An Inevitable Critique

Theater teacher Steve Harvey gives his insight about he trade off of global appeal for storytelling in modern films.

Steve Harvey, Guest Writer

Year after year, summer blockbusters in American theaters gross billions at the box office and in advertisements, breaking monetary records just as fast as the yearly average global temperature. From eye-catching costuming or the dazzling spectacle of CGI, current mass media reaches new levels of consumerism nearly every season. It goes without saying that with each change, there are fans of older film convention that feel left out in the cold. What has happened to film’s medium, where already established franchises seem to be the only thing getting the “green light” in film anymore? It can be argued that the reason why developers shy away from anything new is because the formula of filmmaking has changed. Instead of investing the time and resources in a concept that will appeal to a very specific crowd and pull in a small amount of profit, the producers make the choice to sacrifice a creative experience for “high concept” formulas. 

High concept formulas aim to capture the attention of as many audience members as possible, while sometimes sacrificing plot or character to do so. In order to develop a high concept plot, writers typically take two very popular current tropes and mash them together; cowboys and aliens, or political protest and super heroes for example. High concept writing has been around since post world war II, with writers leaning on their plots as a source to keep audiences coming back for more. What is more common now however, are writers that lean heavily on a hastily strung together concept, paired with an already successful franchise, and the spectacle of CGI, until we are left with pieces on books, or sequels, sagas, trilogies, prequels and anthologies of already successful films; in short, stories that have already been told.

Does this mean writing is dead? Far from it! As a result of film seemingly taking a break from coming out with original material that captivates the imagination, books seem to have become more appealing to the plot starved theater-goer, even if they are mostly enjoyed digitally (another discussion for another time). 

The other source for great drama is television, where big budget hulks like AMC and Paramount seem to have turned their attention (and money) to stories that are told over a longer period of time; instead of a writer having to craft a tale in less than two hours, some span years, taking and incredible amount of time to craft real relationships with both the audience and the characters themselves.

So what does this mean for feature film as a storytelling medium? As long as audiences return, there won’t be much of a change. Instead, we will likely see a shift of who is going to the “movies” and what they expect out of a film. There will always be an outlet for storytellers to captivate through nothing more than a well ravelled plot, because we humans have and always will crave a good story.