Hollywood’s hunt for originality

Posted by · 1:11 pm · June 15th, 2010

A few days after Anne Thompson and I spent a considerable amount of time discussing Hollywood’s current larger-than-normal blind spot for originality, two pieces have hit the web reporting on mass industry hysteria and a search for original work.  Behold our power!

Just kidding.  Anyway, writing at NY Mag culture blog Vulture, Claude Brodesser-Akner writes, “Warner Bros., Paramount/DreamWorks, and Universal are now madly pinging agents and managers with an uncharacteristic, desperate, and welcome request: Send us your fresh material!”  Nikki Finke, meanwhile, quotes an agent as saying, “I have three heads of studios coming into my office. They’re completely at a loss about what to do.”

Meanwhile, franchises, sequels and remakes aren’t reaching (however elevated) box office expectations.  And the one film everyone’s looking forward to?  The one we all expect to cash in?  Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Maybe there’s a change of tide, or maybe this is nothing more than a test string from studio heads.  Discuss.

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29 responses so far

  • 1 6-15-2010 at 1:46 pm

    MattyD. said...

    Am I dreaming?! This sounds like the turn that Hollywood needs to gain the audiences they want. Many people I know–people who have fairly poor taste in film–aren’t even flying out to the theatres this summer like in ones past. And look at the box-office conqueror: Avatar. It may feel like “Dances with Wolves” and “Pocahontas,” but at least it’s original material.

    I’m just so sick of the remakes and sequels dominating the blockbuster sphere.

  • 2 6-15-2010 at 2:25 pm

    Hans said...

    Exactly, people want to be wowed, like we all were the first time we landed on Pandora. I have to admit that even with the huge expectations for Toy Story 3 this weekend, I still can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed simply because it’s a sequel, and that might just be a knee-jerk reflex.

  • 3 6-15-2010 at 2:34 pm

    Bruce Simmons (BruSimm) said...

    It would seem that the studios are starting to recognize that the public may be tiring or remakes and sequels. It’s a rarity when a remake hits just right, and sequels seemed to be just ribbon tossed at a typewriter with familiar characters injected.

    Yet the studios face an uphill battle. Ever since the 1902 French film, A TRIP TO THE MOON, any critical eyed movie-goer can cry rip-off of any space based movie.

    It has to be about originality interjected with fresh perspectives and then, popular actors, writers and directors mixed in to actually make a good project.

    Unfortunately, we don’t always get that perfect mix.

    I for one, want to be challenged by a story just enough to not only make me think, but to keep me thinking long after the movie has ended. I’ve seen a few, but not many.

    In the meantime, we have to settle for the writing styles of people we’re fans of and bide our time!

  • 4 6-15-2010 at 2:43 pm

    Chauncey said...

    Inception will be refreshing and for the most part a solid film, but anybody thinking this will do blockbuster box office is out of their minds.

  • 5 6-15-2010 at 2:46 pm

    BDM said...

    Looks like there may be hope…

  • 6 6-15-2010 at 3:27 pm

    Matt King said...

    The trailer for Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go” is up at Apple.

  • 7 6-15-2010 at 3:38 pm

    red_wine said...

    Will there be a mass suicide if Inception doesn’t turn out to be good? Oh but why am I mentioning impossible things!

    I really truly hope for the entire industry and fan-base’s sake that the movie is atleast decent.

  • 8 6-15-2010 at 4:21 pm

    R.J. said...

    Here’s the YouTube link for the “Never Let Me Go” trailer.

  • 9 6-15-2010 at 4:21 pm

    R.J. said...

    *Forgot the link (d’oh!):

  • 10 6-15-2010 at 5:29 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’m not getting my hopes up

  • 11 6-15-2010 at 5:33 pm

    mark kratina said...

    @ Chauncey:

    I don’t know what you deem blockbuster box office, but I would be shocked- SHOCKED – if Inception didn’t easily pass the $300 million domestic threshold.

  • 12 6-15-2010 at 7:05 pm

    Christian said...

    I actually talked a bit on this last week on my blog on blogspot, the Unicellular Review. I think that the studios are wanting to test the waters with original material, they’re probably wanting to do anything to avoid another disappointing Summer. But original material is not enough, it’s also gotta be good or else it’ll just join the pile of crap from this year. Remake, sequel, or original, quality is still the number one thing a film has to have, and if it has that, I don’t care if it’s “Spider-man” or “Avatar”, if it’s good, it’s a good film.

  • 13 6-15-2010 at 7:53 pm

    Jonathan said...

    I agree with Christian, it’s not about sequel versus remake versus new idea, it’s about story, script and treating your audience with respect. Everyone is looking forward to the next Christopher Nolan film because he delivers this, irrespective of franchise or not. If studios develop films based on video games or the number of explosions they can squeeze into two hours, the audience will walk.

  • 14 6-15-2010 at 10:44 pm

    Gary said...

    Only 4 weeks till Inception!!! CANNOT WAIT!!!! This is gonna be the movie experience of the year!

  • 15 6-16-2010 at 5:30 am

    evan said...

    Sequels can be Toy Story 2 or The Dark Knight. Remakes can be King Kong or Casino Royale.
    Originals are often crap.

    It’s not the what, it the who. It’s not a matter of how original the content is, but rather a matter of the talent involved and chemistry between all involved (writer+director+producer+lead).

  • 16 6-16-2010 at 11:01 am

    LePuu said...

    Is this 1969? Is this the beggining of a New New Hollywood?
    I don’t think so. But let’s hope ir.

  • 17 6-16-2010 at 11:09 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’d like to just remind everyone that there’s originality released every week. Just not by Hollywood. Look a little further to your art house theater or VOD box and there’s no reason to every be frustrated about this.

  • 18 6-16-2010 at 11:09 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    “ever” be frustrated…

  • 19 6-16-2010 at 11:11 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Chad: What world do you live in where those films are readily accessible in markets other than the majors? Plenty to be frustrated about.

  • 20 6-16-2010 at 11:23 am

    Mark Kratina said...

    That’s why Turner Classic Movies is such a gift- there’s always some older film I haven’t seen that is a gem.

    I think most would be surprised at how contemporary some of the older film’s themes are with today’s society.

  • 21 6-16-2010 at 11:33 am

    James D. said...

    Kris is mostly right about major cities. I live in Orlando, a fairly metropolitan area, and the arthouse fare is still very slim.

    However, Netflix has just about everything you could ask for and costs as little as one ticket per month, so there is also that route.

    Regarding the subject, what does originality mean, exactly? What was more original: The Dark Knight or Avatar?

  • 22 6-16-2010 at 11:36 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    That’s why I mentioned VOD. I don’t mean to say that every worthwhile title is available everywhere but rather that everywhere has some worthwhile titles available.

  • 23 6-16-2010 at 11:50 am

    Mark Kratina said...

    @ James D:

    Batman fan here, so take this for what you will, but I thought The Dark Knight had an original take on the hero’s dilemma of the ends justifying the means. I think that thread has been played in the Western genre, but sparingly. In that way, I thought TDK offered something fresh.

    Avatar didn’t do anything for me. Nice film, but nothing more. Men seem to despise Titanic, but I thought Titanic was a much more monumental achievement than Avatar. As such, Avatar didn’t offer anything I felt I hadn’t already seen.

  • 24 6-16-2010 at 12:09 pm

    James D. said...

    Mark, that was the point I was trying to get across. The adaptation of a huge franchise had plenty of new things to say, while the “original” Avatar felt anything but.

    People knock remakes and sequels, and they are mostly right, but a lot of the “original” material is worthless. Isn’t The Killers an original film?

  • 25 6-16-2010 at 4:10 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “The Killers” is an awesome 1946 noir based on a Hemingway story. Obviously, you’re talking about “Killers,” but the idea of the two being confused horrifies me.

  • 26 6-16-2010 at 4:59 pm

    mark kratina said...

    Me too, Guy. I started to respond to James’ post earlier today until I realized he wasn’t talking about the 1946 Burt Lancaster/Ava Gardner film.

  • 27 6-16-2010 at 7:09 pm

    j said...

    Eh, people seem to be making a fuss over a non-issue. If you go by office-(budgetx2)=profit, then in both 2008 & 2009 exactly 13 films got a 200 mil profit. Only 4 or 5 from the first half of the years. So far we have Alice and Clash of the Titans. Already released that look great for that are Iron Man 2 and Karate Kid. And upcoming pretty much sure bets are Twilight 3 and Toy Story 3. All of these are sequels or remakes of sorts, and they’re the movies that have been smashing.

    We also have upcoming Jonah Hex, Airbender, Knight & Day, and Grown Ups, but I don’t have faith in any of them right now. I could be wrong. Even so, 6 is already>4 or 5.

  • 28 6-16-2010 at 7:24 pm

    j said...

    And I know that at least Clash, Karate, Iron, and Twilight have 1+ planned sequel. TS3 shouldn’t, but replacing the original Newt in Pixar’s stable is a sequel, Monsters Inc 2. I wonder if Pixar’s trying to help the legacy of their 2 least well-received films by giving them sequels that perhaps are better (Monsters & Cars), and/or just making sequels to the ones that can sell the most merchandise. As for Alice, they want to put an adaptation on Broadway…

  • 29 6-17-2010 at 6:25 am

    Ben M. said...

    This is silly, granted I would love some more original films if they are high quality, but original films do carry more of a risk than sequels and remakes so there is a reason to play it safe (the reason Iron Man 2 and Sex and the City 2 underwhelmed has mostly to do with the quality of the films IMO).

    Plus just last week the Karate Kid remake was a big hit, and I think Toy Story 3 could well be the biggest hit of the summer.