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And, so, it is written

August 28, 2023

Barbie and Oppenheimer – Barbenheimer – (not a portmanteau any of their creators were expecting), have had big opening weekends. Indeed, Barbie is in the all-time top ten and is #1 in the ‘by a female director’ league.

Both are ‘original’ dramas in the sense that matters most. They are not original stories – Barbie is a decades old doll and Oppenheimer was a real person (in case there is any confusion). But both films are the result of a genuinely original take on how those stories should be told; it is there in the scripts, the production design, the direction, the edit.

They are very different, but neither are ideas, treatments, scripts, productions from Central Casting. They’re not formulaic, they are not tedious (or otherwise) reworkings or overextensions of existing franchises. Amen for that, and Amen that the box office shows you don’t have to produce cookie-cutter shows, (all be it bigger, better, flashier, more expensive, cookie cutters), to have success.

Each of them started with a writer, however well known, or not, scribbling or keystroking those first few lines. And then having the audacity to show them to someone.

That’s how all original stories start. AI might, theoretically, at some point, threaten the cookie cutter business. But, almost by definition, it can’t threaten the business of originality.

So, why is the business of originality; the ability to tell a new story, to tell an old story a new way, so undervalued?  It is a truism enshrined in endless Hollywood jokes that the writers – the originators of the whole damned industry – are undervalued both in absolute terms and, even more, in comparison to the talent that speaks their words or points the cameras.

The writer’s strike in the US will doubtless be settled presently, but it is something of a mystery how, why, industry leaders have let it come to this? Undervaluing writers is like paying for a Premier League team, then flat out denying you can afford to provide any footballs.

[Full disclosure: I have written produced screenplays and stage plays, I haven’t made any money to speak of].

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