Entertainment Industry

What Happened This Summer? Hollywood Problems (1)

After a fascinating summer movie season — still ongoing — with more tentpole titles than ever, few of them outstanding and many embarrassing, for the first time in a few years there seems to be a fairly widespread sense of, “something’s wrong with Hollywood.” This might have been prompted by Steven Spielberg’s prophetic announcement that the industry is bound to implode sooner than later, as well as by the somewhat poor numbers seen in the domestic box office.

In terms of story — always the ultimate cause of a film’s triumph or failure — a very incisive article by Slate’s Peter Suderman blamed it on “formula storytelling,” and particularly on the extremely successful screenwriting manual, Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder. The article, entitled Save The Movie!, was specially caustic with the way-too-similar structure of many blockbusters across genres, which begins to give audiences an incipient sense of boredom.

Now I bump into an excellent, off-the-charts insightful article on Vulture (first published on the August 12, 2013 issue of New York Magazine), where Star Script Doctor Damon Lindelof Explains the New Rules of Blockbuster Screenwriting in a conversation with critic-journalist Scott Brown. I think, however, the title is actually mistaken: what Mr. Lindelof explains in this article is, precisely, what is wrong with Hollywood these days. He then hints at the general direction in which the solution should go, mainly by showing what worked best in Star Trek Into Darkness. My advice is to read the article in its entirety. But for the lazier ones, I’m going to leave here a few snippets that are, in my humble opinion, most thought-provoking.

Damon Lindelof: “We live in a commercial world, where you’ve gotta come up with ‘trailer moments’ and make the thing feel big and impressive and satisfying, especially in that summer-movie-theater construct… But ultimately I do feel—even as a purveyor of it—slightly turned off by this destruction porn that has emerged and become very bold-faced this past summer. And again, guilty as charged. It’s hard not to do it, especially because a movie, if properly executed, feels like it’s escalating.”

Scott Brown (re: Spielberg’s “Implosion”): An industry that makes only megamovies, prophesied the father of the megamovie, will die of its own gigantism. […] The question used to be: How do we top ourselves? The new one seems to be: How do we stop ourselves?

DL: “Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world […] It’s almost impossible to, for example, not have a final set piece where the fate of the free world is at stake. You basically work your way backward and say, ‘Well, the Avengers aren’t going to save Guam, they’ve got to save the world.’ Did Star Trek Into Darkness need to have a gigantic starship crashing into San ­Francisco? I’ll never know. But it sure felt like it did.”

SB: “When you’re dealing with superheroes, Hollywood’s new stock-in-trade, conflicts quickly become fights, and fights quickly become cataclysms. How do you tell Superman and Zod to “take it outside”? Outside of what? Reality? They’re already there. The Gravity demands a battle of biblical proportions. Which leads inevitably to the next question: How do we ground this spectacle, these god-size characters?”

DL: “The first 90 minutes of the movie are really an exercise in getting people to care about the people in the movie [so you can put] those people in jeopardy in the final set piece. It sounds so obvious, but it’s really difficult to execute. […] But really, in a business where nobody knows anything and the fans think they know everything, who’s to say?”

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