A film critic posed the question “Name a film you enjoyed that did not get a sequel, but you would still like one.”
I found this question difficult to answer because just about everything has a sequel today. Even films that don’t deserve it or need it. Eventually I settled on WANTED, an independent comic turned super hit… of 2008. A sequel has languished in development since 2009.
I’ve discussed risk before from an impact on types of films we see (mostly sequels, remakes, pre-established franchises). Instead of retreading that debate, I instead want to focus on the voices we’re losing as a result of this risk averse crop of executives.
Back to WANTED for a moment. After the film became a hit, the primary producing team behind the film went in an entirely different direction. All of Hollywood would probably say on instinct “go make a sequel.”
Instead in 2009, the team took a big risk and released an animated film, 9. While it was largely forgotten due to the more popular animated film from the same studio, CORALINE, the producing team was nominated for a PGA award. They saved this small animated feature from near failure and released it to positive critical review, and it made its money back.
But it didn’t make WANTED money. It was a small feature. After that they would fail to be as lucky with their next film which was a critical failure and didn’t make much domestically (it did recoup its losses abroad).
Since then, WANTED never got its sequel. The director aspect of the producing team went on to direct another flop, while producing a few mid-budget hits. The other member of the team hasn’t worked since the critical failure was released years ago.
This is where I come full circle: So an industry praises a team for doing such a good job, appreciating the money they made and the will to stick with a languishing project; the hallmark of a good producer. Then the same industry turns around and pretends they never existed. All because of one flop. Who made this rule of “you’re only as good as your last film?” Why should it even be a rule?
This is just one example of many I could choose where the story is exactly the same. Where this one strike and you’re out policing is applied. As a result we are losing more and more voices and talents, including those who’ve done an excellent job in the past. Why, because their most recent project failed? The more this industry punishes people for failure the more we just get the same voices making the same content over and over again. It’s not just bad for diversity, it’s bad for the industry overall.
When you punish people for taking a risk then nobody will want to take risks. And as others fail upwards it’s easy to have sour grapes when you’re side lined for setbacks that don’t seem to matter as much for others.
We should try to solve this problem with the same urgency as subconscious bias given its impact on diversity as well. However, both problems require cultural shifts which tend to be slower. That said, it can be done if people are aware of how their individual actions contribute to the problem. Have you personally held someone’s last effort against them? Why? Have you given others a pass for the same degree of failure? Also, why?
We need to be aware of how we contribute to problems – in every aspect in life – on an individual level.
So tl;dr- stop silencing voices. Give work to those who’ve proven in the past they’re capable. A filmmaker’s most recent project shouldn’t weigh so heavily against them because frankly the audience doesn’t care. All the audience wants are good stories told by adept filmmakers- so give those adept filmmakers a second chance. This isn’t the high school cafeteria table, so let’s stop treating it like one. We’re all sick of the same old voices. It’s time to make room for others and to bring back those who’ve done good work before.