Last week, I said on Twitter that it's a logical fallacy to believe that since "every movie released this summer sucked, was a remake or both, so I guess my writing doesn't need to be good or original." A couple people asked me to defend that, saying that "Hollywood" clearly doesn't seem to want new or good scripts.
No one sets out to make a bad movie. Bad movies happen sometimes because plans go awry, sometimes because missteps were made in the translation from script to screen, sometimes because the cumulative effect of too many opinions and compromises eventually crushes the film. This is obvious, but I feel like I should state it because it seems like some people making the above argument might actually believe that there are some executives deliberately looking for bad scripts.
You can never forget that this is a business - a very expensive business. We can waste time complaining about that and getting into a lot of high-minded arguments about art vs. commerce... Or we can just accept that as an immutable reality of the film industry and try to understand why things work this way.
A studio has to release a certain number of films a year that do a certain amount of business so that they can keep their bottom line healthy and thus, continue to stay in business. As with any business, it's about releasing a product that will produce profit. That also translates to releasing products with market appeal.
To put it more bluntly, Hollywood is giving you what you want. Or at least what the best information available to them leads them to believe you want. They don't release bad movies to piss you off any more than Ford would produce a car that suddenly ejected you from your vehicle without warning.
I'm not saying that this reality means they should get a free pass from criticism or Monday Morning Quarterbacking either. If bad product comes to market, you as the consumer should absolutely let your voice be heard. Even better - don't spend your money on said product.
The problem sets in when there's a film that everyone seems to consider terrible, but it makes an insane amount of money. Look at Transformers. There are plenty of people who are quite vocal in expressing their belief that Michael Bay makes very unintelligent films that are nothing more than boobs and pyrotechnics. Some people might even argue that his movies are among the worst ever made. In the case of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I might even agree with them.
But look at these numbers:
Transformers - $319 million domestic gross/$709 million worldwide
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - $402 million domestic/$836 million worldwide
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - $352 million domestic/$1.1 billion worldwide
Someone saw those movies. And on a worldwide scale, each film was more successful than the one that preceded it. Why wouldn't you continue that series? Because some people on the internet talk shit about Michael Bay? Sorry, that doesn't fly in the business world.
So let's say you're the guy sitting in an executive office at a competing studio, trying to set the slate for the coming year. This is a business of home runs and you've just seen Paramount and DreamWorks hit a massive home run with Transformers. They figured out what the audience wanted and they gave it to them - so it's on YOU to find that same audience.
This is why you're going to take note of the fact that Transformers had massive awareness as a brand and an audience hungry for new material even some 15 or 20 years after the cartoon was last significant. It only makes sense that you would explore other popular brands to exploit in a similar manner.
And if it just so happens that your studio already OWNS such a brand (let's say He-Man), it would practically be malpractice NOT to put such a project in development. Or maybe you'd rather explain to shareholders eager for their own Transformers-sized hit why you're sitting on a goldmine.
So why is there such unoriginality? Because you, the consumer, have told Hollywood that there's gold in them thar' remakes. So long as reboots, remakes and re-adaptations rake in the cash, you're sending the message that's what you want. It's not like all the powerbrokers in Hollywood sat down together like a meeting of the Five Families and decided as a whole to produce these films.
It's not any more complicated than that.
Let's talk a little bit about the issue of quality.
So you've greenlit He-Man and set it as your big tentpole for Summer 2014. You've got a few other big movies lined up for that year, but this is the one you see as your crown jewel. You've probably got several other big movies on the slate during the intervening years between now and then and so as much as you're shepherding each one as its own individual property, you've also got to be cognizant of their importance to the whole.
It's very unlikely that in summer 2012, you'll take a look at the tentpole that's about to go before the cameras for release next year and decide, "Maybe if we delayed everything another six months we can make this even better." Delays like that cost money. What if the actors and director are already committed to projects that would start shooting at that later date? If you delay six months that means you lose your big release for Summer 2013, so what is going to plug that hole? Can you move something else up? Would moving another project forward by six months compromise that project?
I could continue in that vein, but I think the point is made - at a certain point, movies like this become too big to fail. You can't stop the freight train, you can only hope to get it under control. There will always be unexpected problems, whether they're production problems, or they're simply the result of a complicated script that needed more time in development.
"Films aren't released, they escape," is an old saying that pretty aptly describes this. There's a property and a release date, and with rare exception, one simply cannot afford to miss that release date. Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels once said, "The show doesn't go on because it's ready. The show goes on because it's Saturday." That's pretty much how it works in the movie business too. That's also why it's incredibly remarkable that earlier this year, Paramount delayed the release of the second G.I. Joe movie from June to next March. A delay of that sort on such short notice is pretty much unheard of.
A lot of this might be met with a resounding "Duh!" My purpose in writing this is not to offer a pardon to those "bad, unoriginal" films, but to explain them. Moreover, the preponderance of such product should never deter you, the writer, from pushing yourself to write new and original ideas. You should never look at something like Wrath of the Titans and say, "Well, that sucked so clearly Hollywood just wants to make shit."
Companies stop making products when said products cease to be profitable. That's a fundamental principle of every business. Why pretend that there's something wrong with that mentality when it comes to the movie business?
Bad movies are a fact of life, but good movies still happen. Though the reboots and remakes may be more visible, there will always be a need for new ideas. Even Transformers was a new idea at one point. You can decry the business realities that make franchise films a commodity, or you can look at the big picture and try to figure out how to make your work part of the solution.
But you can't just stick your head in the sand and pretend that the current studio output is part of some active effort to quash original ideas and render quality irrelevant. It's not only naive, it's a completely unproductive and unhelpful attitude to have.
Because at the end of the day, the problem isn't that Hollywood that doesn't care that so many releases are remakes and films of questionable quality.
It's that YOU don't care.
At least that's what the box office numbers often tell us.
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