Pitfalls of Fantasy Movie Making

    I have several friends who thought that great fantasy movies would be in the making at various studios following the release of the Lord of The Rings in 2001.

    Their reasoning was that one of the big production stoppers of past fantasy films was the inability to bring various fantasy elements to life on the screen in a realistic manner. I understand their reasoning to a certain degree. Over the past 25 years or so industry giants such as Lucas studios have worked diligently to leap over various ?shoot-ability? hurdles in order to make way for various creatures and special effects. Thus, it is now possible to see things in movies like a tyrannosaurus terrorizing the population of a modern city and have it look realistic. However, being able to generate such special effects on a computer only addresses one of the hurdles that lay in the path of the would be fantasy move maker.

    Like many things in life, making movies comes down to money. To get any project off the ground in Hollywood a producer needs to convince a financial backer (production exec or development exec) that they have a winner just waiting to be made. Obviously this is much easier said than done. Most financiers want some type of proven commodity attached to the film before they will front any money. After all, it is their money at risk and they want some comfort to assure them that they will get the money back with a nice profit. Usually, they want to see an ?A-list? director or actor attached to the film before they even look at the actual movie content. Heck, even if the script isn?t that great, if George Lucas is signed to direct and Bruce Willis is signed to star, then the film is going to find a financial backer because they believe in the talent.

    It is extremely hard to get any movie made, regardless of genre, without a proven commodity connected to the proposed film. Two other forms of proven commodities that get movies backed financially are sequels and adaptations. I?ve often wondered if the producers who sell financiers on a movie sequel are required to include the words ?past performance is not indicative of future results? like a stock broker has to print on a prospectus for any stock that he plans to sell. Adaptations of books, plays, comics, etc. into screen plays has always been common but it seems like with all the super-hero movies that have come out recently the trend seems to be increasing even more. Lord of the Rings also fits into this category of proven commodities. I think that it would be safe to say that if Tolkien had not written the books, then there wouldn?t be a successful movie. Even if by pure chance a screen writer would have written a script exactly like the current movies, it probably wouldn?t have been made. Why? Because the proven commodity of Lord of the Rings is in the publics willingness to purchase the books. Thus, most of the people working on the project were trying to adapt the story to the film with the highest degree of accuracy possible while adhering to various movie making limits and the movie goers where viewing the film expecting to see the story that they are already familiar with. Am I saying that everyone who went to see the Lord of the Rings also read the books? No, I am saying that the overwhelming majority that viewed the movie were at least familiar with Tolkien?s work to some degree.

    So what happens if a movie script doesn?t have an ?A-list? director or actor attached and it isn?t an adaptation or a sequel? Well, now the only thing going for the movie is the story itself and that is where fantasy stories become their own worst enemy. Both fantasy and science fiction screen plays have a handicap that other genres don?t have and that is the setting, or world creation. In a book, the writer has plenty of time to create a world for his characters to adventure in and the reader has ample time to read all the descriptions necessary to become caught up in the author?s fantasy world. In a movie the screen writer just doesn?t have this luxury.

    The screen writer basically has 90 to 120 minutes to tell his entire story and most of that time needs to be focused on plot and character development. Thus, many of the successful science fiction movies try to limit the sci-fi elements down to one item. For example, rather than creating an entire new world for the movie Jurassic Park, the writer decided to stay with the modern world that the audience is familiar with and add in the element of dinosaur DNA being used to create animals in this time period. Unfortunately, most types of fantasy can?t be broken down to just one fantasy element. I mean, in the case of ?high-fantasy? it just wouldn?t seem right to have dwarves and elves hanging out in east L.A. Once in a while a movie does extremely well and seems to break all of Hollywood?s rules. The ?space opera? Star Wars is a good example as most of the people in Hollywood never thought is would work. The other production studios were sure that Lucas was going to fail and even his own backers had just enough doubt to give Lucas exclusive merchandising rights. Of course, we all know the end of the story and George laughed all the way to the bank.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of screen plays written are called ?spec scripts? because they are written on the writer?s speculation that somebody in Hollywood will like the story and take a chance on making the film. Spec scripts may or may not have a proven commodity attached to them and the majority of them do not. Hollywood receives approximately 6000 new spec scripts from various agents every year. Additionally, Hollywood only produces about 300 movies a year; about 120 are from the major studios and the other 180 are from smaller studios and independent film makers. Now, if 50% of those movies are based on proven commodities then that means that 6000 spec scripts are competing for 150 production slots. Thus, each production slot has an average of 40 scripts that could possibly be made into a movie. A movie maker is then left to find a great story with an awesome hook and then weigh production costs against possible payoffs and all the while appealing to the masses. This is another problem for the fantasy genre because it just isn?t appealing to everyone that may buy a movie ticket.

    OK, so I have painted a pretty grim picture for fantasy films. That wasn?t my intention. I?m just pointing out that the odds are stacked against fantasy movies for many reasons and we will have to wait for the occasional rule-breakers to emerge in order to enjoy such films.


    Disclaimer: Fortuitous Ephiphaneia is written by Drandimere (Paul J. Darling) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.

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