Ramming Originality Down the Gullet of Hollywood

It takes more than a concept to make a good movie, but originality isn’t much valued in Hollywood

"Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats." – Howard Aiken

That is my new favorite quote about screenwriting.

Of course, Howard Aiken never wrote a screenplay in his life, or at least none that we know of. But the father of the computer managed to sum up the script writer’s lot in that phrase. It’s been a long time since the spec script market had any signs of life. The early word is, after this summer, the big boys are willing to have a look once more. They may chew, but will they swallow?

Back in the '80s and '90s, it was all high-concept and knockoff-of-high-concept. And it managed to produce some good flicks.

Look at the "Die Hard" clones: "Under Siege," "Speed," "Cliffhanger," "Sudden Death." I actually enjoy those movies more than the last two "Die Hards."

But then came the indie wave of the '90s and suddenly knockoff pictures seemed passé. That was the happy time for spec screenwriters (and I missed it!). But studios found out that not every indie writer-director was a Quentin Tarantino or a Spike Lee.

After that they turned to “established properties.” But now they’re finding out that not every book is a "Twilight" or "Harry Potter," and not every comic book hero is a Batman or Spider-man.

So where does that leave them now?

Good question.

Throughout these changes, Hollywood has been very consistent in picking really high-concept scripts and projects, even if they don’t fit the prevailing trends of the time.

Last summer we had the super-original aliens-as-oppressed-minorities movie "District 9." This year we might have had a Robin Hood movie told from the perspective of the Sheriff of Nottingham. But instead we got the Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott film. See why in this article from New York magazine.

The article points out one very important problem, namely, the writer is the least powerful member of the moviemaking team. So how do you protect originality?

With forcipes and a tongue depressor?