Throughout January I wrote several posts on the theme of adaptations, and to round it off I have found this short interview on the BBC called “The Hollywood Script Doctor.” The doctor in question is called Vincent Bruzzese, and he is the CEO of the World Wide Motion Picture Group. His job is to analyse proposed film scripts, whether adaptations or original screenplays, and use historical data from the last ten years regarding audience trends and financial stats to judge whether or not a movie will be worth making (in a monetary sense). He describes the film industry as “a money driven world where art meets commerce.” The extent of this can be seen in the example he uses from the horror genre – slight alterations in the nature of the story, whether it involves a haunting or ghosts summoned by a Ouija Board etc. can mean the difference between the film making millions or not being made at all. Information about trends, he says, can give more power over the creative vision.
This is known as “analysing playability.” I understand where he’s coming from – making films is a business and it needs to be profitable. The figures that seem somewhat casually thrown about when discussing the movie business will be astronomical to most people, with many films making over $50 million just in their opening weekends. Bruzzese claims to be bridging the gap, making sure that films are profitable while also ensuring that they are pictures people want to see. But what pressure does this put on the creative process? Can writers be fully creative and imaginative if they are working to a set of criteria?
This interview does indeed include the views of a few writers on the subject, and I tend to agree with them. One says that “scientific analysis doesn’t go with creativity… it can be damaged by that cold calculating process of whether something’s marketable.” Another strongly felt remark is that movies are meant to be cognitive and emotional stimulation, and that is very difficult to accomplish through something that is formulaic. As a writer, I’m not sure I could work effectively under such constraints. As a movie-goer, how do I know I don’t want to see something if it never gets the opportunity to be made? There surely has to be an element of risk in the industry, to keep creativity flowing and make sure those films, however unlikely it may seem that they become a success, continue to be made and enjoyed. Let’s face it, it the trends don’t always predict correctly. Every year there are films made on budgets of millions of dollars that no doubt ticked all of the Script Doctors boxes, which ended up totally bombing at the box office (the most recent example I can think of being The Lone Ranger in 2013). And then you get those unconventional little gems, which start off quiet and probably didn’t have a huge budget, but become loved all the same. Who would have thought something like the Shawshank Redemption, a film set wholly in an unpleasant prison and based on a little known short story by Stephen King, which barely recovered its costs on release, would grow to be so loved and considered one of the best films ever made?
Bruzzese claims that there is no lack of creativity in this process and in the examples of things that have worked. He compares movie making to being a chef – chefs don’t try and invent new ingredients, they use existing ingredients and combine them in different ways to make something delicious. That’s all well and good, but a chef only has (an admittedly large) finite number of ingredients to work with. There are no limits on a writer’s imagination. There should always be the freedom to create something new.