Thursday, 9 January 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1107: Who Has The Power?

The audience has the power, that's why box office has been trending downward for the bulk of the past decade. It's how every major studio has suffered massive mega-budget bombs that their "experts" declared were sure-fire hits, and why even films that were deemed "hits" usually barely broke even on ticket sales.

Kavanaugh is pushing a new "crowd sourcing" system where studios use the internet to get masses of internet users to sift through TV pilots and possibly scripts to determine which projects go to the next level.


Now I'm not dropping the "Feh" just for the sake of dropping a "Feh" I have reasons, so bear with me a second.

Crowdsourcing can be a wonderful thing. It helps brings creators and fans together, and it works best when artists use it to raise money for their projects, by essentially pre-selling their project to the people most likely to enjoy it before it's made.

However, there are drawbacks.

Crowdsourcing the creativity can lead to chaos and confusion and ultimately failure.

When Amazon proposed a similar idea I used a subtle visual allegory to describe how I thought it would work out.

Almost poetic, isn't it?

If you need more explanation I'll give it to you.

You see a story needs a storyteller.

A storyteller can be an individual, it can also be a group of people who are working together on a single or at least shared vision of the story and how it should be told.

However crowd sourcing creative decisions is an invitation to disaster.


Because the sort of people who would participate in such creativity-crowdsourcing are usually frustrated writers who all want to see their vision, not some other jag-off's on the screen.

I know, I used to be one.

Over a decade ago I participated in an online script review site set up by a production company. I was assigned one script which was supposed to be a sexy thriller about a powerful Hollywood agent being stalked by a deranged writer, and an ex-child star turned police detective assigned to investigate the case.

The script didn't strike me as particularly sexy or thrilling, but I saw in it the ingredients for a sharp satire of Hollywood.

I wrote a long review showing, almost scene by scene, how it could be rewritten as a satirical comedy along the lines of Robert Altman's The Player, but actually funny.

The author wrote a response about how I was full of shit and didn't know what the hell I was talking about.

I dropped out after that experience, and here's why.

Imagine if I was allowed to rewrite the script in my satirical vision, someone else rewrote it along a more horror-thriller vision, and kept some of the original writer's sexy-thriller vision based on a mathematician's algorithm of which scenes were judged best by the other readers?

The final result would have been an incoherent mess.

It would be like taking the focus groups that studios and networks use to judge projects, making them bigger and more powerful. I know how dangerous they can be. When I was in college I was hired to write for a sketch comedy TV pilot, but after the producer went to the marketing focus groups the show had be re-tooled as a horrendous sitcom about angels. 


Because a successful ad campaign for cream cheese featured a sarcastic angel. The focus groups decided that our show needed some of that magic.

The pilot was cancelled before a frame of video was shot because the attempts of the producer to force our sketches into the new format created an abomination.

Now do you understand where I'm coming from?

Now not all of Kavanaugh's points were off. The studio system is horribly inefficient and painfully slow to make a decision, and even when they make a decision it's usually based on extremely outdated information, or on attitudes found more in the shibboleths and prejudices of the media community than those of the general audience.

The studios do need to be more efficient. They're often wasting years, sometimes over a decade,  and millions of dollars developing projects that don't go anywhere. The folks running the system are often so cowardly and narrow minded they would rather waste $200 million on a repulsive remake than risk a fifth of that on something remotely original, because originality can get you fired.

I think what Hollywood needs to do is remember what their real business is.

It's not creating franchises for merchandising opportunities. That's just a facet of the business.

Hollywood is in the business of selling stories.

That's why television, specifically cable and streaming services, are kicking feature films in the taint when it comes to audience size and satisfaction.

The shows that really catch on with audiences are the ones that sell good stories over special effects and overpriced stars.

Then, maybe, Hollywood might be able to do something right.

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