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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Original Ideas I'm on the phone with Go Daddy this morning asking why in the &%$ The Silver Screenwritingwebsite was experiencing grievous technical problems earlier today (problem solved) when the customer service guy said - so, you work with screenplays, huh? Can I ask you a question? Why has there not been one original idea to come out of Hollywood in fifteen years?

Rather than say here what I said to him in reply - the Wave-inatrix was curious - what do you Wavers think about that statement? Is it true? If there's any truth to it (and there certainly is, to a degree) then why? Why so many remakes and sequels? What would you have said to this guy?

If there's a delay before your comments are posted it's because the W is actually - wait for it - taking a mental health day out in the desert. But fear not, we shall discuss this when and if you comment. Commenters always get mental cupcakes, dontcha know.

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Christina said...

You should have asked the guy where he lives. Some of the smaller towns in the Midwest only get crap - they don't get smaller movies like Lars and the Real Girl, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the like. (Movies that feel different even if they have conventional structure below the surface.)

Still, those small towns do get cable and satellite, so I don't get his comment. Certainly he's flipped to the Sundance channel?

I think there's been a lot of good, fresh storytelling to come out of Hwood in the last fifteen years - on both size of screens. The Sopranos, Weeds, Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, etc. Lots of original shit going down. Shaun of the Dead?! Wait, that's British...

I looked. GoDaddy is based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

As far as the big action pictures and the remakes, aren't those mostly made for the foreign box office, i.e., Asia and Latin America? Superman overseas pays for itself and then a lot of the critical darling/box office bombs.

Juanse J. said...

I think it is an educational and cultural problem.

We live in a money driven society. We want to SELL. We know that no studio will buy material that experiments. So... there's no choice but to stick to the rules and regulations of crafting a story. We end up worshiping the formula and writing photocopies of what has worked in the past. But we lack the courage to experiment and bend rules. The problem is that material that was innovative in the past is not anymore.

There's a big difference between craft and formula, but our education makes it difficult to figure out where that line lies.

The educators should erase the word "sell" from our screenwriting vocabulary.

Note that many of the best filmmakers (Jim Jarmusch for example) started out independently.

Elver said...

There Will Be Blood
No Country for Old Men
Southland Tales
Little Miss Sunshine
I'm Not There
The Lookout
Children of Men
The Fountain
Matrix 1, 2, 3
Sin City
Requiem for a Dream
The Big Lebowski
Fight Club
Thank You For Smoking
A History of Violence
V for Vendetta
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The 5th Element
The Usual Suspects
Pulp Fiction
Groundhog Day

These are from the last 15 years. Okay, some of them are based on books, but pick any one of them and I can give you a good argument as to why it's revolutionary and original in some way.

Anthony Peterson said...

Why no original ideas? Is it because we have exhausted our intellects? No. There are plenty of original ideas out there, but not many of them get bought. Accountants and MBAs dont like new ideas. The writers smart enough to live by their craft decide to write accordingly.

We jump through the hoops like a performing dog, and we get fed at the end of the day.

I am currently writing a treatment for a feature documentary. Its a very ballsy subject, and I have had a good number of first class Australian Film and TV producers tell me its fantastic - and genuinely mean it. When I tell them I'm submitting the project for development funding, or into a high profile writing competition they all advised me not to.

Why? Because I lack significant writing credits. How do I get writing credits? By writing material that gets bought.

Sadly, we eventually become what we do.

J.J. said...

I used to hate the idea of "remakes" and sequels, until, that is, I realized two things: the first of which is that when it comes to remakes, for every generation, there's likely no frame of reference for the original film. That is to say every new film generation experiences what us old folks term remakes as "new" film.

Remember, that in the past--pre vcr and now dvds--film was only seen at the movies and it was years before it ever came to Tv, if at all.

So, "remakes" were a way for new audiences to see anew a new and different film from what a previous generation saw.

And sequels?

We're a society and a world that likes to feel comfortable with itself. Where ever we go we like the to experience the same things we do at home. This is why we prefer chain restaurants, malls & shops, and generic accents.

As it applies to film, what could me comforting then movie characters we're familiar with, doing pretty much what they've done in the first film, but just a change in location?

Plus studios love them because they already have a built in audience. A virtual no-risk investment...

And, let's face it. This business isn't about art, no matter how much we pretend or hope that it is. It's about money. And when it comes to making money, caution and thus remakes and sequels are safe bets...

Besides, there's no new ideas or stories. The fascination comes in the telling.

Emily Blake said...

That's a very popular cliche but it's not really true. In fact it sounds like something said by somebody who never sees a movie unless it's a major studio blockbuster. If you're seeing a variety of films, there's quite a bit of originality out there. You just have to wade through the crap to get to the good stuff.

millar prescott said...

Everything that can be invented has been invented.

Mike Scherer said...


Studio execs are scared to death they will make a mistake -- green light another Heaven's Gate -- get fired.

Also, they go with what they know. The tried and true. If a movie makes money, a second will make more. (if not at the box office, then on DVD).

There are original movies -- Memento comes to mind -- and how about Adaptation? Or anything Kaufman?

My two cents.


Numb Frog said...

I think it's because when anything original comes out it's met with silence. And people love to say nothing is original, when at the same time they all want to see the same thing, only different.

Sex and violence aren't original. But they are the heart of most great stories.

I think there is always original ways to tell the same stories...

There's only so many ways you can say "life is great" or "life sucks".

But I still find movies, tv, books and ideas that inspire me and feel new, fresh.

I think of it this way. Everyone loves to have sex. And many do it with many different partners. And even though the story isn't original, I've seen enough pornos to know, that people will find a new one to do it...

PJ McIlvaine said...

This from the company that screwed up the contest site? Da noive!

AJG said...

I say he's right and wrong. Much of the studios' plates are filled with remakes and sequels because they're are in the business of making money for their shareholders and they know remakes and sequels have a built-in audience. That said, please spare me another "prequel." Ick.

If nearly every film feels like some sort of rehashing, that's because there are only a few dozen core dramatic premises. Therefore, thousands of films later, most will be arguably (if not obviously) derivative of earlier works.

Has there been nothing original in the past fifteen years? My question to him would be - what came out 15 years ago that he felt WAS original? Then I'd tell him how unoriginal that film was before listing 20 amazingly unique films that he most likely never heard of.

Odile said...

The mistake is trying to debunk a logical fallacy from a cynical jackass.
So respond with a factual rebuttal.

Why has there not been one original idea to come out of Hollywood in fifteen years?

That's a matter of opinion, but GoDaddy
has never turned a profit, and
that's a fact jack.

Julie Gray said...

Great comments, everybody! You all spoke much more eloquently than I did. I simply said a) your assertion is untrue. b) hollywood is a very risky business, box office has slipped and studios are scared. c) movie goers vote with their butts; when more people turn out to see Lars and the Real Girl than Hostel, more movies like Lars will be made.