The state of the film industry in Hollywood is, for those who are not aware of it, very poor. Despite the fact that some very good films come out , a lot of films simply do not make the money that is put into them, even before marketing costs are taken into consideration. Matters are so bad that Chinese companies are buying stake in Hollywood studios and influencing casting and production decisions because Chinese money is keeping films breaking even and keeping studios open. Among the more pointed insights about why many films fail to catch on is that people watch films for stories and not genres. Hollywood is good at making genre films, as it understands genre and genre conventions well, but Hollywood is not so good at creating compelling stories these days–witness the fact that so many tired retreads are made and so little originality is shown, and one can see at least a few of the signs of malaise.
This is not merely a problem for movies, though. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I read a lot of books, and often I see a similar problem as a reader in that publishers publish genres and not necessarily stories either. To be sure, a lot of the books I read I like, but at the same time there are plenty of books that are written, it would seem, merely to capitalize on the timing of certain genres. For example, when a devotional that is really well-written becomes popular, it means I have dozens of mediocre ones to read that are trying to cash in on a supposed trend. In some cases, this is not a bad thing. The fact that a few memoirs of crappy childhoods, as I like to call the genre, have proven to be successful has encouraged many people, myself included, to write in the genre, not because we are necessarily genre writers as such but because the popularity of similar works means that there are at least some people who want to see stories like ours told, which encourages others to tell stories like them. Let us hope, at least, that there are few if any people who would consider themselves genre writers about terrible childhood experiences, even if some of us write more about them than we would prefer.
I think our culture in general would be better if we realized that what connects people to us is stories, and not genres. To be sure, more than a few of us enjoy the comfort of familiar genre conventions . And, to be sure, as a writer it is certainly helpful if one is trying to market one’s writing commercially to know what sort of slot or category one’s writing tends to fit into. Even so, the genre is merely the container; what makes a writer a good writer or even a great writer is the story that goes into that box. In fact, it would do creative people of careerist ambitions to know that while children enjoy playing with boxes, that most adults at least care far more about what is inside the box than the box itself. There is little good making the prettiest box unless one pays attention to how good the product is that is inside of it, and if one thinks of one’s music or books or movies as product, keeping that fact in mind would at least help ensure that one is making the best products possible. Those creative people who are already pretty obsessive about their artistic credibility likely already do not need to be told, but given the sort of material that is released to the public, many people do need the reminder.
This is important to realize when it comes to movies and books and music because the logistical train of such products are so extensive. When one makes a movie, and has decided to produce from a given script, one has film crews and casting and set locations and costuming and all kinds of works to feed and house such people. Frequently, as was the case with Suicide Squad, the screenwriting process is shortchanged and the director films many hours of footage to try to find a film. This is surprisingly difficult to do. Similar processes take place when musicians go into a studio without a good plan and try to find an album in the process of recording and re-recording or when an editor tries to find a book among the scattered remnants of a short blog series . It would be better for the people involved in creation to come with a compelling story and then to revise and rework it rather than commit to the logistical work of publishing and creation and editing and marketing before one has a reason to go through the process. The resources of studios and publishers are scarce–we should use them to promote stories, not merely to release stereotypical genre works. Everyone deserves better than to have precious resources wasted for derivative works only of value for someone’s pocketbook.
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