[Where does creativity in Hollywood go to die? kidplus has a pretty good idea. What do you think? Is it all about money, or are certain types of “creativity” more highly valued than others? By the way, we have a new monthly topic now, so gather your thoughts on classics and get writing! — Kauza]
Film fans might not always agree, but one opinion they typically share is that Hollywood is out of ideas. Why wouldn’t they? Look at this past summer’s lineup of films. How many were based on existing properties? I can think of 5 that came out this August. With all the sequels, prequels, reboots and adaptations it’s an easy claim to make. The problem is that Hollywood isn’t out of ideas at all. If you pay attention to the festival circuit you’ll find the art of filmmaking is still rife with creativity. The ideas are out there, so the real question is, why doesn’t Hollywood throw money at these talented folks? To put it simply, it just doesn’t want them.
To be more specific, Hollywood isn’t out of ideas as much as it strictly adheres to the same one: derivative works make bank. The movie-making machine likes sticking to what it knows generates cash until that idea is no longer profitable. Unlike the dying 3D craze, producing unoriginal works has been a reliable and successful formula since the beginning of the movie biz, and this is not likely to ever change. In fact, the situation has only gotten worse. Only one original film, Bridesmaids, broke the top 10 in box office this year. By year’s end 2011 will have seen a record 27 sequels; much of them being third, fourth, fifth, seventh even eighth films in their respective series. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sequels, remakes or adaptations, but why the hell are so many of these getting made? Who’s responsible for this shit? The number one culprit is the Hollywood producer.
It’s easy to forget how important the role of the producer is, but it’s probably the most important in getting a film to theaters. Producers are in charge of securing financing and distribution for a picture, but they also hold a great deal of control over which films get made and how. Whether or not an original script gets picked up for development rests on them. Sadly, too often these get passed on in lieu of ideas based on existing properties with a built-in fanbase and brand recognition. That’s the type of bullshit thinking that gets board games made into films.
What make matters worse is the corruption of the creative process from the very beginning. A lot of films that get made don’t even begin with writers; they start out as “ideas” from producers. All the creative staff is hired later to make it all happen. That’s not exactly a bad thing if the producer sits back and lets the filmmakers do their thing, but often directors and writers have to work within the strict guidelines producers set. With the increased reliance of foreign markets, American films have gotten bigger, louder and dumber, ensuring big budget effects-driven entertainment can play to as wide an audience as possible without being too hard to follow. These decisions are forced on the talent behind these films, but they still catch most of the flack when the movie sucks. I’m not saying we let them off the hook too easily, but it’s unfortunate that a man like Brian Goldner (you have him to thank for the Transformers and GI Joe films) is producing the Battleship movie, but the creative talent behind it gets most of the blame for its existence.
Another nasty little trend is turning original works into adaptations. Wait, what? Yep. Films such as Live Free or Die Hard and I, Robot began life as original screenplays. It wasn’t until later that someone decided those stories were best made if shoehorned into another unrelated idea. Since the rise of successful comic franchises this formula has gotten even more convoluted.
2010’s Skyline is far from a classic, but the story of how that film came to be is likely to make its harshest detractors feel sorry for the filmmakers. When shopping the idea for their film, directors Colin and Greg Strause were repeatedly shut down; the reason being their picture was deemed too risky on account of being an original idea. What’s even more baffling about this is that the filmmakers were told they’d have a better chance selling it if they made it into a comic book first. Even if it didn’t sell the movie had a stronger chance of making it to multiplexes if they could stick a “based on the comic” tag on the trailer. Apparently it’s a growing trend. Producers are known to approach comic publishers with the purpose of getting original scripts made into comics first. If taking a movie script, adapting it to a comic only to adapt it back into a movie seems mad to you, congratulations on not being absolutely insane. Why the hell would someone do this? One likely reason is job security. Producers in fear of losing their jobs are more likely to bet on the proven formula than take a risk on something new. If the film flops they could easily credit it to poor marketing or any other number of excuses. The remake/adaptation formula is tried and true after all.
One could say that fans are to blame for the way things are. If people supported original cinema and ignored box office trash we’d have better movies. There’s some truth to that, but our power is limited. Avoiding Transformers 3 didn’t bring me any closer to seeing Bellflower this summer. These movies get made for a reason. No matter what, studios will always bet on lower risk pictures. They are designed to have a broad, crowd-pleasing appeal, and some of them are actually solid.
The only thing that would change the formula is to stop seeing all sequels, remakes and adaptations — but no one is going to do that. We shouldn’t have to anyway. Sometimes legitimately good films are unoriginal works. My two most anticipated movies of the year (Drive and Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy) are both adaptations of books. Many of the best films of all time started out in a similar way. So what do we do? I don’t know. I don’t think there’s an easy answer. The power lies with the executives making the decisions. All we can do is support them when they do take a chance on something different.
Finally, I want to leave you an interesting video of a man named Brad Fuller. You probably don’t know him by name but you’re aware of his work. Mr. Fuller is a Hollywood film producer and co-owner of Platinum Dunes with infamous director Michael Bay. Ring a bell? That’s the outfit responsible for producing all of those so-so horror remakes beginning with 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the video Fuller is lecturing to a high school class of aspiring filmmakers on the ins and outs of the business. What makes this video so interesting is how candid he is with the students. He details how tough it was starting out (making original movies no less), how Platinum Dunes came to be, the value of sticking to a set formula to achieve success and what it was like making each of his films. One of the most compelling quotes from Fuller is, “Doing a remake gets you to the next step without much effort.” Yeah, he really says that. You can tell his honesty is meant to save these students a lot of the same heartache he went through early in his career. He tries to be inspirational without giving them some guidance counselor pep talk. The lecture is broken up into 4 videos at about 15 minutes each. It’s well worth the watch. Enjoy.