From celebrities that have dominated global news headlines to people worldwide, quoting monumental scenes from movies, Hollywood has made its everlasting imprint in today’s modern world. Despite the acclaimed success that this industry has garnered, Hollywood is dying a slow, underreported death.
The early 1900s contained many advancements in technology -- especially in silent films. “Nickelodeons” (5-cent movie theaters) were a cheap way to watch movies and jump started the public appeal of the film industry. By the 1920s, the movie industry was flourishing, with hundreds of movies produced in Hollywood. With many newfound movies produced, actors and directors were receiving greater fame and notoriety. As the decades progressed, the content that Hollywood produced continued to be costlier and adventurous as advancements in cinematography and technology continued to take place. Ever since the global pandemic has taken the world by a storm, the billion-dollar blockbuster industry has been feeling the adverse effects of it. The hiatus of producing movies because of COVID-19 guidelines have caused this industry the most harm. In 2019, nine movies averaged revenue of over $1 billion at the global box office. In 2020 only, Christopher Nolan’s film, Tenet, grossed around $350 million. Due to the current lack of revenue, many big blockbuster films with a budget of more than $100 million have been put on hold. As a result of this, many local films now have the opportunity to showcase their movies in cinemas. Beginning screenwriters often are shocked to hear how competitive the field is, and how difficult it is to break into. If only the writers with the very best skill, craft, artistry, and ideas are able to sell their material or get hired, how does that jibe with the fact that there’s so much “crap” that gets made by Hollywood?
It’s a common and reasonable question, based on conflating two very different events that can happen in the entertainment industry. The first is a new writer getting noticed and moving ahead in their career in some way. The second is a movie getting greenlighted. These two things happen separately from each other, and are based on completely different factors.
Simple: a single script — in TV or film — that really stands out and impresses the people who evaluate, develop and/or sell screenwriting for a living — managers, agents, producers, or certain executives at the studios and networks. Those folks are looking for new material and new writers. But they don’t need a huge number of them, and they have to wade through literally hundreds of scripts they feel don’t work to find the one that might.
What are they looking for? An idea they think could sell, backed by a very well executed script. And just as importantly, original voices from writers who have mastered the fundamentals and can produce on the page at a professional level that is compelling, clear, believable, entertaining, emotionally involving, and a true pleasure to read.
That’s not easy to achieve and most people who try their hand at screenwriting never get there. Those who do usually worked very hard and long on many scripts for many years to get to that level and educated themselves hugely along the way.
So if it’s such a high bar that so few people ever reach — relative to the tens of thousands who want to — why does it seems like so many movies that get made are “bad”?
The first thing one has to understand is that this is a business like any other, meaning that the only goal of the decision-makers who green light movies is to make a profit. If they don’t consistently do that, they’re out of business. Whether they personally think what they’re making is “good” or not, and whether they’d love to see it, is largely irrelevant — and most of these people are smart, educated, and sophisticated types who might personally prefer the same kind of movies that a typical screenwriter might respect. That doesn’t mean they will make such movies, if they don’t seem like they will be profitable.
What makes a script or idea for a movie a good choice, from a business perspective? Obviously they want the largest number of people to consume it, based on what they’ve seen audiences buy in recent years. It’s not an exact science, because any movie can end up not working with audiences. But you only have to look at the top grossing movies in recent years to see that prior brand awareness and popularity is a key element.Sequels of movies that made money tend to make money, more easily than new ideas. Even non-sequels are so often based on material that has already been hugely successful in another media — intellectual property or “IP” is the trendy term — or is at least connected to something or someone that millions of people have already heard of or know about.
It’s much easier to get a distracted population with so many entertainment options to understand, recognize, and be interested in something that’s connected to a title or product they already know. It just makes business sense. We don’t have to like it, and it might lead to a seeming paucity of “good movies,” but this seems to be the economic reality.
We don’t have to like it, and it might lead to a seeming paucity of “good movies,” but this seems to be the economic reality.