have apps that can help pirate other apps, ensuring that "it costs too much" is no longer a viable excuse to steal what many small companies slave over for months in making)... Heck, as within the smartphone app industry where big name companies (THQ, et al) have gone under despite putting out some clever and neat games, expect more small businesses to go under because the product can be great, but without marketing no product will survive (the majority of app developers for phones rakes in a couple or few thou per year, max... the Annoyed Fowl game is the exception, hardly the rule... expect the movie-making paradigm to be no different.)