ottawa film festival


This question comes around everyone once in a while, especially when you talk with certain independent film makers. Just the other day, I was chatting with one of our foreign correspondents and he mentioned something that caught me off guard. He told me that he wasn’t too eager to rush into theatres nowadays because Hollywood wasn’t producing enough original material. It seemed to him as if every new release was either the next installment in a long established franchise, the sequel of a 30-year old blockbuster hit or a new comic book film. “It’s as if they can’t come up of anything new or unique”.

To be fair, it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from. In this day and age, Summer blockbusters are guaranteed cash cows hence the reason why they’re being marketed with such tenacity. And it makes sense, financially speaking. Hollywood is subject to the same economical laws (i.e, Supply and Demand) as any other industry. We communicate directly with the studios through our wallets and what we have been telling them in the last decade is that we want more of this kind of stuff. But where does that leave the apparently “non-existent” original content? Has Hollywood forgotten how to create?

Well let’s put it this way- that is pure nonsense. Actually, an argument could also be made that the same people who came up with that nonsense are the ones behind the problem. They don’t watch indie films or small budget films. Yes, there are more genre films and blockbuster hits being made nowadays, but the same can be said for original films. People just choose not to watch them. And I’m not talking about the active movie going audience. I’m talking about the average movie going audience that represents the majority of the market most Hollywood studios can reach. Let’s look at some facts.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu produced, directed and wrote the Academy Award-winning film Birdman. This movie is considered to be Michael Keaton’s best work in years and resulted in what most people would call “his ultimate come back”. It’s also regarded as one of the most innovative steps in filmmaking of the past 10 years. You can read our Birdman review here. Given the fantastic critical response Birdman generated, Fox gave it a wider theatrical release than they originally planned. But regardless of its many praises and its 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie ended up just short of breaking $110 million at the box office. Now on a $16.5 million budget, we can still agree that Birdman was quite profitable for Fox Pictures. But if you compare it to Universal’s Furious 7 and its $1.515 billion box office return, it’s clear that the audience is more excited for one genre than the other. So you have to understand the reasoning behind the studios’ marketing strategies. It’s by far way more lucrative for Universal to invest in their Fast and The Furious franchise than it is for them to invest in their independent projects – again, financially speaking- if the average movie-going audience doesn’t want to pay to see them. The margins don’t lie. Nevertheless, smaller budgeted films are still profitable and are at least able to break even. Which means that from a financial standpoint they’re still worth being made and many studios do make them.

Innovation and progress are well-known ways towards prolonged success. But at the very same time, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The studios just need to find the balance between those two concepts. Up to now, they have done a formidable job doing so. Also, the two highest grossing films of all time (Titanic and Avatar) are both original films. So the question one should ask him or herself isn’t whether or not Hollywood has lost its creativity but rather if the average movie goer finds any relevance in these original materials.

It’s indeed an amazing time to be a film fan. The year 2015 alone has given us some of the greatest films of the last decade; sequels and original films alike (The Hateful Eight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Out, Sicario, etc.). They represent only a fraction of the treasury of movies that most people have yet to see. Our responsibility as film enthusiasts is to actually see those films and support them. If you’re concerned about not knowing where to begin your search, make sure to like our Facebook page SHIFTER on Films and to follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @shifteronfilms to keep up with the world of movies and filmmaking and to receive a clear analysis of what goes on in the industry. After all, dear SHIFTERS, that’s what we are here for.

(Photo credit: Vancouver Film School by Creative Commons)

Vlad Jean-Gilles_Author