Does Disappointing Summer Box Office Have Studios Considering (Gasp!) Original Material?

In answer to the question posed in the headline, all I can manage is "maybe, but I wouldn't bet anything important that the system will change."

Box office returns are off this summer. Attendance is down 13% from last year, and even with 3D inflation pumping up a few films, overall revenue is off 7.5%. (And those numbers will probably get worse for June, thanks to the World Cup.)

So studio execs, who would like to keep their jobs, are starting to get uneasy. According to a couple reports, they're actually uneasy enough to consider abandoning the recent reliance on sequels, proven properties and bullshit board game adaptations. Without material like that to provide movie stories, what will studios mine as raw material? Supposedly, they might actually go for original material. Should you believe it?

Vulture and Deadline are both running pieces reporting the execs from Paramount, Universal, Fox and Warner Bros. have been making frantic calls to agencies like CAA and WME, hoping to meet with agents in order to, in the words of one agency source that talked to Vulture, "Get us the original material. We need some original shit, because now our bosses are on us."

Deadline runs a quote from one 'major producer,' who says,

...this sluggish summer might be a blessing in disguise for talent and producers who want to take risks but have been hamstrung for the past two years by studios that have been operating in retreat mode, and looking for the safest bets possible. The lack of originality this summer might get off this safe track and in the mindset to take some risks again, and that would be a good thing.

One of Vulture's sources, JC Spink of the management and production company Benderspink, says more concisely,

People are feeling marketed to, as opposed to catered to...I think we've all gone a little bit overboard as an industry. There hasn't been room for original material for a little while now. It's a shame, because I don't think it's what anyone [who works in the business] came out here for.

(Spink was an executive producer on The Hangover. This comes, appropriately, just as CNN reports that The Hangover, a film that isn't a license, a sequel, or a TV update, has become the most-ordered title On Demand. Actually, of the top five On Demand films only one, Twilight, sitting at #2, is an adaptation or part of a franchise.)

So that all sounds promising and ducky, and I don't buy it for a second. Why? Because I have faith only that agents will make what seems like the best business decision and execs will make the easiest decision. This is promising on the front end, but don't for a moment be fooled that, even if some miraculous agency/studio 'creative confab' bears any fruit, it means we'll get good original movies.

Who do you think packages many of the dull, derivative big-ticket movies that have bored us all this year? Agencies and management companies. And there is no shortage of high-concept crap scripts out there just waiting for a convincing agent to foist upon a studio exec desperate to keep his job.

Beyond the talent packages that lead to big studio films, there's another big problem that has to be addressed. The conservative and often ego-confused creative mindset at studios creates bad movies.

Could Clash of the Titans or Prince of Persia or Robin Hood have been good movies? Sure. If the first Pirates of the Caribbean can still stand as a fun, respectable summer adventure, those movies could also have turned into something worth your two hours and ten bucks. CAA could send a lost ark of original scripts printed on solid gold pages to Fox, but if the studio makes them the same way they make so many other movies, the results are still likely to stink.

And, just to leaven the pessimism a little bit, consider that this is just talking about big studio movies. There are quite a few wonderful small and indie films playing this summer — if you're not exploring your indie and arthouse theaters you're missing out on some great stuff.