The Road To Alchemy: Introduction

In late 2010,, Inc. announced their entre into the business of producing movies through a new division, Amazon Studios, and a first look deal with Warner Brothers. Their intent was unabashedly clear: to make commercial feature films, for the people, by the people. Good movie ideas, they claimed, could and should come from everywhere, and the closed, insular Hollywood system needed a major rewrite.

Instead of tapping established screenwriters, Amazon Studios has been conducting monthly contests for professionals and non-professionals alike, with large cash rewards for best screenplays, as well as best test movies based on their favorite scripts.

<h2>Test movies, you ask?</h2>

The Amazon Studios’ team believes there is an important step missing in the current film development process. Since filmmaking and editing tools have become so accessible, they feel that [relatively] inexpensive visualizations should become an integral stage to assess a movie’s potential before millions of dollars are spent to produce and market a film.

In the past, storyboards have been used in all forms of filmmaking. Scenes are sketched out for animated movies; animatics are tested before advertisers make commercials or buy media time; and film directors use pre-visualizations to map out action sequences or complex special effects. But no one has ever mandated full-length renditions of live action movies…until now.

My screenplay, The Alchemist Agenda, was given Amazon Studios’ first Best Screenplay award in December. Since then, it has gone through several iterations of story development: table reads, writers’ reviews, Amazon Studio notes – inspiring several script revisions. Getting the script as good as it can be is usually the first step in any film project. But good scripts don’t always translate into good movies, and Amazon Studios maintains that test movies will show us why – the missing link needed to better determine which projects are worthy of a green light.

As I studied the early test films made for Amazon Studios, it was clear that they were on to something. It’s easier to assess the potential of a film from a visual expression; strengths and weaknesses are more pronounced, and much could be learned from the process. It also makes sense that a great test film would be a better way to sell a project, a more elaborate and accurate way to prove that a story is ready for production.

Early test movies were made from different mediums such as motion-boards, photo-boards, live action, or some combinations. They had evolved throughout the year, but I wondered if there might be a better approach. If so, would it be genre dependent? Could a test film be too over-produced or under-produced? Could they become complete movies in their own right with a distinctive entertainment value? It took a long time to assess, but I had committed to making the best possible test movie for The Alchemist Agenda, and that’s how I landed here at The Hive.

This [weekday] blog will discuss how we determined our methodology and created a unique style that we hope will become a template for making the most efficient, entertaining and effective test movies in the future. It will discuss story development from script to screen, production process, challenges and solutions, profiles of the artisans involved, and much more. We hope this will be interesting to movie buffs, informative and inspiring to other filmmakers, as well as document the path for The Alchemist Agenda to a theater near you…

Welcome to the road to alchemy!

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Martin Jay Weiss

About Martin Jay Weiss

Martin Jay Weiss has written, directed and produced a vast anthology of award winning TV commercials and films. He is the author of THE SECOND SON and FLAMINGO COAST.
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