an old-fashioned movie ACTION! thingMaybe you learned something from watching all those film DVDs you ordered from Amazon.com. Now put that knowledge to use and make a movie for the new Amazon Studios. It's free and you could make $200,000 if your picture gets produced in Amazon's first-look deal with Warner Bros.

Amazon, the nation's largest online retailer, announced this week that it is going into the movie-making business.

It's a grass-roots operation that will allow those outside the Hollywood loop to upload a full-length test movie, script or moving storyboard and have it evaluated by industry insiders such as Top Gun writer Jack Epps, Jr. and Bottle Rocket producer Michael Taylor. No word on how much the judges will be paid, if anything. The material will also be shared with other filmmakers and fans around the world for advice and possible revision. In an interesting twist, the test movies can even be shot from screenplays already uploaded by others, with their permission, of course. Work that is deemed the best by Amazon will be presented to Warner Bros. and, if made for theatrical release, would also carry the Amazon production banner.

The fledgling studio is sweetening the pot by offering prizes totaling $2.7 million for the year. The first contest, for January, will offer $100,00 for the best film and $20,000 each for the top two screenplays. The deadline is Jan. 31, 2011, and you must be 18 or older to enter. See the site for other details. The stakes multiply for annual prizes, with a $1 million payout for the best film and $100,000 for best screenplay.

On the production front, Amazon gets 18 months to make things happen before releasing the rights of the work back to applicants. Having a fully-filmed and edited project tied up like that probably wouldn't be attractive to established writers and directors, leaving the field open to unknowns.

It's a digitally-inspired filmmaking "democratic revolution" that Amazon is after anyway, Amazon Studios Director Roy Price tells potential users in a folksy videotaped message posted on the Amazon Studios site. "We hope you get discovered and make money," he says, adding later, "We hope to make money, too."

What Price doesn't say is that you'll have to conquer Rocky-sized long odds to go from wannabe to the A-list, but at least you'll be one step closer. If you fancy yourself an avant-garde genius in the making, be advised you have to come up with "stories that can become commercial films that will delight audiences," Price says.

Price, son of former Columbia Pictures boss Frank Price, urges applicants not to get caught up in wowing with visuals. "Filmmakers should focus on telling the story," he says.

Perhaps lost in the hype is that the studio site will enable Amazon to distribute content to users with its name on it, boosting brand recognition while stoking the ambition of Hollywood hopefuls everywhere. There aren't too many bigger customer bases than those with stars in their eyes.

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