How do we go back to having movies that aren’t just copying last year’s movies?

A year ago, when reviewing Joss Whedon’s Avengers, I wrote: “Hollywood is now stuck in the trap of always trying to copy last year’s summer blockbuster (contrast Star Wars, which copied from many different sources spread out over several decades, plus Joseph Campbell.)” More recently, my impressions of Hollywood today were confirmed when I read that there is now literally a book with a formula for screenwriting that has taken over Hollywood.

My question: how the fuck do we fix this? I see my fair share of blockbusters in the theater and enjoy them, but I’d really like to see more movies like the original Star Wars, or that at least have a decent shot at turning out to be Star Wars, than yet another movie that takes no risks whatsoever to ensure that it’s just mildly enjoyable.

Part of the issue, as I understand it, is that movies are fucking expensive and the people who fund them don’t want to take risks. Maybe someone needs to convince a billionaire with nothing better to do with his money that funding giving Joss Whedon a bunch of money to make any movie he wants, even if it isn’t profitable, would be a good way to show off how wealthy you are as a billionaire? Is there any way customers could realistically coordinate to force Hollywood to give us more original movies? Can we just hope everyone will get sick of anything too formulaic eventually and things will change? What?

  • linimalD

    It’s purely an economic thing, the combination of film piracy and the poor state of the global economy means that producers just aren’t willing to take risks – they need to recoup their costs. How do you do that? Appeal to the largest segment of the market – teenage boys, who go to the movies with their mates looking for something to laugh at. What do teenage boys like? Boobs, butts, superheroes and explosions. Hence, Transformers and Spiderman remakes. I doubt there’s anything that can be done about it until world economies start to stabilize and the entertainment industry works out new production and distribution models that will allow them to profit despite the reality of piracy – because that’s never going to be completely eradicated. As for us as consumers, we need to make sure that the films we pay to see (whether at cinemas or via legal downloads or on DVD/Blu-Ray etc) are the sort of films that we want to see get made. If innovative films like District 9, Gravity, Safety Not Guaranteed, Monsters and so on buck the trend and become MORE profitable in a market of declining returns, studios will likely get the message that consumers might be more willing to pay for better quality films.

  • Vanzetti

    >>how the fuck do we fix this

    Don’t watch movies you don’t like.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      The problem is that I don’t want to refrain from watching fun but not great movies. Also, getting other people to coordinate on this.

  • Peter

    I do the only thing I can: I only pay for movies that are the kind of movies I want to see made, and I do NOT pirate movies at all. The way I see it, if I don’t reward filmmakers for making the movies I like, they won’t have an incentive to make movies I like.

  • ohnugget001

    Speaking of Whedon, maybe try his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing when available. Not an original story admittedly, but I bet it will be enjoyable, maybe quirky. Lots of actors/resses that have worked with him before in the Firefly and Buffy universes.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Yeah, I’m a huge Whedon fan, and was just thinking I need to see it.

  • eric

    Answer: don’t go to sequels. If that’s too draconian, then at least increase the number of original movies you see vs. sequels, and/or wait to Netflix the sequels.

    linimalD is right – this is a market-driven phenomenon. Movie production will only shift after the market pull shifts.
    I’d be careful of throwing the baby out with the bathwater though. Revisiting a winning theme or using a formula does not necessarily equate to bad. Star Wars/Empire and Alien/Aliens are good examples of doing it right (IMO).

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Absolutely agree with you about Star Wars/Empire, and I haven’t seen Alien/Aliens but I’ve heard good things about those. I really don’t have a problem with sequels at all, as long as the movie series as a whole is fresh. It’s when that first movie is trying to copy what came out a year before, then we have problems.

  • http://oldtimeatheism.blogspot.ca/ Andyman409

    “Maybe someone needs to convince a billionaire with nothing better to do with his money that funding giving Joss Whedon a bunch of money to make any movie he wants, even if it isn’t profitable, would be a good way to show off how wealthy you are as a billionaire?”

    Last time a billionaire decided to fund a film that wouldn’t be profitable, we got the Atlas Shrugged movie ;)

    In all seriousness though, movies are really, really expensive. Hell, many cameramen I talked to in film school were openly told that the camera they used was more valuable than their life.

    The best solution I’ve heard to the problem is to simply make more film adaptations of books. It may sound backwards at first- but hear me out. First releasing the screenplay as a book would be a great way to beta test it to see if it would be accepted. Secondly- think about how many great films where based off books. Sorry screenwriters, but novelists have far less creative restraints, and as a result, far better success these days.

    The only problem with this plan, of course, is that people read books, so the story’s will immanently be spoiled for some. I guess they’re the one’s to take the hit, so the rest of us can enjoy the film…

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      >Last time a billionaire decided to fund a film that wouldn’t be profitable, we got the Atlas Shrugged movie ;)
      Good point.

      >The best solution I’ve heard to the problem is to simply make more film adaptations of books. It may sound backwards at first- but hear me out. First releasing the screenplay as a book would be a great way to beta test it to see if it would be accepted. Secondly- think about how many great films where based off books. Sorry screenwriters, but novelists have far less creative restraints, and as a result, far better success these days.

      The problem is that film-of-the-books aren’t immune to the “make it look like last year’s blockbuster” effect. (This is a post unto itself, hmmm, should write that one.)

  • Zachary Simon

    The internet did not just change distribution, it also changed criticism. The average film snob is more in denial about this than the average Hollywood Big Cheese. A good critic will no longer tell you why they didn’t like something while assuming you already respect their opinion. A good critic will tell you, whoever you are, if you will like something.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Part of the issue, as I understand it, is that movies are fucking expensive…

    Yes and no. If you want special effects-laden action scenes with the most popular actors, then your movie is expensive. On the other hand, with today’s technology, shooting a low budget movie starring your neighbors and friends could be done for only a few thousand dollars. Thus, the rise of Indie cinema. Which is successful enough that it is being bought out by Hollywood, creating a tension between keeping it real and selling it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      I don’t think movies need millions of dollars in budget, but I’m skeptical that you could make a *good* movie for mere thousands of dollars. Most people don’t have neighbors and friends who know how to act, for one thing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, sure, then you’re talking Evil Dead or Dr. Horrible money.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        A few thousand is the bare minimum for the necessary equipment: a digital camera and a laptop to edit on. Yes, a name cast costs more. A few stars have been “discovered” in Indie films, and not rarely, a big name actor will work in an Indie film for less than their usual fee because he/she likes the script, or wants to prove that she/he really can act.

        An Indie film has its own limits, namely the budget; but this is a very different constraint than that faced by the action films that you complain about as being so repetitive.

        And sometimes, Hollywood will like the idea of an Indie film and buy the rights to remake it with a better (or at least bigger name) cast & budget. The same applies to foreign films, with several successful Scandinavian films (Let the Right One In, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) having been remade in just the last 5 years or so. I suppose this could be lumped with your “unoriginal” complaint, but at least they are presenting something that is new to the mass audience.

        Of course Indie films, not having the budget for special effects, tend to be more driven by characters. Therefore they appeal to a very different audience than the blockbuster action films.

  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Matt DeStefano

    This is a perfect example of the Golden Age Fallacy. Snyder’s book is giving a handbook for implementing a story structure that is based upon successful story-telling tricks from the past. For every Star Wars that came out in the 70s, there were hundreds of formulaic, non-risk taking movies. It’s a bit odd to suggest that since Avengers didn’t live up to the expectations of Star Wars (one of the best series of movies of all time – which was hardly original, but borrowed heavily from Campbell), that Hollywood is only worried about copying the blockbuster from the previous summer.

  • Rob U

    You want to have movies that don’t follow a formula? Repeal all the copyright extensions.

    Copyright was originally meant to cover works for a limited time to allow the creator time to recoup their investment, after which the creation would pass to the public domain allowing it be used by others as inspiration for their creative works. Under the current extensions copyrights last for damn near a hundred years now.

    No one alive can make use of anything “recent”, its all locked up in copyright.

    So instead you get generic plots, formulaic stories, remakes, and mining of previously untapped “properties” – like books and graphic novels. Everyone is so terrified of making anything original lest they get sued into oblivion by a “rights holder” for making something that’s too similar to their own work.

    I’ve had an idea for a book / show for a while now, but I haven’t bothered putting any effort into creating it because it borrows heavily from the works I’d consumed as a child growing up in the 70′s and 80′s. If I try to sell my story / show I’m going to get sued into oblivion, I have no incentive to create.

    The studios don’t care, they have enough money to just keep pumping out the same crap year after year – and push for the politicians for special laws to make up any funding shortfalls – so there’s really no incentive for them to change.

    I’ve seen “FanFilms” with better plots, and sometimes better acting, than what comes out of Hollywood. Under a sane copyright system those people would have been able to secure funds to make a big budget film and sell their ideas, instead they have to hope and pray the “rights holder” with their damn near infinite copyright won’t just sue them out of existence for it.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I’m down with that.


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