Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Poverty of Content

Schizophrenics sometimes talk a lot but say little of meaning or substance, and this is typically referred to as poverty of content. Well, our culture, especially the media it seems, is in the middle of a serious poverty of content phase, and along with that goes a poverty of imagination. Two of the last three movies I’ve seen were 1408 and The Number 23. These are recent movies and it turns out they were both based on Stephen King stories, as is the soon to be released The Mist. I also saw some other film with Kate Beckinsale in it, Vacancy. Now, Stephen King is a fine writer, but there are other writers doing the horror/thriller thing. There is plenty of original work available but the film companies just keep coming back to King over and over, despite a certain sameness to many of these films. And Vacancy while OK as a movie, was a virtual remake of many previous films. A couple of years ago they filmed Jack Finney’s Body Snatchers for like the fourth time. And now I hear there is going to be yet another Incredible Hulk movie. They just made one a couple of years back. It sucked. Why do we need another?

Why isn’t some filmmaker bringing Wayne Allen Sallee to the screen, or Del Stone Jr., or Dennis Etchison, or Ramsey Campbell, or the late Karl Edward Wagner? What about the works of virtual unknowns like T. Chris Martindale, or Del James? Sidney Williams has books like When Darkness Falls or Blood Hunter, which could make terrifying films. And why aren’t emerging talents being nurtured, like Stewart Sternberg or Bernita Harris, or many others here in the local blogosphere? No, the companies go back to the same old wells over and over and over.

I’m afraid we writers have to face the fact that the real money in entertainment these days is in the pockets of TV and Filmmakers. And that is a largely closed club with admission allowed only to a few prose writers like King, Thomas Harris, Clive Barker, and now Neil Gaiman. I feel very fortunate myself that I have a good job and don’t have to depend on writing income for my survival. And no one said the world is fair or that the breaks should go to the deserving. In fact, I honestly feel most sorry for the “consumers,” for folks like myself who would enjoy a good movie if one were to be made.

They say there is a dearth of truly good passing quarterbacks in the NFL these days. That’s because colleges are no longer nurturing them but are focused largely on fielding a quarterback who is a glorified extra running back. In the same way, the dearth of good new ideas in Hollywood is a direct result of thirty or more years of neglecting the development and nurturing of promising prose writers, and the blindness to any talented writer other than the few anointed ones.

Don’t look for it to get better anytime soon.


cs harris said...

"Poverty of content"--great phrase.

I've heard a lot of people trace the decline of movies to a study they did of which movies do well and which don't (forget the exact date). They found that remakes and sequels and movies made from bestselling books have a built-in audience. That's what they've been feeding us ever since. So in a sense, viewers are to blame--not us! Them other guys!

Lana Gramlich said...

In addition to CS Harris' comment, I'd also point out that the media always seeks to pander to the absolutely lowest common DUH-nominator. That certainly doesn't help. It's a shame & it makes me sick. This is partially why I didn't watch TV or movies (unless dragged there by my videophile friend,) for 10 years.

Bernita said...

"like Bernita Harris"
You meant that as a joke, right?

Erik Donald France said...

"Poverty of Content" -- great phrase.

Indie films can still work but they're usually smaller in scale and bang. At least they sometimes use non-Hollywood writers for storyline.

Erik Donald France said...

Jeez, I inadvertently plagiarized from cs harris.

Poverty of eyesight . . .

The Anti-Wife said...

"In fact, I honestly feel most sorry for the “consumers,” for folks like myself who would enjoy a good movie if one were to be made."

How true. It's very rare to find a really good movie anymore.

writtenwyrdd said...

I like that phrase, "poverty of content." Now I know how to describe CNN! I've been calling it micro-non-news.

You have a point about how difficult it is to become famous as a writer; but I do not think that the industry shuts us out quite so badly as all that. 4/5's of the way, maybe!

Charles Gramlich said...

Candice, Yes, you're probably right. But it's certainly not the whole viewing audience who wants this stuff. The film companies are the ones who focus on that specific segement of the population.

Lana, yeah, they can't all be Nip/Tuck eh?

Bernita, no joke. The stuff I've read from you has been lovely.

Erik, you're right, but here in the New Orleans area we seldom even get Indie films in the local theaters. Nor do I usually see many on PPV.

the anti-wife. Thanks for dropping by. I don't see a lot of movies and when I do I generally find them "adequate" but not really entertaining like my favorite movies of the past.

Chris Eldin said...

I agree Charles. "The Usual Suspects" is one of the few movies that had me going the whole way.

Have there been any Dean Koontz movies made? I stopped reading S.King a long time ago when I first discovered (IMHO!) that Koontz wrote with more depth and literary acuity.

Love your phrase "poverty of content." I blame Bush for a lot of this. That's a soapbox I'll save for my own blog.

Steve Malley said...

Don't forget, the movie-making process rests on the movie-*funding* process. And when it's time to hand great swollen bags of loot across the table, people tend to want reassurance.

It's reassuring to back a 'proven winner', whether actor, director or writer. Still no guarantee those bags of loot will come back tenfold (cupidity's dream), or even come back at all (how many 'all-star blockbusters' have flopped?), but the money men feel reassured all the same.

And so it goes...

JR's Thumbprints said...

I can vouch to the lowest common DUH-nominator. Most inmates are clueless. They want visual candy regardless of content.

Danette Haworth said...

I think the last excellent film I saw was "Cinderella Man."

I love Owen Wilson, but I didn't love "Wedding Crashers." Now, "Starsky and Hutch," say what you will, but that movie made me laugh.

Shauna Roberts said...

At least there are still more content-stuffed, thoughtful, exciting, original books published every year than any person can read. And a mass-market paperback costs less than a movie and lasts longer.

Movies and TV may go after the 12-year-old boy, but books still provide plenty of entertainment for adults.

Charles Gramlich said...

Church lady, there haven’t been many theatrical releases made from Koontz’s work, but they did film “Phantoms” and “Watchers.” They made a sequel or two to “Watchers,” but they weren’t from Koontz’s work. They’ve also made some TV movies and miniseries from his stuff, including “Intensity,” and “Strangers,” although the latter was filmed under a different name. There was a really bad movie made from his “The Funhouse.” The most famous movie from Koontz’s work is “Demon Seed,” and he recently revised that book. I like Koontz much better than King too, and he has been an influence on my own writing. BTW, if you like Koontz you might like my thriller, “Cold in the Light.” It’s pretty Koontzian, I think.

Writtenwyrd, maybe they could use that description for all the news channels these days.

JR, I sometimes watch movies just for the visual candy because, unfortunately, I don’t expect anything more from them. I wish I could.

Steve Malley, I’m sure you’re exactly right. The companies don’t want to take chances with vast sums of money. But there are some independent films made that still do very well on a small budget. It would be great to see them take a few more chances.

Shauna, agreed, although even in books the megasellers seem to have less and less of interest to me. Still, there are many good books still appearing, many from the small presses.

Danette, Cinderella Man was excellent. As for Owen Wilson, I’ve liked him in a lot of stuff, like Night at the Museum. I didn’t like the movie Starsky and Hutch, though, possibly because I was a fan of the TV show, which was taken more seriously.

Sidney said...

I think unfortunately budgets have put things in a formulaic rut in the genre. If a story can be told with about four characters on one to two sets it seems to get green lighted, and way too often lately they're three acts with one twist. Once in a while you get one that's got a little freshness like "Vacancy"--which I liked for its intensity--or "Captivity" and if not it's something that's completely lame like "The Return" or "The Messengers."

I gotta quit watching so many of these flicks.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

hey, i'd like to see sid's "gnelfs" as a film.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

seriously. not blood hunter. gnelfs. directed by sam raimi and based on a screenplay by charles and sid.

Travis Cody said...

Sequels and remakes...the known money makers. I guess if you're not a known name and you don't write to formula, then your stuff has to be "the best thing ever" or it just won't get a chance.

That's pretty bleak.

the walking man said...

I do believe that is what major publishing houses are looking for good characters that can be serialized over 8 novels, even if it pigeon holes the author.

Step out of "your" genre and write a book that is totally different in flavor and content and it will get minimal attention.

Same with movies and TV. Rocky 6 or 7? They all made money even though from front to finish all the same underdog winning in the end formula.

The writer of the "Pelican Brief" hit a formula that the publishers found to work and all of the basic stories were the same, in the middle of his run he writes a perfectly beautiful little book called "The Painted House" and it was advertised not at all and reviewed as not his genre but next to "A Time to Kill" his first work, that little novel to me was his second best piece of original writing. It just didn't fit their idea of a bottom line contender.



Chris Eldin said...

Hi Charles,
I just ordered it from Amazon!
Thanks to Anti-Wife's contest, I had a coupon (thanks girlfriend!--linked as Pro Pooch on my blog)

I can't wait to read it!!!

Michelle's Spell said...

Poverty of content is a great phrase! I know what you mean -- good movies are rare and don't get much play or publicity. The shitty ones keep getting remade for some reason. I love watching movies, but find myself drawn to the seventies (Last Picture Show, Carrie, Play Misty For Me) when things were less predictable and packaged.

SzélsőFa said...

if only writers had jobs well-paying enought to raise money to make AND advertise their own film(s), based on their very own book(s).
Now that would be a pleasure to the eye.
Totally alternative, self-financed and promoted movies just for the sake of art and literal delicacies...

Please, wake me up :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Sid, I tend to watch four or five movies a year unless they're on TV. I just can't work up the energy for them.

Wayne, I thought about Gnelfs. With the new computer CGI they could probably do it, but it would take a special director not to screw it up.

Travis, yes, and I forgot to mention in my original post that they're now doing yet another version of "I am Legend." So much other good stuff I'd rather see filmed.

Mark, hey, I have a series too. I was hoping they'd film the John Carter of Mars movie and it would be huge and then someone would want the Taleran books.

Church lady, Thanks for picking it up. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know. There are a couple of pretty gory scenes but Koontz can do some of that as well. I will be linking the anti-wife to my blog as soon as I get a moment.

Michelle, I liked Play Misty For me, for sure. It's just for me these days all the movies seem kind of the same.

Szelsofa, I've always had a dream of being independently wealthy just for such reasons. Doesn't seem to be happening.

Bernita said...

I enjoyed Independence Day and The Mummy and LOTR, so I don't know where that puts me in terms of LCD.

Lisa said...

Just last night I finally saw a movie on DVD that surprised me. "Mr. Brooks" is a psychological thriller that had an unusual premise and a lot of unexpected subplots, twists and turns. It wasn't the best movie I've ever seen, but it was entertaining -- I do see quite a few movies, so the bar isn't set very high. I used to be a horror/thriller junkie, but because of the sameness of most of them, I don't often watch them anymore.

Anonymous said...

I think some of today's audiences would like to see something else. Some people just like going to the movies and they will keep going to the movies even if the movies aren't the greatest. The studios, with their test audiences and theories of what's popular, aren't as clever as they think they are.

Jo said...

Charles, you're talking about Hollywood - that's why there is always "poverty of content". Why else would you get endless Rambos, or is it Rockys? And Ocean's 13?

The Number 23 was one of the most boring movies I have ever seen. It was supposed to be frightening, but I fell asleep with boredom. The best movies are Australian or British or - Canadian! But my favorites are Australian. There was an amazing Australian movie, with Guy Pierce, called Till Human Voices Wake Us in 2002, and I don't think anyone in North America saw it. If you get a chance, check it out. No poverty of content there!

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I agree with you so much on this post. Hollywood is all about proven formulas and making money. The real geniuses are still writers, and we are the ones that are poor!