Tag Archives: film

Edwards: ‘The wipes are the cheesiest thing in the world’

Regarding differences between Star Wars story and saga films, I failed to notice the omission of the iconic Star Wars ‘wipe’ in Rogue One.

Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, in an interview with Empire:

4. The famous ‘wipes’ do exist in other cuts

We did have versions of the film [with] wipes, and then it just felt like we were doing it because we could. The wipes are the cheesiest thing in the world. The only time you can ever do it and not be cheesy’s in Star Wars. There’s part of me that wanted the wipes and things like that, but the film is supposed to be different. We were given a license by the studio to be unique from the others, and we just took that license and ran with it as an excuse to try and be a bit more out there.

While I won’t disagree with Edwards, I think “cheesy” is the wrong word. Whimsical, perhaps?

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Rogue One: The Sound of a Story

Michael Giacchino (Lost, Star Trek, Up) is the first Star Wars film composer to step foot in John Williams’ shadow.

Giacchino in an interview with Anthony Breznican, Entertainment Weekly:

Entertainment Weekly: So you were a late addition to the Rogue One crew…

Michael Giacchino: Yes, literally the last thing I expected I’d be doing this month would be this. I mean we were literally planning a vacation when I got the call asking if I could come and talk to them about it. At the time, it left me with literally four and a half weeks to write. So it was one of those decisions where you’re like, okay, well… And I was talking to my brother about it. He goes, “Oh, come on. You’ve been writing this score since you were 10! You can do this.”

Giacchino, the long time J.J. Abrams collaborator, had replaced Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Grand Budapest Hotel).

EW: What inspirations will we hear in the music?

MG: It does borrow from traditions that both John [Williams] and George Lucas borrowed from when they made the original Star Wars, you know. George was looking at Flash Gordon, the old serials, and John was looking at [Gustav] Holst and different composers along the way to get a baseline for what he wanted to communicate. There is a wonderful musical language that John put together for the original films. I wanted to honor that vernacular but still do something new with it, something that was still me in a way.

My great friend Scott Kawai often makes the case that Michael Giacchino is the next John Williams, with a style heavy of colorful and memorable themes. Without reading too much about Rogue One, I assumed he had been the first choice for the film. The revelation that Desplat was the first choice was a shock to me. Desplat’s music is certainly incredible with an air of moody atmosphere, but does not strike me as “Star Wars”. I’d kill to hear his take on Rogue One.

There are inclinings of the saga’s legacy in Giacchino’s score— curious woodwinds and dancing percussion at the opening of “He’s Here For Us”— but there is a drive in the timber that strikes less fantastic and more brooding. It is immediately clear that the “stories” have room for exploration and departure from the “saga”. There are ties back to the episodic series, but at their core, Giacchino’s pieces are something new and derivative; they are always less memorable, iconic, or sure of themselves. Nonetheless, there are many times when the presence of brass brightens and lifts what is ultimately a grittier film to something more familiar and nostalgic— something more reminiscent of Star Wars.

As for the touches of William’s throughout Giacchino’s score, The Force Theme is heard when Bail Organa enters the frame. Likewise, The Imperial March is heard during Darth Vader’s appearance. During the film’s finale, both themes are heard as two iconic characters make stunning (re-)appearances, which can be heard in “Hope” on the film’s soundtrack.

However, the one that struck me the most was the piece backing Rogue One‘s title card, the finale of “A Long Ride Ahead” on the soundtrack. Briefly teasing Williams’ Main Title sequence, it kicks off the iconic C-G half-notes but branches into something new and less confident.

Kathleen Kennedy says they’re trying to break from some of the traditional Star Wars tropes, like doing away with the opening crawl. Sounds like that applies to the music as well?

Kathy said that to me, too — “No one is asking you to do what was done before.” I feel it’s important to be me, but in this universe, we’re working within. That was sort of the challenge. It was never sort of, “Oh, you have to do this, this, and this.” It was always just: “Here are the emotions that we need to cover.”

As a story outside of the saga, Giacchino’s freedom is extremely evident, for better or worse. My question is whether or not Giacchino’s score will be the audible language of all Star Wars stories to come, or just specifically Rogue One? Even more specifically, is Rogue One‘s title card sequence strictly Rogue One‘s title theme, or has Giacchino defined the theme for all Star Wars stories?

The other changes—the omission of the opening crawl, lower-left location queues, a lone title card— are so heavy-handed that it leads me to assume the themes Giacchino has established for Rogue One will permeate future Star Wars stories.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

SPOILERS!

I’m being torn apart. Did I like it? Yes. Did I love it? No. Did it live up to the hype? Maybe. My pros/cons list weighs heavily on the dark side, but the experience steers the franchise toward the light.

The film opens with a fleet of stormtroopers storming a village. In one particular instance, as one goes down, another, FN-2187 (quite obviously Finn for anyone who’s seen the trailers), without firing a shot, has a sudden change of heart about being part of a war-machine. Is this his first fight? Was the death of that particular comrade important? The audience would be better served if we understood the bond between Finn and the downed stormtrooper, or if there was some understanding that this was FN-2187’s first fight.

Not to mention that Finn’s introduction is mixed with a barrage of other main characters Poe, BB-8, Kylo Ren, and Captain Phasma within the first ten minutes. This all felt like a lot to digest.

It’s not until Rey’s introduction where the film begins to establish its language and context. The pace slows, allowing the audience to grasp the stakes through osmosis rather than force-feeding. Though, it’s not hard to feel enchanted when Rey is on-screen. Daisy Ridley is the star of the show and only becomes larger when backed by “Rey’s Theme”; John Williams’s breathtaking score for our new hero. (Fear not. BB-8 is a marvel!)

On the topic of characters, I never got on-board with Finn. He feels more like a Star Wars uber-fan living out his fantasies than true-blue Star Wars lore. But maybe that’s because Finn is the only character that doesn’t really have a Star Wars legacy identity. Rey acts as a brilliant blend of Han and young Obi-Wan while Poe waxes a bit “pilot” Luke. If anything, Finn’s overly comedic performance rings closer to Jar-Jar than any other legacy character. That’s not to discount everything John Boyega brings to the table, namely his performance in the Takodana bar and his lightsaber battle against Kylo Ren. But in large part, I began to dread his appearance on-screen. I would have gladly traded the abundance of Finn for the lack of Leia’s most talented pilot, Poe.

If there was one thing The Force Awakens is not short on, it’s dog-fights. Battles overall, for that matter. However, while dog-fights are a boon for a Star Wars fan, not one of these takes place in space! What’s a Star Wars movie without a war amongst the stars?! (This may not be the fairest gripe, but it’s an observance worth bringing up.) In any case, ground combat felt fantastic, with practical explosions and the bodies of stormtroopers flying about; CG effects seemingly only used for blaster fire.

And while I loved the idea of J.J. making a point to bring back a heavy use of practical-effects, they began to feel heavy handed at times. Jakku’s village felt like it paid great homage while Takodana’s bar felt exhaustive. Other instances of aliens and droids painted some scenes well. But in large part, it all felt a bit too much. Excessive b-role and cuts to random characters feel strewn about just for fan service and proof that they were committed to the idea of practical-effects. (I wonder if my fretting is just jarring reaction to the modern reliance of CG…?)

As heavy-handed as the practical-effects were, the allure they have been brought on to create is thrown out when two major characters appear as CG constructs. Like Finn’s out-of-place character, these characters took me out of the world that J.J. had constructed and put me back into the tried-and-tired trope of major CG reliance.

On the flip side, the lack of large scale CG set pieces and battlegrounds made this epic feel eerily small. Each scene feels like a specific set piece rather than a fleshed-out world. (There are similar scenes in The Hobbit films and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.) Suffice to say, most of the sets (and some of the acting and scene transitions) made the movie feel like a stage-play.

For all of the negative I can bring up about The Force Awakens, I cannot help but think about the good, the warm, and the fresh. This is why I’m torn. (Okay, add Kylo Ren’s struggle to the list. It was extremely human and relatable on multiple levels.)

Good: It’s a Star Wars film that feels like an Abrams film. While the characters, design, and story feel fairly true to the Star Wars universe, the film feels far removed from the language Lucas established with the original trilogy and certainly the prequels. So much so that I still feel like I’m having to check my opinion against what I’ve come to know and expect of Star Wars films, even the great ones. (Am I bothered simply because what I expect of this universe feels alien? Is that bad? Am I guarding myself from another Phantom Menace folly?) This is a good thing. “Enhancements” aside, we will always have the original trilogy and it’s refreshing to see a new take on this universe.

Warm: There are call-backs and nods. A lot of them. Maybe too many of them. But every single one feels like a treat that I apparently can’t get sick of. (They felt more natural the second time around.) Say what you will of The Hobbit films, it was nice to see the cast back together. The same feeling is exuded in The Force Awakens. Even more so. Some of the references feel forced, but that is too be expected. I imagine the audiences experiencing the Star Wars saga (well, episodes IV-VII) straight through or for the first time won’t be as phased by the obvious.

Fresh: The final scene. Our reunion with Luke opens the story in ways that The Empire Strikes Back had no other option but to fill in after the fact. Never has there been a Star Wars film where the future was so foreign to the audience but so presumably mapped by writers. (The script for Episode VIII was finished before the release of Episode VII. Unprecedented for a non-prequel Star Wars film. ) We know bigger things are coming and I’d argue that Episode VII simply exists to whet our appetites. That’s not to say it’s a cliffhanger, but through Luke, the mysteries and color of today’s Star Wars universe are on the cusp of being revealed.

——

[EDIT]: Added paragraph about set pieces and stage-plays.

1/1/16: Edited and revised after second viewing.

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Thoughts on Star Wars Teaser #2

  1. I could have sworn they were pulling audio from Return of the Jedi. (Mark Hamill still sounds youthful.) Until Luke’s line: “You have that power, too.”
  2. And if this is truly new dialogue, Luke state’s that his ‘father has it.” Has. Not had.
  3. It’s fun to imagine Vader is still around, but whether it’s clever audio splicing or Luke referring to the omnipresent (Force ghost*) Anakin, I say Vader is dead and gone.
  4. Finn is a trepidatious Stormtrooper recruit. The chaotic stormtrooper battle scene affirms his worries and he chooses to leave the Empire (or equivalent faction). This is the first time we witness the weight of war and death on soldiers in the post-prequel films.**
  5. I need to figure out a way to be a part of this upcoming series of Disney Star Wars films.
  6. I hate zoom. (1:28)

—– 

* Thanks for the heads up to @AlexandreSitbon. The term was slipping my mind.

** Correction: Sad Ewok.

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The Oral History of Steve Barron’s TMNT

March 30, 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. In commemoration, The Hollywood Reporter rounded up several cast and crew members to recount the making of the highest grossing independent film at the time.

The Hollywood Reporter:

Gray: I always thought it would be interesting to have someone who was coming out of MTV videos to amp this up visually. To make it a little bit younger. Director Steve Barron was suggested to us. We looked at his reel. He had done all this great stuff with A-ha. He had done “Billie Jean” with Michael Jackson. He had a very good visual style.

Steve Barron, director: I didn’t want to do something that was bloody. I didn’t want to watch that film. Funnily enough, Batman came out at the same time. It was that sort of tone I was already aiming for. The films that I loved, there was a sense of humor but a sense of peril as well. Of real peril, of grounded peril. Like something that had repercussions for what you did but had a wonderful sense of fun with it. I was a big fan of Ghostbusters.

[…]

Eastman: For an independent film, it was beyond our wildest hopes. We liked the final movie and we hoped people would like it, and [the fact] it did as well as it did was fantastic. Of all the versions of Turtles that have been optioned over the past 30 years now — and certainly in the entertainment arena — the first movie stands out as our hands-down favorite version.

If Barron’s TMNT is not my favorite movie, it easily slides into my top 5. I just wish Street Fighter would have been as successful.

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One Tool to Rule Them All

An important read about Tim Sweeney and Epic Games covering Unreal Engine, it’s use in interactive experiences from cinema to video games, the potential of VR and AR, and the state of free-to-play.

Chris Plante, The Verge:

When asked if Unreal Engine 4 will span the next 10 years, Sweeney says that it’s for the foreseeable future, that Unreal Engine will get to “the promised land,” a vision of the future Sweeney’s hinted at earlier in the day during his speech at the Game Developers Conference. “This is the word I was afraid to use earlier. This is the convergence of all these forms of media.”

Technologists, media theorists, and game designers spoke of the convergence ad nauseam in the 1990s, when film and video games came together in a garbage fire of media that could neither be called a good game nor a good film. In the 2000s, the convergence was replaced with the notion of transmedia, with entertainment spread across different mediums, connected through a shared universe or narrative. However Sweeney believes the convergence is making a comeback, that the graphics world is seeing humans and technology meeting at a unified point. Sweeney sees photorealistic 3D objects and lighting and virtual reality attracting game designers, sure, but also industrial designers, architects, and film makers to engines like Unreal Engine 4.

In this future, or present if you ask Sweeney, lessons learned from one field, say an architect designing a virtual building, can be applied to games or film, and likewise. Sweeney believes the potential application of the engine across all fields increases exponentially as information is shared.

All of this raises the question: does Epic Games identify purely as a games company? “We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields.” Sweeney doesn’t see the industries as all that different. More interesting than Sweeney’s prediction of field-sharing information and experience is the speculation of the fields in some ways merging together. For their most recent demo, Epic Games partnered with Weta to create a VR demonstration featuring the dragon Smaug from the The Hobbit.

The separation between game and experience and art is becoming more defined. Under the guise of this piece, interactive experiences such as Journey and Dear Esther feel like the blossoms of Tim Sweeney’s greater vision, most recently demonstrated with Smaug.

Update: I failed to mention the main reason why this important. Not only does the diversity of Unreal Engine 4 practical uses help clarify the categories of computer generated media, there’s this:

… this year, Unreal Engine 4 is free — the company asks for a 5 percent royalty for any commercial product made with the engine that makes more than $3,000 a quarter.

Commercial product: a product that can make money (i.e. video games, VR/AR experiences, movies, TV shows, YouTube shorts, amateur animations, etc.).

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Winning Isn’t Everything

Excellent piece by Ian Bogost:

Myopia is the worst side effect of a hypothetical century ruled by games — or by any medium, for that matter. Whether or not the 20th century was the century of film, its proponents were never so brazen about dreams of its dominion. You don’t see filmmakers and filmgoers deriding other media for their lack of indexicality or visual sensuousness, penning manifesti for the forthcoming reign of the cinematic century, or inundating Twitter with hatred for anyone who squints at the idea that the medium of film might also bear some flaws. To dream of an age ruled by a singular medium is to dream a dream of isolation, for the comfort and sufficiency of the familiar. Myopia starts as affinity, but it ends as fascism.

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Thank you, Peter Jackson

I used to stare at my step-father’s collection of The Lord of the Rings as an impassable mountain. Novels intimidate me. So when word let out that The Lord of the Rings was being adapted for film, I was thrilled. My perspective of the volumes on that bookshelf and the trouble I had with their language painted a picture of the gargantuan undertaking the adaptation would be. Not to mention the prospect of a story so legendary being brought to life in my lifetime was exhilarating. I had always been jealous of those who saw Star Wars in the theater; a piece of science-fiction/fantasy so groundbreaking it would have a lasting impact not only on cinema, but on the culture-at-large. I was convinced that The Lord of the Rings would be my equivalent. Bonus: (I thought) I could get away without reading the books.

I set any skepticism I had aside and I went into The Fellowship of the Ring all-in; convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, it would be the greatest thing I had ever seen. I was ripe for disappointment. Alas, Peter Jackson’s vision turned me into as big of a Lord of the Rings fan as anyone could be. It wasn’t the story or the characters. They were mesmerizing and with my lack of knowledge, their tweaks went unnoticed. It was the production value and scale of this work that floored me. I had never witnessed anything of its magnitude. The special effects were like none other and the pacing, tone, and art were calculated and vivid. But the thing that put the films over the top was the baffling accomplishment of its principle photography:

Principal photography for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was conducted concurrently in New Zealand for 274 days from October 11, 1999 through to December 22, 2000. Pick-up shoots were conducted annually from 2001 to 2004. The trilogy was shot at over 150 different locations,[1] with seven different units shooting, as well as soundstages around Wellington and QueenstownPeter Jackson directed the whole production, while other unit directors included Alun Bollinger, John Mahaffie, Geoff Murphy, Fran Walsh, Barrie Osbourne, and Rick Porras. Jackson monitored these units with live satellite feeds, and with the added pressure of constant script re-writes and the multiple units handling his vision, he only got around 4 hours of sleep a night.[2]

I would later receive the extended edition of The Two Towers as a Christmas gift and pour over it and its bonus features many a high school night. Deep in the burrow of my poster laden teenage room, I would sit with headphones, transfixed by what I was watching. (I also absorbed a self-depricating message on the methodical pacing of the story through the image of the Ents.) To this day, the work behind these films amazes and inspires me. For as much as I love Star Wars, I felt I was right about The Lord of the Rings being my generational equivalent. It was a risky undertaking at a scale never before seen. Influential breakthroughs in cinema, technology, and logistics are rooted its production. I will forever dream to be part of something on its scale.

I needed more Middle-earth. I wanted every licensed video game, continued to pour over special features, and discussed the films at length with friends. I recall the instant I finished watching The Return of the King for the first time, I yearned for an adaption of The Hobbit. While I was sure it would eventually happen, I grew increasingly unconvinced that Jackson would be a part of it. On several occasions he emphasized that he was finished with Middle-earth and productions of its scale:

Nobody’s ever shot three huge movies before and I think the most interesting thing I’ve discovered over the last 14 months is exactly why nobody’s ever done that. Now I know. And therefore, I won’t be doing it again.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I learned that Jackson would be taking the helm on The Hobbit. And while many scoffed at the announcement that the children’s novel would be split into two films, I was bursting with excitement. One film was not nearly enough Middle-earth to tide me over. In the back of my mind, there was a small part of me that wished for three. There is something so satisfying with a trilogy, be it the beginning, middle, and end or a pseudo three-act structure. But based on the page count, I understood two films was likely already stretching it. That was until I read the book. I came away from the novel shocked at how dense it was. I wondered how it wouldn’t end up being three films. And to my surprise and delight, a third film was announced.

I agree with Ben Kuchera in saying “we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain” when it comes to more from our favorite franchises. If The Hobbit films were bloated, so what. If one is unhappy with the end product, they still have the book. As mentioned, I had only read The Hobbit months before the first film was released, and I was shocked that they would have attempted to squeeze it into two films, let alone one.

The announcements of return characters, story tweaks, and additions always gave me the feeling that The Hobbit films were more a celebration than a production to stand on its own. Sure, there is moral and epic material there, but it feels like I was watching a party thrown for the cast and crew of such an incredible feat. Do I think An Unexpected Journey and The Desolationof Smaug are in-line with the masterpieces that are The Lord of the Rings films? No. On par with the Star Wars prequels? Far above. The inescapable CGI on both the settings and characters (namely the orcs) are an eyesore, and the dwarves’ makeup doesn’t feel quite as realized as Gimili’s, but the films allow me to bask in the majesty of Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth again. And that’s more than I could ever ask for.

Many my say “Jackson will be back for The Silmarillion.” I’m not counting on it. Not after reading Alexa Ray Corriea’s history of The Lord of the Rings in video games:

The Tolkien Estate still firmly holds the score of books and snippets that fill out the world of Arda beyond The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit — called Tolkien’s legendarium — close to its chest. Christopher Tolkien upholds his position as keeper of the keys to Middle-earth; the IP remains split; and The Silmarillion is still locked away, out of reach from those who might adapt Tolkien’s deeper mythology.

If The Silmarillion does come around, my bet is that Jackson won’t be more than an Executive Producer.

I’ve never finished reading The Lord of the Rings. Two-thirds at best. And I only read The Hobbit months before the first film’s release. Yet, because of these six films, I have a profound fondness for franchise as a whole. Two patient, pre-meditated, serialized trilogies (albeit based on existing fiction) as efforts that have gone unmatched are triumphs to behold. When it comes up in conversation, when I see snippets on TV or a passages from the book, or when I hear one of Howard Shore’s iconic pieces, my mind goes to another place for hours at a time. Jackson’s perseverance through the filmmaking and scope of Middle-earth encourages me to dream. It inspires me to undertake something bigger than myself.  Thankfully I live in a world where in an instant I can tune into something that ignites that fire inside. For that, I am forever grateful. Thank you, Peter Jackson, for braving this project. I’m so glad to have experienced it in its entirety over these past thirteen years.

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The Lord of the Rings and the Serial Cliffhanger

Ryan Gilbey, writing for The Guardian:

In this Netflix-fixated age of instant gratification, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies did something both antiquated and radical: they restored to cinema-going the old-fashioned thrill of the serial cliffhanger. The difference is that 1940s and 1950s audiences had only to wait a week to find out the resolution. Middle Earth enthusiasts, on the other hand, had to while away an entire year between episodes.

Future generations consuming the whole shebang over several days of binge-watching will do well to remember that – and to raise a tankard of mead to those comrades who fell before the finishing line, or who said: “Sod this for a game of soldiers, I’ll wait for the DVDs so I can fast-forward through all the boring bits.” (One character in Kevin Smith’s comedy Clerks II described the first trilogy as: “Three movies of people walking to a fucking volcano!”)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in November 2001, a mere month before the first Lord of the Rings film (The Fellowship of the Ring).

But with the exception of the seventh and eighth outings, the Harry Potter films are self-contained, with no explicitly loose threads left dangling between pictures.

Audiences had experienced little to compare with the protracted suspense at the end of The Two Towers, when the slithering Gollum is apparently poised to murder Frodo and Sam. Jackson played the long game and took a gamble that audiences might want to play it, too.

Aside from the fact that “Middle Earth enthusiasts” already knew the ending, this is exactly what I’m talking about.

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Water Coolers, Spoilers, and Serial

On the way to work, my wife and I caught up on Serial. On our commute home, she mentioned that Zach Braff had tweeted about the podcast:

I can’t look through my Twitter feed without seeing a mention of Serial. Everyone’s onboard. Everyone’s got a take. But the extent of sharing is “OMG! WTF! #serial” We are all on par with Laura’s confusion in episode 8.

Serial is great. Definitely not my favorite podcast, but it’s a spectacular display of fine editing and editorial guidance. But more importantly, Serial has brought back the water cooler conversation. Everything about Serial thus far is based on presumption. If you tried to explain what is happening, you’d leave behind mountains of critical detail. Because the questions hurdle by ad nauseam, there aren’t answers big enough to spoil the show. Think LOST, with hatches and polar bears and Dharma, but rooted in the nonfiction investigation of a 1999 homicide case with cell records and reenactments and Jay. This is pre-meditated in the sense that Sarah Keonig and the Serial crew know that answers won’t come easy. There are no spoilers. This is great storytelling and we are along for the ride.

This thought led me to other serialized media. Serialized TV is larger than ever, but the good stuff (Game of Thones) is adapted or released in bulk (House of Cards). I kid, I kid. Admittedly, I have not watched True Detective. But in all seriousness, TiVo culture and binging has struck deep fear in sharing too much about nightly TV. While this sounds like a backwards argument against on-demand podcasts, again, Serial doesn’t offer enough answers to divulge spoilers. Again, this is great storytelling.

This led me to thoughts on film. What was the last (semi-)pre-meditated, non-adapted, serialized film series released? Pirates of the Caribbean (2 & 3)? The Matrix (2 & 3)? Star Wars (5 & 6)? Nearly every (if not all) serialized film series released within the past few years has been adapted. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Divergent. The answers to these series have been lying around in text years prior to the film’s release. The best we can hope for is that we haven’t read the book or the film is so far off from the source material that it feels like a unique experience.

We need more original, pre-meditated, serialized content. Someone write an original three part film trilogy with segments so good they can stand on their own as solid films. Someone conceptualize a three, four, or five season TV show from start to finish. Calculate the journey or take us along for the ride. Stop adapting. Stop playing by ear. If you do play by ear, root it in nonfiction. Make sure you can’t make stuff up.

I realize this is less a message to creators as it is to producers, with overhead and risk to take into consideration. But if you want to give us story, allow us to risk our time and money. Trust creators.

Tomorrow, my wife and I will listen to episode 10 of Serial and the most we’ll be able to share is “OMG! WTF! #serial”

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