I’ve often wondered why Hollywood struggles so much to come up with original ideas, but lately it’s all starting to make sense. The reason the “powers that be” in Hollywood can’t find new ideas is simple – they aren’t looking for them.
I was listening to The Adam Carolla Podcast the other day and they were talking about how The Hangover almost didn’t get made. The film has made $207 million to date and has become the surprise hit of the summer, but most studios passed on it the first time around because they couldn’t see the potential in the script. It wasn’t until Todd Phillips, someone studio execs had heard of, signed on to direct the film that it actually got the green light.
And sadly, it seems like this is how Hollywood works. Instead of looking for fresh young talent, movie execs just look to hire writers and directors they are already familiar with. That’s why Judd Apatow ends up being involved in 90 percent of all comedies that are released these days. It’s how writer-producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci ended up working on three movies released in the past few months, Star Trek, The Proposal and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
But simply relying on writers and producers with proven track records isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it makes it tough for fresh young voices to get a big break, but it is understandable that Hollywood would stick to known commodities. However, problems arise when they just assume that everything Apatow, Kurtzman and Orci touch is pure gold and that they can make anything into a hit.
It’s that type of thinking that has led to the announcement that DreamWorks is in negotiations with Fisher-Price to acquire the movie rights to the View-Master. That’s right, that red plastic toy that you put up to your eyes to see little pictures. Dreamworks wants to make a movie out of that. And they want Kurtzman and Orci to produce it.
Never mind the fact that View-Masters are incredibly boring toys that most of us spent about 30 seconds flipping through the photos on before finding something better to play with. And never mind the fact that they are paying a ton of money for a toy that doesn’t really lend itself to a riveting plot. Dreamworks executives have heard of View-Masters and they have heard of Kurtzman and Orci, so they are more than willing to shell out cash to bring the two together. The article I read talking about the negotiations even said that Dreamworks is hoping that Kurtzman and Orci “do some Transformers-style magic on it.”
In fairness, back in the 80s the Transformers cartoon show was developed by Hasbro as a way to sell more toys. Transformers has always been nothing more than a marketing gimmick to sell little plastic robots. But the one advantage that that franchise has over View-Masters is that it’s about giant fighting robots that can turn into cars and planes and the View-Master is still just a little plastic pair of goggles that shows you pretty pictures.
Of course, it’s not just Dreamworks that is shelling out cash for movie rights to old toys. Last week, Universal acquired the rights to the Atari game Asteroids and is already developing movies based on board games like Battleship and Candyland.
I’ll give you a moment to let that information sink in. I want you to really sit and think about the fact that somewhere a high-paid movie executive sat in a room and negotiated the rights to make movies based on a game where a little triangle shoots little circles, a game where you blindly call out various locations on a grid in hopes of hitting a ship and a game where you wander through a candy forest.
None of these games have plots. There is nothing inherently interesting about them that would make you think they would make great films. They are nothing more than games we played as kids to pass the time because we were bored as shit. I have no nostalgia for these titles and no desire to see them on the big screen.
I suppose it was inevitable. Movie executives have already remade every iconic TV show from the 70s and 80s, so now they have no choice but to start making movies out of the toys we all played with too. Someday soon we will all be treated to a Slinky movie or a riveting film based on Pong. Hollywood won’t rest until they’ve gotten their pound of flesh from every single toy we’ve ever touched.
Because again, it’s easier to just keep seeking out things we are all already familiar with. It’s easier to use the same writers and producers over and over again and have them make films based on products and franchises we all know. Why think outside the box when it is so much easier and cost-effective to always stay inside of the box? Finding new talent is hard work; it cuts into one’s golf time.
I’d like to think that I could be a voice of change. I’d like to think that I could send this article to the “powers that be” in Hollywood and convince them to branch out and look for new writers and new ideas. I’d like to remind them that Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci were once unknowns. I’d like to remind them that we don’t need cheap gimmicks like View-Masters and Slinkys to get us in the seats. We just need a good story written by someone with talent.
I would love to tell them all of these things, but sadly I know that unless I get Judd Apatow to say it for me, they’ll never listen.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.