For the next several posts I’m going to do another in-depth movie analysis. My movie choice this time is Inception (written by Christopher Nolan). Why Inception? For one, it has an interesting multi-level narrative that should be fun to explore. It’s also a conceptually tricky story so I’m curious about how it handles exposition.
It’s also one of the few big studio hits of recent years that is an original story. Back in the 80’s when I was falling in love with movies, many summer tent poles were original stories – Ghostbusters, Alien, Beverly Hills Cop, The Terminator, Lethal Weapon – the list goes on and on. These days we don’t see that very often.
There are a variety of potential reasons suggested for this phenomenon, but I think the main one is that the studios are mostly owned by larger corporations now. And corporations don’t like middle management putting hundreds of millions of dollars at risk based on their personal taste. Development execs are essentially middle management. If they’re not allowed to buy big original stories, big original stories don’t get made.
There’s also the Cover-Your-Ass (CYA) reasoning. Nobody gets fired for putting a major superhero movie into production, or the latest Young Adult hit novel series. But if you champion an original story and it fails… it’s on you. I certainly believe CYA is at work in Hollywood, but that would have been true in the 80’s as well, and yet original stories got made.
So the question becomes, could you or I get something like Inception made? The sad answer is probably not. It seems hard to believe now, but that movie was considered an enormous risk. Warner Brothers only green lit it because they desperately wanted Christopher Nolan to make Dark Knight Returns. And you and I are not Christopher Nolan (if, by chance you are Christopher Nolan, what are you doing reading MY blog?)
So why analyze a movie you or I couldn’t sell? Because the business right now is in either very high or very low budget movies. And that means a lot of the jobs are in very high or very low budget movies. If you want to work in the high budget arena, you are going to have to show what you can do. And unless you are able to somehow option a hot underlying property, that probably means you need to write an original big budget script as a sample. And it better be really, really good!
And who knows, it might get made. The business is changing all the time. Right now the buzz is that studios are running out of A-level pre-sold franchises, so the door may be cracking open again for big, original stories. Anything can happen.
Besides, Inception may have things to teach us no matter what kind of movies we write. I happen to like the movie a lot – and I’m not alone. The domestic gross was $292.5 million, the international gross $533 million. And it got an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, so the critics liked it too.
So, next post I’ll take a look at the structure of Inception.