I’ve never understood the mass appeal of Margaret Atwood. To me, she’s always been part of that snooty, high-brow, Toronto-centric, Upper Canada-patronizing literary intelligentsia community of writers that use their words to show off how intellectually superior they are. Fine, you’re intellectually superior – do you have to clobber everybody else over the head with it? It’s one of the reasons why I resisted becoming part of that artsy-fartsy writing community early in my writing life because people like that drive me crazy. I’m sure Atwood is a lovely person but her connection with that type of writing aura has ruined my appreciation for her as a writer. Please note that I haven’t said anything about her Nytol-like voice.
In school, we were never assigned anything by Atwood until university with The Handmaid’s Tale. Unfortunately, I had read some of her earlier works by myself and my eyes rolled around so much I needed to be laid flat on my back with two pillows bound to my head with a large ocean liner’s tether. It probably didn’t help that The Handmaid’s Tale was made into a truly horrible film. Since then, I think she has tried to appeal to a more mass audience by writing more post-apocalyptic sci-fi bent material.
In Canada, there has always been two Margarets when it comes to talking about famous writers. I am a fan of the other Margaret – Margaret Laurence. I appreciate Laurence more because she speaks her mind and writes with the purpose of speaking to the everyday-person – not to a select group of elites. Her ‘Nice coming to Toronto… nice leaving too’ speaks to me. There is a clarity in her writing that appeals to many more people than Atwood. The people, places and situations in her writing are familiar to everyone. The unfortunate aspect of Laurence is that she is no longer around to continue her work. Her body of work, cut short by her death, stands the test of time and in my opinion, should be held in much more higher regard.
When I was just beginning as a new writer (although it was nice to see a Canadian writer being acknowledged internationally) it was a bit redundant to see Atwood (and other established, well-known, commercially successful Canadian writers) published again and again. They had one commercial (or critical) success and based on that success, were published again… and again despite the novel’s commercial failure. I guess that’s all you need – one success and you’re in. Douglas Coupland is still living off the after burn of ‘Generation X’ 20 years and counting. Luck – that’s what every new writer needs.
Maybe I’m a little jealous and envious of Atwood and those other commercially successful Canadian novelists. It’s what I want – to make a living at writing novels instead of spinning my wheels trying to grab a piece of a very slim publishing pie. I suppose that’s what every young singer feels when they see someone with negligible talent hitting it big. *Cough* Beiber.
It’s also quite unnerving to see psuedo-celebrities write books about their addictions and trifling lives and call themselves authors – or even writers. Ridiculous. It’s quite the slap in the face. So Margaret and friends, I hope that one day you will have enough money cobbled away in your bank account to ease yourself out of the way of other burgeoning writers who want a crack at the spoils of the publishing biz. Otherwise, luck, it would seem, would be the only solution to new writers cracking open the locked gates of Canadian writing.
I don’t like what’s going on in the bowels of Hollywood at the moment. I am quite sure there are a ton of talented, exceptional writers working at the moment, but their creative juices are being sucked up by the latest fad of the reboot/remake/franchise being forced upon audiences at the moment. This fad is nothing new – it’s been building for a long time. I’ve found myself turning to independent studios and small production companies to not only flog my wares, but to be a fan of what they are turning out.
Whenever I hear of the latest prequel/sequel/reboot/remake, 99% of the time I end up rolling my eyes. The latest time occurred not too long ago when I heard that there was a serious effort on to sequel Dumb and Dumber. The absolutely horrible prequel Dumb and Dumberer (without Jim Carrey) was quite enough thank you very much. Don’t he and Jeff Daniels have enough money to even bother with a sequel? But that’s just it – the whole point of all these unimaginative sequels/prequels/reboots/remakes/franchises is money – the studios are as scared as %!@& to part with it/lose it and they see familiarity with a brand as the solution to not only not lose money, but to make more of it. So again, I come back to my original question: where is the originality and creativity in this?
If a movie studio was interested at all in making money (instead of being scared to lose it) they’d be very surprised to hear what the general movie-going public wants. Personally, I think audiences are tired of the whole reboot/remake/sequel/prequel/franchise fad. I am and I know many other people are. We’re all rebooted out and Hollywood is not listening. They need to listen to actual audiences instead of focusing on focus groups run by marketing companies. Unfortunately, Hollywood has committed a vast amount of dollars to their upcoming fads. They have to buzz saw their way through those first before they can even think of getting something out there with originality and creativity. I look at the domestic failure of the latest Will Smith nepotism vehicle or The Lone Ranger and say ‘wake up. This is not what audiences want. Are you listening to us?’
I miss the days of early film where studios cranked out not monster sized, over-inflated summer blockbusters, reboots, and sequels – but smaller, original, creative films that used the full imagination and creativity of the screenwriter. The studios still had to green light them, but at least they were original ideas or culled from short stories or novels – not a remake of anything seen before. From the 1930s straight through the 1970s, there was barely a remake/reboot/franchise to be seen. Sure there were sequels (The Godfather, Star Wars, Star Trek) but they didn’t seem to take over the film industry. There were still plenty of original films being made. However, slowly but surely in the 1980s and with every passing decade, the reboot/remake/sequel/prequel/franchise phenomenon started to push original films out of the way and take over the big screen.
Along with the previous noted films, there was suddenly Superman, Batman, Spiderman (hmmmm, do you see a theme happening here?) franchises and sequel/prequels that belonged in the biggest trash compactor ever made (American Pie, any horror franchise). You would think that Hollywood would stop at the first franchise of a super hero – but no, we are into the second Superman, the second Spiderman and probably a third Batman franchise. These are franchises of franchises. It’s McHollywood.
The solution to all this of course is to offer what smaller studios and independent production companies have been doing to fill the void for years: original, creative storytelling based on financially sound budgets. If Hollywood would wake up from their induced slumber to realize what an opportunity they have to not only introduce a new era of film with original, creative screenwriting but to also make money, the film industry would be the envy of any major corporation and a new film renaissance would begin.
I consistently and constantly hear actors, agents and film executives say ‘i’d like to do that, but I need to see a quality script first’ or ‘it’s hard to find a good script these days’. Well, flippin’ hell, how many more years do people have to continue to say this? I refuse to believe that the best that Hollywood has to offer in screenwriting has been reduced to sequels/prequels/reboots/remakes/franchises. If that’s the most original that Hollywood can get out of their screenwriters, then something is horribly wrong with the system. Again, change has to come from the top. It is going to take a visionary film executive to make this change. I’m convinced that if they would peek their heads out of the bubble they live in that a new era in film would begin.
Film is storytelling. The best storytelling is creative and original. To all the screenwriters who have written all the sequels/prequels/reboots/remakes/franchises – you’re all very talented and I’m sure you all did the best you could with the material you were given and the guidelines under which the studio set. However, didn’t you at least once think while you were writing that sequel/prequel/reboot/remake/franchise about that great original screenplay of yours that lies hidden unoptioned or sold in a pile of other original screenplays that some film executive refuses to take a chance on because it’s just too original?
I can hear the film executive talking now… “We can’t make this. It’s too original and creative. This might make money. Instead, let’s green light the remake of Heaven’s Gate…”
The lack of creativity and originality that is today’s Hollywood makes for some serious head shaking for those in the spec screenwriting industry. Now that I am no longer toiling in that arena, I now find it amusing to see remake after remake, reboot after reboot, sequel after sequel and re-imagining after re-imagining emerge from the cookie cutter factory. It used to bother me – a lot – to see sequels and remakes announced and appear. Unfortunately, in the fear that has encased the halls of Hollywood comes mediocrity and ultimately, disinterest.
Hollywood is running scared. As I have written about before in this blog, they are terrified of taking a chance. They are terrified of success. Original ideas are the bogeymen hiding in the dark. As long as they have butts in the seats watching sequels and reboots that bring in money (The Lone Ranger anyone… anyone?) they will continue to churn out the latest gelatinous blob of cookie dough.
Someone in Hollywood is going to have to wake up pretty soon. One day there is going to be a mass audience revolt against the latest reboot-remake-re-imagining and there won’t be a single soul in the theatre to watch it. Hollywood is on the same track as the music industry: change or be left behind. The simple solution is to put out original, compelling stories that speak to people. Right now, the only sliver of the industry that is doing that is independent film which often is left behind or drowned in the Hollywood tsunami of marketing and distribution.
I’m sure there are a lot of writers in Hollywood who are very talented who have written the screenplays for all of these remakes, reboots and sequels. I don’t doubt their talents. I just have to wonder what is going through their heads as they get attached to one of these unoriginal films. I wonder if they think ‘ another sequel, oh well, at least I’m working and making a living’ or ‘ will the day come when my original ideas replace the films that have already been written that I am writing again?’
Whenever I see leads for screenplays that producers or production companies have put out seeking a screenplay for ‘Batman meets Stand By Me’ or ‘_ meets _’, it elicits yet another laugh. Don’t these people have any kind of imagination to describe the film they’re looking for without marrying their idea to something that has already been done? They’re falling into the trap of the cookie cutter – putting out something that looks familiar to appeal to the lowest common denominator. When I was screenwriting, it would have irritated me. Now, I just laugh and shake my head.
Success for any person working in the arts would probably mean that their art or their work has been recognized. This may come in the form of money, an award, acknowledgement or an admiration of their work by fans or someone who is in a position to further their career.
For me, as I continue down this uncharted road, everything that has happened to me has been a new experience. When I started, I knew it was going to be a tough row to hoe. I am a nobody from nowheresville who knows no one and has done nothing. That’s a pretty impossible mountain to climb in my opinion. The fact that I am such a person taking on a career in screenwriting is doubly impossible. That is why all the little victories that I have had since I started screenwriting have been so important to me. They may be small to other people and they may even laugh at them, but to me, considering where I am coming from – nothing – they are moments that urge me on, make my day and make me realize that I’m on the right track and to keep going.
These things include finishing 8 screenplays, including countless hours spent re-writing and editing. Entering some of them into competitions and receiving great feedback. Having one of them finish as a quarterfinalist. Having complete strangers tell me they like what I’ve written. Listing my work on Inktip and having it viewed by top production companies, agents and managers – people that I could only hope to have sniff at my work.
But the latest great thing to happen is also a first. I listed one of my screenplays on Inktip (a short, ‘The Seventh Saint’) and a short time after, two different production companies contacted me to ask for the complete script. Me… they contacted me directly because they liked the logline of the script. That’s huge. I’ve just started marketing myself after spending 6 years writing 8 screenplays for my portfolio. To have someone contact me and ask for my work is so gratifying and an important step in my career. It may seem small to many, but to me it was one of those game changer moments.
Sometimes I feel like ‘what the hell am I doing this for?’ and drag myself down into the dumps and feel like giving up. Then, something like this happens and I feel like I’m on top of the world. These are wild swings and it’s probably something that I’m going to have to get used to if I want to persevere. All these little victories – they add up and the next one gets a little more important. I know I’m on the right track. All signs point in that direction. I just need a little luck and circumstance to fall into my lap.
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