Hollywood studios are some of the most successful businesses in The World. Every
year they make hundreds of millions of dollars not only by making their own
movies, but also by distributing the movies made by their competitors. Although
the business model is almost a century old, and is currently being challenged
by the rise of internet piracy, these companies continue to make money hand
over fist, in good economic times and bad.
this Hollywood is also home to some of the most ridiculous ideas and business
practices know to man: Whereas most businesses take great pains to improve
products within a range with each iteration; over and over again studios run
their own franchises into the ground with poor quality, straight-to-video
sequels. In the same vein, this is an industry that on numerous occasions has
had two studios release similar films within months of each other, and despite
a history of almost complete failure keeps trying to adapt video games into
decisions made by Hollywood studios are attributed to incompetence. Whilst
occasionally it may be the case that somebody’s fuck-up is the cause of
internet ire, more often than not, it’s not incompetence, and behind almost all
decisions is a distinct thought process.
almost impossible to know for certain why someone chose to turn The Dukes of Hazard into a film, or to let Uwe
Bol near yet another film set with a little bit of lateral thinking we can form
hypothesise for why these things happen.
example Brett Ratner. Not only is the guy hated by fanboys all over the internet
for his awful X-men sequel, but both Rush Hour 3 and After The Sunset have barely made their budgets back in world wide
gross, and yet he keeps getting hired as a director.
may put this down to him selling his soul to the devil it’s more likely to do
with the fact that he takes notes from
studio executives and willingly acts on them, rather than debating them for the
sake of ‘artistic vision’. It’s the same reason that relatively unknown
directors are often allowed to direct major properties
Hardwicke, Tim Story and Chris Weitz were put in charge of Twilight, The Fantastic Four
and The Golden Compass respectively.
While each of them had made an impact from previous films, none of them had any
box office clout, allowing the studios to bully them into essentially being sock
puppets. Ratner and his contemporaries
are no different. They might be the best directors on earth, but they’re
willing to do as they are told, and because of that, they’ll keep being
re—hired, and we’ll all keep bitching about them.
of similar releases has been plaguing studios for decades. This year Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Observe and Report were released within
a few weeks of each other. In previous years we’ve had Armageddon released within two months of Deep Impact and A Bug’s Life
barely a month after Antz. And it’s
not just a recent phenomenon; this has been going on for decades. Barely a year
after MGM released Ben-Hur in 1959
Universal gave the world Spartacus,
and between June 1939 and February 1940 two biopics of Abraham Lincoln were
released: Young Mr. Lincoln and Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
There are a
few reasons for simultaneous releases. Obviously it could be put down to out
and out plagiarism. The Asylum, a straight-to-DVD production company and
distributor specialise in making knock-offs that are released to
capitalise on the success of blockbuster films , and it’s true that studios
follow trends, which is why a few years ago we had a glut of children’s fantasy
films, and we’re now experiencing a comic-book-movie craze, but it seems
unlikely that the larger studios would deliberately risk commercial failure,
and even possible litigation by releasing an identical film to their
worth taking into account the time a large studio movie takes to make. Many of
them spend years in development, around three months in principal photography
and then six months in post. For the bigger films this can be even longer. Even
if a major studio decided to make a rip-off of a competitor’s film as soon as
it had been greenlit it would be difficult to release it within the timeframe
of the films mentioned above.
long gestation period before a film is made may however be the best explanation
why two similar films reach the cinema at around the same time.
often circulate around Hollywood for a long time before they are made. They go
through multiple writers and even more rewrites. Sometimes these rewrites are
actually greenlit, most of the time they aren’t. Those scripts that don’t go
into production may well be cannibalised by their writers into a new spec
script, which will then also do the rounds. Ultimately two studios may well end
up developing two separate scripts that have similar themes purely by
is conceivable that these projects could be well into their development, and
have received a vast amount of funding before either studio finds out about the
existence of the other’s project. At this point they may simply decide that
it’s better to go ahead and make the movie rather than write-off millions of
course as well as making films from spec scripts, studios frequently make films
based on existing properties. There are many reasons behind this, although one
of the primary reasons is brand recognition. By using an existing property,
already known to the public, studios can increase their chances of a commercial
recent years some of those properties optioned bare little resemblance to the
finished films. The Pirates of the
Caribbean franchise can be forgiven for differing from the simple narrative
of the theme park ride, but there are many films based on properties with a
strong story and well developed characters that barely resemble their source
material. Catwoman and Wanted both made a selling point of the
fact that they have little to do with the comics upon which they are based. Similarly
the characters in the Starship Troopers
franchise barely even share the names of their literary counterparts.
could be argued that the brand was used to help sell the films, but the fact
that Catwoman was a flop and that
both Wanted and Starship Troopers were somewhat niche properties would dispute
that, so why buy the rights? In the case of Starship
were bought during pre-production, and the original title of the film was Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine. Although it’s
still possible these rights were bought for the sake of brand recognition it’s
just as likely the production company bought them to either avoid potential
litigation, or to reduce the risk of a similar film coming out around the same
the case of Wanted and Catwoman it is likely that the changes came
about due to the script going through a large number of writers, and a large
number of drafts. Even if each new writer only deviated slightly from the
previous version, the script would cease to resemble the original draft very
are also commercial pressures on a script. Many films are shown to focus groups
before their release. In response to the comments from these focus groups the
films may be re-cut. Some films like Star
Trek may have only one or two scenes cut out,
while others, like Fanboys received heavy edits before release.
Even if they aren’t shown to a focus group films are often altered on the
instructions of the studio so as to appeal to a particular target audience.
addition to these considerations the film has to go before the MPAA ratings
board before it can be shown in cinemas. Because of this there is always
pressure to tone down the more extreme acts of violence from the original
source material. It’s no surprise then that many film adaptations differ so
much from the original source material.
is a similar practice, particularly with historical adaptations, of making a
relatively faithful adaptation, but changing characters from the original
versions. An early example of this was The
Great Escape. The film is loosely based on historical events, but many of
the characters are composites of the real men involved. The same technique was
used in 21, and in the fictional The Cider House Rules.
those instances the decision to use composite characters was to simplify a
complicated story into a narrative suitable for film. In many cases though,
character changes aren’t just a case of creating a composite. The recent use of
Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine typifies this, using the character name,
and then altering the character to suit the story.
what we know, though, this could well be a product of multiple drafts of a
script being combined into one. In one of those drafts the character of Deadpool could have been a faithful
rendition, while in another there could well have been a new character that
embodied all the traits we see in the final product. These could then have been
combined for the sake of either brand recognition, or simply to de-clutter the
script, removing extraneous characters, without losing important plot points.
problem with this explanation for the change in Deadpool’s character is that the studio had already discussed a
spin-off film with him as the hero. While a few alterations from the comic
incarnation would be sensible for the spin off, the iteration of Deadpool in Wolverine is both a villain and all-powerful. If there is to be a
spin-off film the writers will have to back themselves out of a very large
likely that tentative plans for a Deadpool
film were in place long before principal photography on Wolverine. That said most of those plans
would have relied on the success of Wolverine.
On top of that most of the creative team involved with Wolverine, including the writers and producers, are unlikely to be
involved with the Deadpool film. Even
for the studio executives Deadpool would have been an afterthought. The prime
concern would have been the success of their current picture.
tend to think of studios as an incredibly well disciplined money making machine:
a nest of ants working towards a common goal. In reality it’s not that simple.
Most senior executives in the studios have spent years working their way up,
but one bad decision, with millions of dollars of someone else’s money, could
cost them their job. Consequently when an executive makes a decision there’s as
much chance that it’s more of an exercise in arse-covering than in money-making,
and it’s certainly about making the current project a success, regardless of
it’s effect on future films.
this point, that decisions aren’t made for the greater good of the studio, but
for the preservation of careers applies to all of the ridiculous decisions
Hollywood studios make.
reason they hire directors who have been critically lambasted and commercially
unsuccessful over and over again is that they are known commodities. Never has
the idiom ‘better the devil you know’ been more apt than when an executive
hires a director. Even if that director makes a terrible film the executive is
more likely to keep their job than if they’d hired an unsuccessful unknown.
principle is also a reason behind why similar films often come out
simultaneously. Suppose for a second you are a studio executive with the power
to greenlight a film, and you find out that another executive in another studio
is about to make a film with remarkable similarities to your current project.
Given the amount of money already invested in the project you can’t cancel it,
so you make the best of it.
fact this potentially terrible situation could help your career. If the film is
successful you can claim that you had the confidence in your project to support
it even in the face of direct competition, and if it’s a failure you can argue
that you were right to commission it, and by the time you found out about the
other project yours was past the point of no return.
not to say that the other reasons outlined earlier in this post aren’t equally
valid. Most decisions are a combination of these factors, but the fact that
studios are made up of a huge number of self serving individuals is often
ignored by commentators trying to analyse trends in Hollywood.
not just these cases either. Apart from the brand recognition factor, one of the
reasons there are so many adaptations and remakes is that for an executive, if
someone else has already signed off on a property they have an instant defence
when their film under performs.
even more prevalent with sequels. Despite anomalies like Spider Man 2 the law of diminishing returns usually applies to
films in a series, and with lower expectations comes lower risk.
may seem like a terribly cynical way of looking at the industry, but it is
realistic. While it may not benefit the industry, or even their employers the
fact that studio employees are looking after their jobs is a function of an
industry with a vast and highly qualified talent pool to draw upon.
graduates are fighting for work as tea-boys and thousands of people are chasing
hundreds of jobs the emphasis on employees will always be to avoid making mistakes
rather than to take risks. We can’t change this fact. It’s the nature of the
industry, but it is worth bearing in mind when trying to comprehend why a film
doesn’t meet our expectations, or a studio comes out with yet another ridiculous