Has The Screenwriting Tide Turned?


Over the last two years, screenwriters have been cussing and complaining about the state of the film industry. It is  besieged by endless remakes, sequels, prequels and a distinct dearth of original material. Studio bosses are still scared to spend a dime on an unknown literary quantity, but they can’t keep recycling indefinitely. They want a solid opening weekend and their backs covered in case things go awry. And they did.

There are some encouraging mutterings around L.A. that once the current crop of recycled movies passes through the studio system, audiences will demand more original material once again. “The A-Team” bombed, so the current slate of around 30 remake projects based on films from the 80s is in jeopardy. It appears that audiences will not blindly respond to mediocre films in the name of nostalgia.

Love them or hate them, studio bosses are responsive to market trends. Some say, the remake trend may peter out in the next 12 to 18 months. Studios have already replenished their coffers, so they may be ready to take a risk with more original material.

The first sprout of viable original material began with “Despicable Me” in July, with a box office haul of $85 million in its opening week, even beating “Eclipse”. Yay. Admittedly, it was heavily advertised, but it shows that audiences want fresh material. More impressively, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” grossed $60 million in its opening weekend alone, which indicates there are strong audiences for cerebral material. This may or may not stretch beyond the 14-24 year old frisky, spotty, vapid male demographic relied upon to prop up the opening box office weekend. It now appears that the new opening box office comprises a range of ages, genders and ethnicities.

This is refreshing because, traditionally around two thirds of Hollywood movies produced, are based on pre-existing works. Over the past two years, this figure has crept up to around the three quarter mark. You can’t argue with brand awareness and blanket advertising. Paramount spent the most last year with its average picture costing around $75 million to produce and $40 million to distribute and market. Why? Because the box office said so. Over the past two years, the world was shocked to learn that the more a studio spent on advertising, the higher the box office gross.

However, over-skewed budgets are a thing of the past. Amy Pascal, Co-Chairman of Sony, said that too many people were overpaid in the past for average films with high price tags. Contrary to popular belief, no studio sets out to make a mediocre or bad film. In the new film world, we are simply going to have to make better films which delve deeper into stories depicting the emotional complexities of humanity. She also describes the movie theater as the soul of the business.

The 3D craze may also be abating from the heights of “Avatar” where over 70% of box office revenue was derived from 3D releases. This figure has plummeted to a more modest 45%.

As infuriating a beast Hollywood is, you must credit it for constantly reinventing itself… and reinventing itself.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Jurgen Wolff says:

    Unfortunately the quest for a “sure thing” will always drive the decision-makers toward known quantities, and the economics of mainstream film push them toward blockbuster action films. Inception introduced a bit of intelligence to the genre, but I think the real future of films with complexity and depth is on the internet. We’re not far away from universal broadband access, with superspeed download ability coming up. That’s when a filmmaker who has something to offer that goes beyond the teen demographic will be able to find buyers around the world–they won’t have to fill a multiplex anymore.

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