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If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next

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tomorrowlandheaderWhat a dramatic title! I’ll lead in with a question: What films have blown your mind? It could be a classic movie from the 70s like Annie HallEraserhead or Jaws, or more recently, how about Ex Machina, Birdman or It Follows?

Whether it’s horror, thriller, comedy or romance I’m pretty sure you didn’t list all seven Fast and the Furious films… You may have guessed that all of the above choices are movies that were made from original screenplays.

Back to my title. Cinema is in trouble. If you’re reading this, you probably agree that film is essential. Not only as a form of entertainment, it can also do great things. Film can educate, illuminate and even change the world. The medium promotes freedom of speech and great variety. That’s why our lists of brilliant films won’t look anything like our best friend’s choices. And we’re all the better for it.

But…the sounding herald of doom comes in the form of news about Tomorrowland. Numerous articles have been swirling concerning the big-budget production. Starring George Clooney and made in the style of those great 80s  movies where a child of Earth goes on futuristic adventures, Tomorrowland should have soared at the box office. Instead, it tanked, making only a fraction of its $200m cost.This is disheartening and distressing because Tomorrowland comes from a brand new script without any source material. The word in Hollywood is that it failed to set screens alight because it was too original and not related to a franchise. I repeat, the perceived reason as to why the film has not been successful is because it isoriginal. We have now arrived at a time in the history of cinema where repetition and familiarity are trumping new ideas. This cannot be right.

Watching Terminator Genisys makes me feel like this!

Watching Terminator Genisys makes me feel like this!

Tomorrowland’s failure will make cautious studios even less likely to commission work based on brand new scripts. It won’t have escaped your notice that sequels or same-universe movies are everywhere. These franchises have created a paradox. Franchise movies have access to higher marketing budgets allowing them to sprawl across billboards, TV adverts and at cinema screenings. We’re getting trapped in an idea that these are the only movies that people want to see, when really, these are the only films that stand out in a sea of marketing. We live in a world that should be drowning in choice, but choosing what film to see is hard, so many of us go with what we feel most confident will be enjoyable. Franchises = Guaranteed fun.

I don’t want to be victim of this studio propaganda. I make my own decisions. Don’t you?

OK, so why should we care?

First the facts. The table below shows the top 3 grossing movies of 2015 so far.

top-3

More can be found at this link: Top Movies 2015. These figures could signal a death-knell for independent scriptwriting.

Now the example. Let’s take a brilliant movie: Pulp Fiction. One of the seminal movies of our time, Tarantino’s pitch must have been a sight to behold. No studio in today’s market would champion an original, time-shifting,  messily violent, straight-talking uncategorisable film with an obscure soundtrack from someone most viewers had barely heard of. Yet Pulp Fiction spawned a thousand other copycats. Its very existence created a new wave of cinema. Now imagine a world with no Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained or Kill Bill. That’s a sad place.

Further, I believe that franchises make studios rich and leave viewers stupid. Source material is a good thing. Hollywood bigwigs love to commission films that come from books and graphic novels – mostly mega-successful books. That logic means for every Harry Potter and Hunger Games film that comes out they’ll be an adaptation that just won’t live up to the book e.g. The Golden Compass or The Time Traveller’s Wife. A spec script created for the screen is crafted with the foresight that it will be portrayed using a visual and aural medium. You want more? Look to the success and love for Ex Machina – written specifically for cinema by Alex Garland and compare that to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Garland’s bookThe Beach (sorry Danny).

In a world of Batman vs Wolverine vs Hulk vs Groot

In a world of Batman vs Wolverine vs Hulk vs Groot

What about the argument that sequels aren’t as good as the first film? In Scream, (itself an original movie which spurned its own ironic sequels) the characters make light of the fact that sequels are rarely as good as the original (the notable exception being The Godfather Part 2). Back to Fast & Furious 7, an extremely profitable movie that has effectively stopped original movies getting a place in the charts. Would you sacrifice a new Jaws or Pulp Fiction for Fast & Furious 8?) Hollywood says that we’re happy to. I say let’s not cheat ourselves out of a better story because we like the lazily familiar. We need to move forward or we will be, as Woody Allen so cleverly puts in his original film Annie Hall – a Dead shark. We need to hear from new voices with great big imaginations.

There is nothing wrong with the occasional repetition and expansion of a brilliant idea (Ghostbustersremade with an all-female cast just might work and how about Fantasia as a live action movie? This mixing of genres and allowing new generations to enjoy cinematic gems is right and correct.

I asked fellow film buffs on twitter about their favourite original screenplays and was deluged with replies. People can smell innovation. Without new writing we wouldn’t have: Eagle vs. Shark, The Sugarland Express, Midnight Cowboy, Inception, It Follows, Effie Gray, Eraserhead, Duel, Jaws, Interstellar, Nightcrawler, Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, Wild Strawberries, Chinatown, Bonnie&Clyde, American Graffiti, The Conversation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Jaws 19 – a reality sooner or later….

Jaws 19 – a reality sooner or later….

There is hope. The Oscars voted Birdman the 2015 Best Picture. This film itself explores the relationship between a studio franchise and independent art. But I can’t help wondering if it would have made the same impact had it been written by a first time screenwriter?

Innovation is not the opiate of the successful filmmaker alone. When did we all stop being brave?

So what can we do? I urge you to seek out original movies when you roll up to your local cinema. Films that speak to your desires, your dreams and that stimulate your brains. And, more, I urge you to write those screenplays. You could be the next Tarantino or Bell. If you don’t, we will continue this decline in new material. Our children will grow up on a diet of cinematic junk food. There will be no new Cinematic Age. Apply this question to yourself:

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