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Why the Story Structure Meta is Failing Our Scripts

There is a clear discrepancy between the approach of Hollywood screenwriters and independent auteurs. The former is predicated on a rigid formula for box office success while the latter seeks to embrace experimentation when not rejecting mainstream conventions outright.

For years Hollywood has been churning out shallow blockbusters designed to appeal to and capture the largest target market and audience possible, often piggybacking off of pop culture.

Continuing to bank on established film franchises and famous adaptations with loyal fans eager to see their favourite characters on screen makes good business sense, sure, and the marketing machine feed the furnaces of the hype train all day long.

Unfortunately, what we are left with in theatres all too often are plot-driven films we cannot believe we paid good money for. Perhaps if we hadn’t we might have walked out.

Addressing the Elephant in the Writing Room

The problem as I see it lies with the impact such politics have on the script and screenwriter. You’d be surprised how often screenwriters who take issue with the established practices are moved on from a film project and discretely replaced by another to patch—or hack—things up. It happens all the time.

That is perhaps my biggest fear; to be put onto a film and then spend weeks wrangling with the story in order to create something that actually deals with the human condition only to be told the script is not commercial enough.

I understand that studios and executive producers need something with mass appeal that they can promote and sell, but at some point it just has to be a blatant pursuit and exercise in profiteering.

The Demonisation of Plot-Driven Narrative Structures

In a coordinated effort to distance themselves from the trappings of mainstream cinema, independent filmmakers have taken to renouncing any semblance of plot-driven story structures seemingly out of spite in favour of character-driven narratives.

The danger here of overdeveloping the protagonist and his or her supporting cast at the expense of the story is, I think, a very real one—to the point where doing so to the Nth degree simply robs the audience of their engagement and ultimately enjoyment.

Preoccupations of this nature in film may win over critics and may satisfy the vision of the filmmaker that borders on indulgence, but it tends to have the opposite effect on the rest of us.

Merging the Two Competing Viewpoints

Ultimately nothing good will come out of the feud between vetted and independent screenwriters and I agree with Allen Palmer when he says it is “Time for détente in the Hollywood-Indie war”.

We need to concern ourselves with writing and writing well, resisting the urge to get caught up in the politics of the film industry and the ever-present ways of doing things.

It is possible to create financially viable and indeed successful films that are well-structured without being overtly so and the good news is there are already a number of filmmakers working to achieve this.

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