The maladies of movies morphing into new media

Twenty years ago, audiences engaged with TV and cinema in wholly disparate ways. The two experiences used to be quite distinct from each other, but with the advent of new technologies and warped, economic mindsets of producers, these now-analogous experiences are slowly morphing into one and the same.

The film industry has begun to rely heavily on sequels and franchises for box office revenue. Sequels, remakes and adaptations are familiar to audiences so they are almost guaranteed to turn a profit. It’s much safer for a film studio to make eight “Fast & Furious” films than it is to make eight original screenplays because the “Fast & Furious” franchise is familiar to audiences. That familiarity is what they rely on to sell tickets. The biggest motivator that studios depend on is nostalgia. People will buy tickets to go see Star Trek or Star Wars remakes and reboots because they fondly remember watching the originals.

Because the film industry has begun to reject originality, these new franchise movies have become more interrelated to each other than movies have ever been. Nearly every single movie leaves open the possibility for a sequel or a spin off. Watching a singular movie is now an experience more akin to watching a single episode of a television series.

This is especially problematic when we consider the transformation that television has undergone. One of the benefits of putting original series on streaming services like Netflix or Hulu is that these platforms have enabled creators to have more control of their content than ever. Creating content with the sole intention of putting it online removes the barriers of writing with commercials and inappropriate content in mind. It also allows writers to push boundaries of length. Dramas, which on cable TV are typically an hour, are now stretching ever longer. Comedy episodes, too, are no longer a modest 30 minutes in length or less. Watching a single episode of most online series is an eerily similar experience to watching a short film.

As these two distinct formats begin to resemble each other more and more closely we see the death of each respective way of creating content. Because of the newly episodic nature of film, original screenplays are falling by the wayside. Streaming TV online instead of on cable networks allows creators more freedom, but it also inherently changes the structure of these shows. As they increase in length, the art of making something that is substantial and short becomes lost.

Big studios need to learn how to kill their darlings. Although franchises are popular among audiences and studios alike, this practice is literally strangling original films. Modern TV has almost evolved to the point where it fills the voids left by non-existent original screenplays. The loss belongs to the medium of television itself. As media progresses, it is vital to remember how to make content of all kinds so that we do not find ourselves stuck in franchise loops and marathon television.