By Olu Yomi Ososanya
Today, more than any other time in history; screenwriters, producers, and directors have a bigger challenge in entertaining an audience and keeping them engaged. The demographic of 18-35 now have access to more content via YouTube, NetFlix, Vimeo, Hulu than those in that age range as recently as 1999.
The average 20-25-year-old in 2015 has instant access to more TV shows and movies in one year, than a 20- 25 year old in the 90s did in 5 years. Binge watching entire seasons of a show in a weekend, something very rare just 10-15 years ago. So as a creator of any genre of film, how do you entertain, satisfy and keep engaged someone who has seen 20 films with similar storylines and has 100 other options just a few clicks away?
Here are excerpts of a few reviews of Big Hero 6, a 2014 movie that had a $165m budget:
I hate this movie for having one of the most cookie-cutter plots imaginable, and for trying to build tension, where there is none.
Yet another dazzling mega-production that kept me wishing “if only they had a plot to match the visuals”.
I just finished watching Big Hero 6, for the first time. I was stunned… by how many clichés were able to fit into one film. It’s amazing how entire films can be made without a single original idea. Maybe I’m being too critical. But I don’t think so.
The story line was all over the place, and we couldn’t get on board with the lead character(s)’ quest, probably because it kept changing throughout the film.
If you expect to see a very entertaining and exciting movie, you just will find a ridiculous generic story with very bad pace and intensity. Good ideas turned into something totally predictable in which you can guess every cliché and tropes that will happen. The action is very boring and feels like it was made unwillingly.
Some filmmakers’ response to this would be, I don’t make films for critics, I make films for the people. Well these are not critic reviews, these are reviews by “the people,” the paying public who felt disappointed with the writing of the film, and it’s execution disappointed enough to take the time to post a public review.
The common denominators in their disappointment were: that its content was generic and cliché; and it had a weak plot – a trap creatives can tend to fall into sometimes. These kinds of reviews are not exclusive to this film, comb through user reviews on imdb, and you will find reviews where members of the public express their disappointment in what they feel is an uninspired, lazy and derivative piece of work.
People don’t want to dress up, burn petrol leaving their house, pay for ticket(s), popcorn and drinks only to get a generic film, with a predictable plot, by the numbers directing and one-dimensional characters they forget, before the movie is over. While they are in the cinema, they want to be caught up in the world of those characters. They want to be able to suspend disbelief. They want to forget their bills, family issues and stress with the neighbours.
When we deny them of that escapism with what they feel was lack of effort or originality, then we have failed. We can’t be that magician who performs the same trick the audience have seen a dozen times, and expect them to be thrilled because it’s a different location and we are in a new costume.
While those reviews were for a Hollywood movie, many Nigerians have as much access to the content they do, and are constantly asking “why should I watch your film, instead of that other film? What makes yours stand out to deserve my time and money”.
So how do we in Nollywood meet this challenge? How can we overcome clichés, generic stories, which honestly are sometimes the fastest and cheapest to make? How do we, with minimal budgets and access to equipment and skillset, still make remarkable work? How do we make movies that don’t end up getting these kinds of review?
If I have 4 months to write a script, I often will spend 2-3 months thinking about the idea and plotting, and 4 weeks writing – Dan Gilroy
Story Development conferences, More time for writers to flesh out stories? Reverse Engineering of stories? Test Screenings?
I don’t have the answers, but grumbling and mumbling “go and make your own” or “you don’t know how hard it is” to the public is certainly not the way out of this rabbit hole. This is the age where a few tweets or posts on Facebook can make your film tank on the opening weekend, especially if they are told it’s no different from the last 20 films they saw.
Writer, Director, and Cinema Enthusiast, Olu Yomi Ososanya has an education from the London Metropolitan University. His works spans documentaries, talk shows, features. He mostly known for his short film, Bliss, which was shot in London, England.