Is Twitter Hollywood’s New Casting Office?

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New Kinds of Questions

Now that we’re in the age of the Twitter-generated movie, there are serious questions to ask, the main one being about ownership. So far, there’s no word on if the creator of the original Nyong’o/Rihanna tweet will get some type of story credit. But they most definitely should, since it was their idea that launched the buying frenzy at Cannes. As for future films that get their genesis in social media, what will become the modus operandi? Will filmmakers and studios take these ideas as if they’re in the public domain, or will they seek to give the originators proper credit and compensation?

At the heart of the ownership question is money, really. In a time in which freelance writers are being paid pennies on the dollar to turn out feature-length posts (or, in some cases, being paid nothing at all) and creators are relying on crowdfunding services like Patreon to not only fund projects, but make ends meet, money has become ever more desirable while becoming increasingly scarce thanks to gatekeepers. Let’s be real — creatives have always been shortchanged historically; many of the writers and artists we love today were seen as poor degenerates in their day and were ignored by society until their deaths, when their art was “discovered” and then loved by the masses. But nowadays, it’s somehow become even harder to get work seen and compensated for despite how social media has made it easier and more accessible than ever before to showcase talent.

If millennials are facing this type of life-sucking malaise just trying to find a way to support themselves, would studios really be that inconsiderate as to add to that malaise by not paying those who actually come up with blockbuster ideas? It’d be heinous for them to do so, but seeing how not paying someone is only a monetary boon for a company, it wouldn’t be surprising if studios start adopting the “Twitter is not only Fair Use, but Public Domain” argument.

However, this new space is ripe for entrepreneurship. If there’s someone out there who wants to create a niche agency for social media writing/conceptual talent, then the market’s wide open, and plenty of people will sign up. If there’s some oversight in terms of agencies and groups (say, for instance, the Writers’ Guild opens their doors to people who create social media-based movie ideas), then there is a way that this new way to create films could become a way to make money. Maybe not a viable way at the outset, because a film being made from a tweet is basically like winning the lottery. But, if more and more studios start looking towards social media, maybe we’ll see the first Twitter Movie Millionaires in the near future.

Or, Twitter itself could start getting in the entertainment game. We’re now in a space where Facebook is creating original TV content featuring Nicole Byer’s revived Loosely Exactly Nicole and reality competition show Last State Standing, and Twitter already features live TV programming on its service, so it’s only a matter of time before Twitter creates its own Twitter Studios. Again, the same questions apply — would Twitter take ownership of all its users’ content since the content is being created within the service, or would it give credit and compensation to those select users whose ideas are media gold? Hopefully, they’d do the right thing and pay people what they’re owed.

Aside from payment, there’s a huge positive that can come from social media-generated content, and that’s diversity and representation. Much of the social media conversation is on how to tackle diversity and representation. The Nyong’o-Rihanna movie is a great example of how social media users can directly show studios the kind of representation they want to see. Would a studio think of a heist movie in which Rihanna and Nyong’o scam rich white men? No, probably because many of the studio heads are, in fact, rich white men. But a black Twitter user who has an idea of the type of content that interests them could, and, as the tweet’s success shows, it’s these ideas that are usually passed over by studio brass, but celebrated by the actual audience members.

However, all of the hand-wringing about the future of social media movies will die a sad death if this film actually bombs once it gets to Netflix. There have been films that have had the backing of its supposed audience only to fail miserably at the box office. Take, for instance, 2006’s Snakes on a Plane. The film gained a rabid fan following online due to its preposterous premise, but it was a huge failure in the theaters, making $62 million worldwide, and only $15.25 million in its opening weekend.

At any rate, we’ll be tuned into Netflix with bated breath and eager eyes to see how the first Twitter movie — perhaps the first of many — turns out.

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