Film Friday: Bring Down the Silos

Hollywood is divided by motion picture form: feature films, television, interactive and new media. These “divisions” can be further split into narrative and non-narrative, scripted or reality, short and long-form, franchise or micro-budget, professional or prosumer, etc. Some companies even divide content departments by genre. All of these worlds are segregated into silos, and it is very difficult for filmmakers and executives alike to migrate between them.

 I find the rigidity amusing; while aesthetic sensibilities may be slightly different, the gear and roleplaying needed to produce each are now essentially the same. Aside from budget, which varies widely from project to project (not necessarily from format to format), there is only one relevant fundamental difference between each of these production types: story structure.

Some stories play better in the short form; others over hundreds of hours. Some can be broken into episodic pieces and spread out; others should be consumed in one sitting. Some play better on the big screen with large audiences; others on small screens alone in your living room. Some should be passively consumed and others interactively. It all depends on the characters, the situation and the journey at hand. Unfortunately, most companies in the industry approach storytelling backasswards: choose the form first and try to build a narrative for it. Squeezing a square peg into a round hole. Unnatural. It should be the other way around – develop characters first and then pick a format that best tells their story.

Major studios have mobility between formats to a degree, but only make the effort with franchises. To make matters worse, studios regularly attempt to spread each franchise thinly across ALL formats and mediums simultaneously to milk the cow dry. Moreover, the golden goose sits in the theatrical box office – most production companies aspire to author 90-page scripts to entertain large audiences through feature-length events in multiplexes worldwide. I can appreciate the spiritual power of consuming content beside large audiences in the theater space; I do not think the industry or exhibitors need to be so myopic as to distribute features exclusively in this space. 

I contend that there is a healthy market for episodic content in the theatrical space. I am one of the few people who think Harry Potter would have played better as an episodic television show (with each season framed by a school year). The films themselves omitted far too much to satisfy audiences thoroughly. By stretching the 2 hour format to 15 or 20 hours, there would have been much more room to explore the characters and lore of the world J.K. Rowling created on page. And with select or all episodes being streamed into theaters weekly for supplemental revenue, the box office could have collected as many as 100 movie tickets per audience member throughout the weekly run of the seven year show. A wild idea, but why not? Expensive? Yes. Risky? Maybe, but less so with a loyal, young and international fanbase. Profitable? Hell yes. Open your mind, Hollywood. There is a lot more money to be made with creative mobility.

Motion picture formats are homogenizing, both on a technical and talent level. The movie industry should experiment with form, untangle from the guild restrictions, break down the silos and be a little more anarchistic about formats. Hollywood needs to be honest with itself and its audiences.

Let your characters tell you how long your story should be and then budget accordingly.

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