George Chrysostomou on original screenplays vs. franchises…
After watching Edgar Wright’s critically and commercially successful Baby Driver, it struck me that this was the first movie I had watched in a while that was not only imaginative and unique, but was not based on any source material such as a novel or comic series, not a sequel and most importantly, was in fact an original screenplay. After watching the movie, I found this interview on YouTube which I’d recommend watching as it gives a bit of an insight into the mind of the British director. It is courtesy of SBS VICELAND and not only briefly covers some of his history in the film industry, but also provides us some interesting revelations regarding Edgar Wright’s views of original screenplays…
It is hardly surprising that a man who has found so much success from original ideas and scripts,wholeheartedly supports the idea of further investment into original screenplays. Going as far as to say that studios should be made to make “one original movie for every franchise movie”, it is clear that Mr Wright believes that continued investment into new properties and original projects is an important part of the future of the movie business. Now what must be made clear is that during this article I wish to separate movies into three categories. The first is the franchise movie: the Marvel blockbusters, the faster and more furious action spectacles, the space opera extravaganzas and the reboots that oftentimes seem to be on rather shaky ground. These are the seat fillers, that rely on nostalgia, brand names and worlds that already pre-built. It is the most profitable form of movie for studios and provides countless opportunities for expansion.
Then there is the adapted screenplay. A film that is an adaptation of a separate property, such as a book or graphic novel. They’re not quite franchises, at least not yet, but are recognisable in some way. Agatha Christie novels, or Edgar Wright’s own Scott Pilgrim vs The World are prime examples. They are standalone stories (to avoid becoming categorised as franchises) that are very separate from anything else. They’re often not designed for merchandise, but often there to bring a popular story to life. They are valuable in their quest to adapt every popular novel, or to finally bring video games to the big screen. They have a pre-built audience and in theory, quality narrative, in which they can rely upon in order to grow as a film. If in trouble, the narrative can rely on what has come before. Of course, sometimes adaptations leave more room for criticism; following too closely to the source material is difficult if it does not translate well to the screen. Straying too far from what has been set in precedent and complaints will be found in how unlike the original source material the film really is.
The we can find the third and final category; the original film. The scripts that the Edgar Wrights, Christopher Nolans and the Quentin Tarantinos of the world masterfully craft from their imaginations. These are the films that are unpredictable, sometimes the most creative or fulfilling, and often the most fun. It is odd that one area of film it could be said that we find the most original screenplays is in animation. It doesn’t take a film expert to see that Pixar for instance puts out quality productions that are imaginative and original. There seems to be no stopping the amount of ideas and concepts that float around the Steve Jobs building at Pixar HQ – all of which have the potential to be an original film with the right love, development and attention. The reason for this is perhaps the culture created in the animation field, in comparison to other types of film. In comparison to live action, animation doesn’t lend itself very well to the franchise nor adaptations. Of course this is a broad statement that is not true in many instances –Frozen or Toy Story are two such examples; however there must be something else about animation that encourages originality. Perhaps, the fact that animation has always been built upon innovation and breaking new ground, with somewhat of an expectation for fantastical worlds to be created through this medium.
In comparison, there seems to be somewhat of a notion that apart from the odd cult classic, indie hit or unexpected success, the film industry must now cater to the mass consumerism of franchises and narrative continuation. As Edgar Wright points out in the interview though, this hasn’t always been the case, with the likes of Terminator, Alien and Star Wars all being original screenplays at one point in time. It is therefore in my estimation that animation is doing something right, continuously cultivating new ideas, whilst relying on the classics to start franchises and every so often adapting a book or a property such as Big Hero 6 in order to continue to draw upon the pre-existing properties that hold potent potential. Edgar Wright’s idea to release an original film for every franchise film is the sort of idea that can drive the movie industry forward, having done so for animation. Both should be quality content, but one guarantees a financial success, whilst the other allows of risks to be taken and creativity to be explored, harnessing new talents and concepts. In this way, perhaps new franchises will be created and the cycle continues.
For the cycle to even start to begin again however, a new wave of original content must be produced in order to cause this. Perhaps streaming services such as Netflix will continue their trend of original content therefore causing the movie industry to push forward. Perhaps the gap left by Fox will be filled by original screenplays, or maybe even the British film industry will continue to grow and take advantage of the changing market. No matter how it all plays out, it is very clear that the movie industry needs fresh ideas just as it needs franchises. We are currently seriously unbalanced and risk a trend of becoming stuck with the same circle of recycled content, without any space for new ideas to push through. For films to thrive, we need to jump start this cycle.