Scott Brown of Vulture recently interviewed Damon Lindelof, one of the most highly sought-after script doctors in Hollywood, about the current state of the film industry. The two seem to agree that Hollywood is running full-sprint toward a cliff, and the whole industry is bound to belly-flop:
Damon Lindelof, the ubiquitous screenwriter-producer whose name seems attached to all of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, is doing his damnedest to get small. This summer, he (along with fellow triage artists Drew Goddard and Christopher McQuarrie) miraculously pulled Brad Pitt out of the mass grave that was World War Z’s zombocalyptic original third act and restored the regular-guyness that made Pitt’s character work. He also resisted the temptation to threaten Earth’s existence (yet again!) at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness,focusing instead on a personal vendetta—albeit one enacted via a dizzying mile-high pursuit across a 23rd-century cityscape. But, hey, you have to give something to get something.
“We live in a commercial world, where you’ve gotta come up with ‘trailer moments’ and make the thing feel big and impressive and satisfying, especially in that summer-movie-theater construct,” says Lindelof. “But ultimately I do feel—even as a purveyor of it—slightly turned off by this destruction porn that has emerged and become very bold-faced this past summer. And again, guilty as charged. It’s hard not to do it, especially because a movie, if properly executed, feels like it’s escalating.”
That escalation can be felt across the entire film industry this summer, a season of unparalleled massiveness: more blockbusters released, more digital demolition per square foot, and more at stake than ever. The first tentpoles out of the gate did breakneck business, but a late run of expensive flops (and even respectable also-rans) has industry watchers reexamining Steven Spielberg’s prediction, in June, that Hollywood is headed for an “implosion”: An industry that makes only megamovies, prophesied the father of the megamovie, will die of its own gigantism.
But Hollywood’s gigantism, Lindelof points out, is practically algorithmic—and the effect tendrils all the way down to the storytelling level. When ever-larger sums are spent to make and market ever-fewer, ever-bigger movies, and those movies are aimed at Imax screens, then world-shattering comic-book I.P. and gigantic special effects are expected, with larger-than-life characters wielding those effects. No one necessarily asks for it; it just kind of happens. It’s what Lindelof calls Story Gravity, and dealing with it—whether that means resisting it or simply surfing it skillfully—is the great challenge of writing this new breed of tentpole blockbuster. The question used to be: How do we top ourselves? The new one seems to be: How do we stop ourselves?
“Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world,” explains Lindelof. “And when you start there, and basically say, I have to construct a MacGuffin based on if they shut off this, or they close this portal, or they deactivate this bomb, or they come up with this cure, it will save the world—you are very limited in terms of how you execute that. And in many ways, you can become a slave to it and, again, I make no excuses, I’m just saying you kind of have to start there. In the old days, it was just as satisfying that all Superman has to do was basically save Lois from this earthquake in California. The stakes in that movie are that the San Andreas Fault line opens up and half of California is going to fall in the ocean. That felt big enough, but there is a sense of bigger, better, faster, seen it before, done that.”
Maybe a few big flops is exactly what the industry needs so that we can hit the reset button. Maybe then films that currently only have a place on the indie scene can find their way into theaters across the country once again, saving the world in their own way from the deluge of superheros and sequels.