Death of the Original Screenplay
Below is an extract taken from a feature article. The article discusses the demise of the ‘original’ screenplay in modern-day cinema.
“If you jump online and check out last weekend’s box-office hits you might be surprised to discover that the top three earners all happened to be sequels. ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’, ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked’ and ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ took out the top three spots. Do a little more digging around and it becomes apparent that the correlation between sequels and box-office earners is far from coincidence. With 28 sequels released this year alone, 2011 takes the cake for the most sequels released in history. Not that you can blame producers. Who wouldn’t consider producing a sequel when eight of the top ten highest grossing films of 2011, thus far, happen to be sequels?
Making up the top ten to date is ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II’, ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’, ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’, ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part One)’, ‘Fast Five’, ‘The Hangover Part II’, ‘The Smurfs’, ‘Cars 2’ and ‘Rio’.
While I would like to say that there was once a time when original screenwriting was the key to success, a little fact-finding shows that we have been sequel-fanatics for a long time. With the exception of ‘Avatar’ in 2009, it has been 13 years since a film that wasn’t a sequel topped the box-office. And let’s not forget that ‘Avatar 2’ – due to be released in 2014 – is almost guaranteed to top the box-office in the year of its release.
This is not to say that our hunger for sequels is unfounded. For more than a century mainstream cinema has been edging nearer and nearer to the ideal film. As the same directors use the same actors to rehash tried and tested plots, film producers are ultimately working on a solution to eliminate the risk of failure. Where once film was a passion, cinema has become a business, and only those who forget it are left behind. In a lot of ways, this is what is destroying the future of original screenplays.
While independent films continue pushing their way to the surface of mainstream culture, their waves rarely reach the shores of inspiring profit. Meaning, after each release, independent film-makers are forced back into hiding to generate further funding before they have the opportunity to try again. Without doubt, this sub-culture has become the new film culture, bringing with it a new found love for film and artistic expression, but in the same sense, its rippling effect in an ocean of money-driven corporations is more than likely temporary.
Does this signal the death of the original idea? Well, with downloading easier than ever, social media driving us toward other forms of entertainment, and the divide between mainstream and independent film-maker profits ever increasing, it appears that ‘originality’ in film is much like setting off on the Titanic… “