Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #305: Dismal Developments About Development

An interesting piece was posted on Nikki Finke's site yesterday. Apparently a lot of the studios are running out of money to develop new projects, and the market for spec screenplays has been described as "shitty."

Well, first thing I have to say is that the studios have no one to blame but themselves for this.

But I guess I should do a little explaining...

First, a spec screenplay is industry slang for a "speculative" screenplay, which is basically a script that was created completely by the writer, and not from an assignment by a studio.

Second, development is the process where the studios weed through spec scripts, find the ones they like, buy an "option" on that script which gives the studio a year to get the film made, go through about 500 rewrites, hire a director, cast, and all the other things that a studio needs to do before they get around to actually make a movie.

As in all things in Hollywood, this costs money. People need to be paid, to read the scripts, to write reports called "coverage" about the scripts, then the producers have to decide which ones to buy, they have to pay the writer, not only for the rights to the script, but for rewrites, or they hire another writer to do it, etc...etc...

Now a lot of scripts go into development, costing a lot of money, and never get a green-light in the end. So the whole process, like everything else in movies, is pretty expensive and risky.

The studios running out of development money, and finding it hard to find decent spec scripts have basically the same cause.


You see when the major studios became big media conglomerates everything became about "consolidation," "synergy," and other corporate consultant spewed bullshit. This gave the studios the idea that they could do anything and everything "in house," and playing it safe with the familiar. Basically this meant doing mostly sequels, remakes of old movies/TV shows that the studio already owns, and adapting comic book characters.

Which leads to a problem.

You see, the entertainment business is all about being actually entertaining. That means a certain amount of novelty and originality is necessary to keep the industry going.

But big corporations are terrified of new ideas, because they are inherently risky, and the people who create those ideas are less likely to just hand over the entire farm to the studio. So they aim to create a sense of novelty not through originality, but through spending money, money, money.

I'm talking about money for stars, millions upon millions of dollars, whether they can deliver an audience or not.

And then tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars on production, and marketing. I'm talking about lots of special effects, and more advertising than you can shake a stick at.

Of course if you know the history of film, you'll probably know that many of the things that made many past films so memorable were the things done by filmmakers to save money. A classic example was Spielberg's spare use of the mechanical shark in Jaws. He didn't do it originally to build suspense. He did it because the shark kept breaking down, and looked crappy. So he kept it to a bare minimum, and made a horror blockbuster.

Today's filmmakers don't have to use, you know, actual film-making, to fill the gaps. Nowadays all is possible, and all it takes is money, which Hollywood is willing to spend. Just get the CG department to make the car chase bigger than the last one, and just shake the camera a lot during the fight scenes to make it look like every other movie.

But audiences get bored with the constant remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and sequels to sequels, and the rather tepid film-making, and they start going to movies less. Cost go way up, profits go down, the cash supply dwindles, and suddenly Hollywood doesn't have enough to pay for the new ideas they need to keep going.

It's a new facet of the self-fulfilling idiocy that dominates Hollywood.

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