The Continuous Rise of "Fake IP" in Hollywood
IP, intellectual property, has been the source of adaptation since movies were a thing. There are examples of film adaptations going back to 1896. The grandfather of film, George Méliès, the film pioneer who paved the way in filmmaking adapted the Brother’s Grimm story, Cinderella in 1899, as well as an adaption of Shakespeare’s King John.
Books, plays, and myths have always been a source of adaptation, as have comic books and video games.
Hollywood is, in fact, obsessed with IP, because books and games have recognisable names. They have been pre-vetted by an audience.
When Ben and I first got started out, I had several conversations with producer, Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Glass), who was kind enough to invite me to his offices on the Paramount lot several times to offer advice to a fledgeling writer. We’d recently signed with a manager, and all that manager wanted was ideas based on public domain IP. It was frustrating that Hollywood didn’t seem to want original ideas at the time, only rehashes of old things. As I vented my frustrations, Steven used a phrase I still use to this day. He said Hollywood liked those things because they have “Pre-Awareness”.
Our manager at the time had just sold Evan Doherty’s screenplay, Snow White and the Huntsmen, for crazy money, and it seemed like Hollywood wanted more. Steven argued that it was because it was easier to sell to the public due to the pre-existing relationship the audience had with the IP or the brand of Snow White.
We jammed on these ideas, and our first spec to go on sale was a magical re-imagining of Oliver Twist called Twisted. Our second was a sequel to Beauty and the Beast called Beauty and the Beasts, (I still want to call it Beauty and the Beast$), and then we struck gold with our origin of Santa Claus screenplay, Winter’s Knight, which sold in a four-studio bidding war to Sony. Since then, we’ve played consistently in the space of adaptation of books, comics and video games as well as playing with public domain IP.
Now one could argue that a good, high-concept film has a certain amount of “pre-awareness” because it uses concepts that the audience is already familiar with.
For example. I would argue our movie, The Princess, has aspects of pre-awareness because we all understand the concept of a fairytale princess caught at the top of the tower. But what if this movie was like Die Hard and she had to fight her way out? Two lots of pre-awareness, mixed in a way you’ve never seen, and boom, a high concept movie!
But over the last ten years, there have been increasing efforts by producers and studios to dig deeper for IP. Toy lines that have no obvious story attached to them, art books, etc. I call these “Tony the Tiger” IPs, because I’m sure one day we’ll get the Kellogg's cinematic universe. John August calls them Rubik's cube movies.
We’ve been pitched several of these ideas by producers, from a movie based on artwork by a well-known cartoonist to a movie based on the Guinness Book of Records.
But recently, this has gotten even weirder. The studios LOVE IP. They love it so much, they don't care if it's successful or not. Ben and I were recently sent a book series, acquired by a very big streamer. Was the book a NY Times bestseller? No. Far from it. When we looked on Amazon to see how many reviews it had, it had 35. 35 reviews. But BIG STREAMER was putting a ton of money into it. The book was essentially a “proof of concept”. But they really weren’t even attached to keeping the story the same and told us as much.
But get this. Now the studios are buying UNPUBLISHED short stories. They don't care if they’ve even been pre-vetted by a publisher. They just want something WRITTEN DOWN in prose.
Check out the following article on Deadline.
So I guess the question is WHY? Why do the studios want a short story and not A PITCH from a writer?
Well, and I say this sincerely, I genuinely don’t know.
I don't know what makes a short story from a writer better than a pitch from a writer. In a meeting (pre-strike), an executive at a company said, again, that it was more about “proof of concept” than anything else. But many of these short stories are also simply Act 1’s of a movie. They set up an idea, but not the full movie. So perhaps studios like the idea that it isn’t all fully created yet. That there is room for them to get creatively involved and push it in a direction they choose. But here’s the thing. They can do that with a pitch ANYWAY. If they buy the pitch, they have their notes on where it goes...
I remain baffled and confused by what Hollywood does and why certain things get made and others don't. Why and what IP actually is and why they care so much about it.
I would love if, no matter what the form: pitch, book, short story, treatment, they would just know a good idea when they hear one…
But that would invoke Hollywood making sense, now wouldn’t it?
Ah well, it’s nice to dream…
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