Nobody Knows Anything

The Economist” recently wrote about the flops that Hollywood produced and how nobody still knows what will make a hit. The big problem with Hollywood is that they think more money will determine the quality of a movie. By pouring more money into stars, directors, and special effects, they think this can turn a bad movie into a good movie. What Hollywood has consistently ignored is that to make a great movie, you have to start with a great story.

If the right actors were all that determined a great movie, then every major star wouldn’t have several flops. If the right director was all that determined a great movie, then even the best directors wouldn’t have flops. If all it took was special effects and lots of action, then lots of movies would never be a flop. What makes a flop is having a poor story.

A poor story can simply be a copy of a better movie. When “Silence of the Lambs” came out, Hollywood rushed into production a bunch of copy cat serial killer thrillers, even one named “Copycat” starring Sigourney Weaver. When “Alien” came out, Hollywood rushed into production a bunch of bad monster movies. When “Star Wars” came out, Hollywood rushed into production a bunch of bad science fiction movies, which you can read about here.

Hollywood keeps thinking that people want monsters or science fiction or the latest star or the latest director or the latest computer-generated special effects. What Hollywood keeps forgetting is that audiences want a good story. There are numerous good movies out there that barely made any money by having a good story, but few of these movies with good stories are flops. If anything, movies with good stories are low budget films that somehow never found an audience. They didn’t lose millions of dollars like “John Carter” or “The Lone Ranger.”

Writing a great story is no guarantee that it will be a great movie or even profitable one. However, not having a great story makes it impossible to create a great or even a good movie. Sometimes bad movies make a profit, but then they’re quickly forgotten. Bad movies almost always start with a bad story. Start with a bad story and no amount of money can save it no matter which stars you get, which hot director you hire, or how much money you spend on special effects.

At its foundation, great movies begin with great stories. No great movie ever had a bad story. Many great movies lack big names, hot directors, or lavish special effects. Today the special effects in “Star Wars” are obviously mediocre, but back then they were adequate. George Lucas ran out of money making “Star Wars,” which goes to show you that pouring wads of money into a movie isn’t always the answer. “Star Wars” didn’t succeed because it had A-list actors. Even though George Lucas had scored a hit with “American Graffiti,” Universal Studios didn’t think “Star Wars” was going to be a hit. With no A-list movie stars, a director that Hollywood didn’t trust, and scarcity of money, “Star Wars” became a hit because it had a great story.

Without a great story, you’ll likely to create a mediocre movie. It may make money, but it will still be mediocre at best. With a great story, you could still lose money, but at least you’ll create a product that everyone can be proud of. Movies like “Alien” and “Star Wars” helped turn unknown actors into stars. Movies like “Alien 3” and “The Phantom Menace” made money, but simply rode the coattails of the original movie’s popularity. Anyone still want to pay money to see “Alien 3” or “The Phantom Menace”? Any actors or directors make a name for themselves by creating “Alien 3” or “The Phantom Menace”?

If you want to create a great movie, you have to start with a great story. There’s no guarantee that a great story will create a great movie, but it’s a near certainty that starting with a bad story will create a bad movie. Hollywood just needs to realize that the best movies start with a great story that’s original. That means the story isn’t copying a more popular movie and isn’t simply following the typical structure of a dozen other movies.

When you can create a great story that could only be told through certain characters in an original manner that we’ve never seen before, you’ll be on your way to creating a great movie. It’s really that simple. Great movies start with a great story and great stories can only come from screenwriters like you.

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