Shuffling past the beach trash cans lined with ads for Toy Story 4 (opening June 21), it was hard to avoid an idle thought: How long before the Producers Guild of America comes up with a spin-off to its annual Los Angeles and New York “Produced By” conferences, “Reproduced By”?
Under way this weekend on the Warner Bros. lot, the 2019 Los Angeles Produced By conference is loaded with panels on subjects like streaming, social impact entertainment, and the new age of horror. But it seems a little light on a topic that should be front and center for contemporary movie producers. That is, how to be successfully derivative.
David Gross, a marketing consultant who monitors sequels, remakes, reboots and other forms of cinematic repetition through his Franchise Entertainment Research firm (located on the Web at FranchiseRe.biz), has firmly documented the establishment of the film franchise era. By his count, franchise films of one sort or another account for 40 percent of 150 wide releases annually. But they grab 80 percent of the box-office, leaving just 20 percent for the remaining, non-franchise films.
To lament the decline of originality is a fool’s errand. After all, Cecil B. DeMille liked his 1914 film The Squaw Man so much, he made it again in 1918 and 1931 (and the whole franchise was based on a 1905 stage play).
But the current dominance of franchise movies—at the moment, at least eight of the box-office Top Ten are repeaters of some kind, and the weekend is being led by “new” releases The Secret Life Of Pets 2 and X-Men whatever, aka Dark Phoenix—seems to demand fresh awareness and new skills from producers.
It’s probably a bit facetious to suggest panels on “Elbowing In: How To Get A Piece Of Pre-Existing Property.” Or “Artful Repetition: Saying The Same Thing Again And Again Without Sounding Dull.”
But those sharp operators at the PGA should give some thought to schooling members on the business of reproduction. Done well, repetition can yield a Thin Man series. But if it all blurs together—well, some future iteration of Turner Classic Movies can always fall back on the recurring glories of John Wick.