Recursion in Hollywood

The past few classes have sparked me to think about the concept of originality, particularly when it comes to Hollywood with films and television. Ask yourself- how many films or TV shows have you seen that are original ideas and were made in recent years? The answer probably isn’t many. Many of the things produced today are based off of other people’s stories. This can include other writers’ books, following similar plot lines of previous works, other people’s life experiences or are simply sequels or remakes to a successful film of the past. In the simplest terms there aren’t many original pieces of entertainment being produced today. Hollywood is trying to imitate what has worked in the past.

What had sparked my interest was reading the article that Dr. McCoy had sent the class, “Originality, Genius, Plagiarism in English Criticism of the Eighteenth Century” by George J. Buelow. In this article Buelow quotes Quintillian by saying, “It is from these and other authors worthy of our study that we must draw our stock of words, the variety of our figures and our methods of composition… For there can be no doubt that in art no small portion of our task lies in imitation, since, although invention came first and is all-important, it is expedient to imitate whatever has been invented with success. And it is a universal rule of life that we should wish to copy what we approve in others”.

Applying this to Hollywood, Hollywood writers are trying to follow a “formula to success”. Writers are taking things that have previously been successful like books or past films and producing films with things that audiences have already seen and are familiar with. This brings about the idea of recursion that we have been discussing in class. Hollywood is constantly circling back to the same concepts, characters, etc. without progressing toward new concepts in films.

I really liked this quote from Bernice Johnson Reagon’s essay “Nobody Knows the Trouble That I See”, regarding originality. She writes, “Originality of voice and style is the true sign of a seasoned teacher. A true master is one who creates an offering with such power and originality that a new direction is established within the genre”.  I believe that this will be useful for film writers to take into account when producing new films and avoiding recursion in the film industry.

I am not saying that all sequels and remakes are necessarily bad, however I am hoping that film writers begin to think outside the box when writing a new film and take risks which will open the doors for new stories to be told.

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