Hollywood is recycling ideas and studios with lower exposure need more media attention

Graphic by Sasha White

In a world of media where Disney dominates the box office with live-action films, and movies are adapted into musicals and reconverted into a film once again such as with “Mean Girls” 2024, Hollywood can appear uninspired, to say the least. 

Is Hollywood truly out of ideas, or should lower-budget studios and films with unique storylines just be getting more attention? Founder of MOTIF productions and PBS control operator Matt O’Meara provided his take on the Disney strategy of “reimagining” films every few decades.

“It’s like taking a work of art and then taking the elements that are there physically, but then not any of the elements that actually make it come to life and work as a beautiful story,” O’Meara said. “I feel like it has become a cash grab because of Disney CEOs, and it’s not just Disney now it’s sadly most every big studio that distributes blockbuster movies in the current day. They choose scripts and ideas based off of the AI algorithms of what will determine to make the most money possible.”

O’Meara went on to discuss the role AI is playing in script writing and film production, specifically within large companies. Many individuals who are in a creative profession harbor the fear that AI will replace or plagiarize their work- something we’re already seeing occur. 

“They are starting to get to a point where they’re not even reading new scripts, they’re just automatically throwing them out if it doesn’t have enough money-making ideas right immediately there,” O’Meara said. “What they found to be safe the last decade, and why I consider the 2010s to be the darkest age for blockbuster movies that America’s had in a while is because what they found was safe and working was just giving people another remake or another sequel or another reimagining.”

However dire the 2010s were for movies, or at least as far as animated films made by large film companies went, O’Meara is confident that the current Disney formula is not sustainable.

“What I am optimistic about is that we’re actually starting to see a shift because Disney now has started to see some major bombs because I think people are getting sick of it,” O’Meara said. “Cinema has kind of been doing more of the same, especially in big studios like Warner Bros with their DC Universe.”

O’Meara believes that studios aren’t taking risks by investing in independent filmmakers, despite seeing the payoff with filmmakers like Spielberg and Tarantino. Although utilizing the same formula that has yielded promising results may be the easy option, we need films that challenge audience expectations and infuse our society with new or undercovered stories. 

“Disney for instance, is hiring independent filmmakers who are artistic like that, like for instance Chloe Zhao (an independent filmmaker) who they let direct ‘The Eternals’ … but you can very much tell that they don’t let these directors actually direct the movies,” O’Meara continued. “If Eternals was actually directed fully by Chloe, though it would not look anything like the movie looks at all. You can tell that it is very much a director versus studio battle of what they say this movie needs to look like versus what the director wants to do.” 

O’Meara highlighted some of his favorite production companies that he believes haven’t gotten enough recognition, or deserve the hype such as Laika Studios, Open Road Films, A24 and IFC

Ryan Cannon, associate professor and director of the Film and Television Arts Program, provided his take on originality in Hollywood cinema, as well as safeguards put in place to prevent films created by AI. 

Cannon discussed that the Writers Guild procured a clause in their contract, noting that AI cannot be involved in film production.

“They can use AI but it can’t be credited and they can’t use AI to rewrite what the WGA writers have submitted without the WGA writers being on board,” Cannon said. “So there is an interesting safeguard if they work with guild writers.”

As a filmmaker, Cannon touched on what sets a movie apart.

“I skew towards stuff that feels like it’s coming from a more personal place perhaps or is trying to break some rules or subvert some expectations,” Cannon said. “There are great films out there right now, most of them, in my mind are original stories.”

Cannon pulled up a list of box office hits from 2023 and was less than impressed with the representation. 

“I look at this and I’m kind of horrified,” Cannon said. “This seems dim to me as somebody who wants to propagate the art of cinema and it being a life-affirming valuable empathetic medium. Studios look at this and they’re like, ‘Oh, I see how we make money.’”

The concept of films being adapted into musicals is not a new concept. However, having said musical then be reformatted into film, such as with the new “Mean Girls” is more foreign. Cannon suggested that perhaps this is not how Broadway lovers want to see these beloved shows, and cited the professionally shot production of “Hamilton” as an example of what audiences may want to see instead.

“There’s no one-to-one correlation between the Broadway show experience, and then transcribing that and changing it and adapting it into a film because those things are so different,” Cannon said. “They are different forms of storytelling, and you’re going to lose something in that translation or gain something in that translation, but they won’t be the same. I think if it’s just about accessibility, I like the Hamilton model better than let’s make the movie version.”

Cannon gave a few of his recommendations for his favorite films that were must-sees in 2023, including “The Holdovers”, “Past Lives” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

With so many incredible films that deserve more recognition, it’s important to support independent filmmakers to hopefully promote the creation of unique storylines. Although sequels and “safe” formats bring with them an air of comfort, the advancement of cinema depends on directors and writers who are willing to take risks. 

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