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  • Safwaan Islam

Hollywood: Death of Original Content?

2023 marked the year of some of the most stimulating movies and television series in recent history, with films such as Christopher Nolan’s highly coveted Oppenheimer and Celine’s Song’s magnum opus in Past Lives. Not to mention pictures such as Barbie, Killers of the Flower Moon, Poor Things and Priscilla and shows including Succession’s fourth season and season 2 of The Bear. The 2023 SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes also took place alongside the astounding output from the industry. Over a course of 5 months, from May to September, writers and actors advocated for better pay and denounced the looming A.I takeover of the business. Although the lineup of this year is undoubtedly beguiling, it only sets up the disappointing 2024.

The current upcoming films slated for the year are not short of sequels or live-action adaptations of previously-aired stories. Gladiator 2, the Road House remake, Joker 2, Planet of the Apes 4 and Madame Web are all releasing in the coming months, and scream of an avaricious song, trying to draw in viewers with their nostalgic melody. The approaching Avatar: The Last Airbender live action show, scheduled for February 22, does not help. This excessive need to pump out ‘newly modernised’ versions and sequels of already beloved films and content demoralises the original source material. Films such as Gladiator, speaking of the duty and honour of a soldier to his land, were true pieces of art. Creating a continuation of the story actively devalues the ending of Maximus walking through the field, indicating that after his life of war, he is finally at peace. To revisit the beloved film and echo the same story will degrade its ingenuity, not just applying to Gladiator 2, but the entire trend of the gratuitous sequels and reboots.

This sentiment is not only shared by audiences and critics, but also the workers of the entertainment industry. The aforementioned writers strike had been heavily influenced by the demand of bettering working conditions in Hollywood, as the new culture of excessive content has been overstressing VFX workers and scriptwriters. The overpumping of content in a short span of time has strained visual effects in the industry as a whole as the limited time, resources and pay given to editors has oversaturated their work, leading to insufficient CGI in many high-budget commercial movies. The strike was predominantly targeted at Disney thanks to the many VFX workers who have reported that the brisk deadlines they are given for finishing up the visual effects of various different projects render them to work for more hours to receive the same pay. The same goes for writers, as the corporate owners of such brands wanted to shift them from writing original, heartfelt stories to big-budget advertisements for spectacle.

As mentioned earlier, Disney is a big perpetuator of this rhetoric, and has not waived. During the strikes, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, had stated that the protests were “very disturbing” to him as the business was just readjusting to the disruptive force the lockdown had on its production, and although they have negotiated a deal with the director’s guild, the actor’s strike and the writer’s strike for increased wages and directive control are not “realistic”. Disney has a market cap of around $178.16 billion and Bob Iger has an estimated net worth of $690 million circa 2019. The corporate world in entertainment has echoed similar remarks of not being able to give writers, actors and editors sufficient pay, all while having billions of dollars at their disposal. This sentiment has gone so far as an undisclosed studio executive saying,“We’re waiting for the WGA to bleed out” before they can resume their negotiations, as declared by the unnamed source, “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” 

Studio executives have proven time and time again that rather than believing in the importance of well-crafted, character driven films, they would rather pump out rushed, high-budget, unnecessary movies, focusing solely on generating profit. This new paradigm shift in mainstream content has even started to affect the rights of workers worldwide, as the corporate demands for finished products have exacerbated workload and demeaned the work of writers that have new and creative ideas. The history of film has been defined by the visions of directors and screenplay writers, such as Hitchcock’s revolutionary melodramas or Tarantino’s high thrill conversation-based pictures. Giving original stories the platform to an audience built the film industry, and now these corporate leaders are trying to destroy it.


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