What does it mean to be creative in an industry so focused on the money? I have been thinking very deeply about this sort of thing over the last year. I’ve been pouring over business books and finance books in an attempt to more fully understand both sides of the coin. Things like Hollywood 101 and Creativity, Inc. I am attempting to uncover what my morals and ethics when it comes to my business and personal life, what makes me tick and what can I offer to the entertainment industry that will promote change and ultimately leave a legacy behind that will inspire the next generation of creators. More in a short term sense, what do I believe in creatively? What can I establish within my company in order to promote both growth and prosperity within it, myself, and those who will potentially be working for me?
What it really amounts to is establishing a brand that promotes the ideals that you feel within your soul without compromising the overall need for your company to grow and prosper in a monetary sense. I understand that, but it is something where you have to create an honest trust with the consumer base you’re working with while taking calculated risks in order to achieve that fine balance between unique and creative and something that will turn a profit.
I think that the early phases of Marvel Studios is a fine example of this. Lately I’ve been growing more warey of this method with the obvious placements of other plotlines into films that should really just be seen as solo films. Then you have films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man which ended up perfect films that still made a ton of money. Risks made by established indie directors that ended up being exactly what people never knew that they always wanted.
Inevitably it comes down to whether or not you want to forge your own path and create a sort of indie culture within your art or to work with the studios in order to work with potentially higher budgets and get your films out into the world for all to see. Both require a massive amount of work and both will potentially become incredibly expensive in the long run.
The major reason this topic rose up in my mind was after I watched an interview with George Lucas where he speaks about the downside to Star Wars. I don’t entirely agree with much of what George talks about, I think he still resides in the old mentality, but this is some great insight into the current movie industry, which I think has lost sight of the original idea behind the medium.
The thing that struck me was; ‘You’re not using the tools to tell the story, you’re using the tools to tell the story.’
I think that Star Wars was an indie risk and it spawned a massive franchise, but it started to kill the creativity within the industry. Meanwhile when Marvel came along, it created the concept of the cinematic universe which is now quickly being abused and used to create uncreative blockbuster films that don’t take risks, because they don’t want to kill a franchise they’ve invested so much time and money into. It’s all about the money now, but money is a tool. A TOOL used to create a story. Instead, big studios and creative types are using money as a means to sell a half baked story.
These days anything can look incredible, sweeping, epic. Everyone is doing it. In every movie you see the ‘jumping into the air and landing onto the creature shot’ because it’s something new. It’s not good. It doesn’t strike the audience as endearing or become an important part of their lives.
Because it’s not creative. It doesn’t inspire. It doesn’t make you think.
It’s not art.
It’s simply an attempt to cash in on the investment someone has put into a film in order to make a ton of money. Simple as that.
Now, let’s get back to the two options here. Earlier I talked about there being two options to being a successful creative in any industry. Here I’m going to go into a bit more detail, with a heavy focus on what I most care about creatively; film.
Forging Your Own Path:
A great example of what I am trying to convey is Quentin Tarantino. Yea, I know, everyone wants to ride the Tarantino train, but just stick with me for a little bit. Tarantino has made it a habit to just push himself into the movie industry and has just made whatever films he’s wanted to. He doesn’t work with current trends, he doesn’t jump on the cinematic universe bandwagon, he doesn’t even submit to the opening weekend box office mentality. He’s releasing the film before the opening weekend, creating a sort of ‘event cinema’ sort of atmosphere.
When you watch his films, you know what you’re going to get, you feel like you’re in some sort of club with him and you know that you’re going to have to watch the movie at least ten or fifteen times before you fully understand it. It’s complex, the stories are interesting and the violence is fun and over the top without being overwhelmingly CGI. He’s established himself in the indie scene and now studios will just give him money to create whatever he wants to, because they know that he’ll make them money. There’s a fine balance there and Tarantino seems to know exactly where he wants to be and plays within those boundaries he’s set for himself in order to make himself a very loved and cinematic director.
Other examples of this style or Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, and George Lucas.
Working with the Studio:
I think that Guillermo Del Toro is a fine example of someone who will work with a studio to achieve a great deal of incredible works. Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim to name a few. For every one of his creative films you have your Blade or your Hobbit. He knows how to work within the boundaries of the studios so he can create both big blockbuster films, while pushing out his portfolio to establish trust with the studio in order to be able to make something like Pacific Rim or Crimson Peak. Del Toro is a fine example of a director that works within the limitations of a studio and one that makes sure that he establishes himself in a unique and creative way to promote that sense of creative continuity within his films similar to Tarantino and even Tim Burton.
A downside to working with the studio is actually an example ripped straight from the video game industry. Del Toro was working with Kojima to create a revitalized horror franchise game that everyone was incredibly excited about; Silent Hills. They worked with an acclaimed horror writer and even had Norman Reedus (Walking Dead) on board to star in a main role in the game. Then, after the studio ‘Konami’ decided that they wanted to focus on mobile and pachinko games, they shut down the nearly finished game and effective drove their best asset away and potentially lost a massive source of income because they blatantly thought that the money was in something that they really had little experience in. Now that Kojima’s contract with the company is up, he’s moved on, taking creatives with him in order to forge his own company and start creating new franchises and properties that he can have full say over and ultimately give his fans what they want to play… Kojima has effectively converted to forging his own way.
This has been a similar trend to many people in the video game industry lately, they just want to make games that they love and that the fans who have rallied around them for years want to watch, play, or enjoy the things that these creatives produce.
Other examples of this style are Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, James Gunn, and Stanley Kubrick.
The problem with any creative medium these days is that people are afraid to take risks on something because they don’t want it to be compared to a mega-franchise or to be accidentally too similar to another idea and get sued.
This is reflected in a problem with seeing things like the entertainment industry as a slot machine, putting money in and expecting to come out even or better, instead of seeing it as an investment in creativity that will inspire the next generation. A huge portion of this is due to the entirely broken copyright laws we have due to corporations wanting to hold properties for for longer than their creators are alive and them not being transferred over to the public domain to be used to create more art. All art is just a remix of something that already exists. The other side is that they don’t see it as a tool to tell a story, they see it as a tool to make more money.
Basically it appears to me that in order to be a successful creative in the industry today, you need to learn to either compromise and work with the big studios, or to just forge your own way and take risks. Either way; you damn well better be telling a good story. Otherwise there is no point.
With today’s technology and tools, you can make a film with an incredibly low budget and still be incredibly successful. There is no excuse. People like Kevin Smith, Sam Raimi, and Rodriguez have forged a path for this generation to take indie film by the collar and have a beautiful creative child show up in the world. Yes, there are a lot of crappy films out there. It’s a time exactly as described by George Lucas. Everyone wants a piece of the pie because it’s a new thing.
When everyone moves on to the next big thing, I’ll still be here working my butt off to birth that next big feature I’ve been dreaming of creating because when I die, I don’t want my characters and stories to transfer over to whatever corporation, I’d rather see them move on to the people to use or to be inspired by to create their own remixed work of art. That’s how art and culture WORKS.
So what are our grandchildren going to be left with? Lawsuits? Or a new wave of art that inspires the next generation?
Nathan Seals is an independent filmmaker, artist, and author who has created various comic books, films, role-playing systems, and card and board games throughout the years. He’s either insane, or a genius. Either way he’s having fun.