Just today it was announced that the famous internet meme Grumpy Cat was given a movie deal. If that’s not ridiculous sounding enough, his agent Ben Lashes is a self-described “internet cat agent.” Mr. Lashes business associate noted in the Wall Street Journal “When it comes to cats, Ben knows who is going to be big.” Following the news, most posts noted how this was “all that is wrong with Hollywood.” Many reactions quickly concluded that this cat followed a greater trend in Hollywood, that according to one smarmy poster was evidence that this is “further enabling Hollywood never having to come up with an original idea again.”
As a writer and a creative, I see where they are coming from and to a great extent emphasize with their frustration. However, I disagree with the conclusion they have arrived at: that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt. In my bid to be more of a positive person, I decided to approach this news in an entirely different way, and arrived at the opposite conclusion of most responders. While there are franchises, sequels, prequels and reboots and many more films based on proven ideas, I contend that Hollywood is not creatively bankrupt at all.
Perhaps you tuned into Oscar season last year, or maybe the year before that? Focusing on this past year, the big winners and most talked about were Argo, Les Miserables, Lincoln and Life of Pi. All of those films were based on intellectual property successful in another medium. Would the internet posters lambasting Hollywood culture for signing Grumpy Cat also hold true to the lack of an original idea in these aforementioned instances? Was Life of Pi creatively bankrupt because it was based on a book? Of course not! It was a brilliant film with breath taking visuals and CGI and one of my favorites in recent memory. Did you know that the Tiger was entirely computer generated!?
Now I understand that for the average struggling writer out there (myself included) watching Hollywood deal mostly with adapted screenplays is very frustrating. However, lets not confuse that with creative bankruptcy, because its not. Adapting a screenplay is no small feat. Sure that original idea in your head was entirely pulled from thin air, but writing a book into a film is arguably just as challenging, and more in some ways. In fact, Life of Pi was said to be “un-adpatable.”
At the end of the day, you, the writer, are not the only person who needs to eat. There is something almost selfish in the statement that Hollywood chooses dumb projects without merit. And that is because the writer or creative who makes that statement is ultimately saying that their project is more deserving. They don’t flat out say this, but excavate a bit and that is the true inner feeling. I’ve been there. But you need to prove your self worth.
It costs a lot of money to make a movie, and ultimately financiers and filmmakers are likely to be risk adverse as a result, thus the optioned properties on existing markets. So should they just bite the bullet for an original passion project because YOU think its awesome? Of course not, that would be selfish because when it fails, those backers do too. You need to prove your worth, and who knows, maybe one day from your efforts you may be asked to adapt a script (creative bankruptcy?). You may not like everything Hollywood puts out, but it does at the end of the day make art, even if that art was successful somewhere else first. And to be honest, just because something is optioned, as is the case with Grumpy Cat, doesn’t mean it will ever make it as a movie. It’s really more about owning the rights…but I digress.
It is my opinion that for every genuine piece of garbage Hollywood puts out, there is enough art being made there to counterbalance the stuff that makes us shake our heads. Writers and creatives run the risk of creative bankruptcy themselves when they consistently and continuously beat the “Hollywood is unoriginal” drum. I’m sick of it, because again, its just not true. People become writers etc. because they love the movies. So to complain about the very thing they love is sort of silly and frankly is nothing more than jealousy.
In the end if you want to succeed in this business you need to lose the negative mindset. It took me a while to realize that, but even I get it now. So Grumpy Cat the movie sounds silly. So don’t see it. But don’t conclude Hollywood sucks as a result because then you sound even more grumpy than the Grumpy Cat.