Hollywood Recycling Centers Running Out of Trash?

While the Karate Kid remake being a smash hit is another “crane kick” to the privates for spec writers, there are signs that studios might be warming to original material again as audiences have largely given the cold shoulder to this summer’s crop of sequels, remakes and flimsy adaptations. Putting aside the power of Pixar-an outfit that has earned our loyalty like none other-and Toy Story 3, the summer’s tepid ticket sales have studios in a panicky mood about their product.

Indeed, several high-profile spec sales have been made in the last few weeks for ideas that-gasp-originated in the minds of their writers rather than a survey of recognizable brands. The studios have put out the word to agencies that they’re in the market for new material.

I can see how that call might go. “So, um, yeah. We were totally planning on making next July’s tentpole film the story of Bazooka Joe, America’s favorite RPG-toting chewing gum magnate. But now we’re a little nervous about that, so… do any of your clients still write, you know, new stuff?”

Encouraging signs for scribes, but the touching tale of your Uncle Marty’s quest to find the perfect roast beef sandwich is still not guaranteed a greenlight. Not by a long shot. While the summer’s developments are a refreshing breeze after all that recycled air, the winds of change aren’t sweeping Tinseltown just yet. “Uniquely familiar” is still the order of the day and that mandate does come straight from the movie-going public.

While critics swooned for Splice and the Internet sizzled with talk of Kick Ass, these independently produced, studio-released risk-takers generated little enthusiasm among audiences. In the case of Splice, which was more like a playfully perverse early David Cronenberg film than the suspenseful chiller that teens probably wanted, it got a big fat D on CinemaScore and scared up precious little at the till.

Make no mistake, your spec still has to remind people of big hits but put a daring spin on the proven formula. It needs a succinct and easily grasped setup that instantly promises a good time at the movies. But at least it doesn’t have to be based on a video game, book or brand of bottled water.

Even if the retread concepts make a comeback, time is on our side-there are a finite number of brands that everyone knows and Hollywood is using ’em up fast. As our culture becomes more niche-oriented and audiences more fragmented, there will be fewer and fewer of those household names to plunder for movie franchises. Soon enough, this town will be making movies based on new stories simply because they have no choice.

Yes, my friends, I am confident that the day will come when the release schedule is empty, panic has set in within the studio gates, and anything easily marketable to mass audiences will be seriously considered.

So write that script…market it to reps…get a manager out there working for you…and hope that the word “recycling” will go back to being about bottles and cans.

— Stogie Joe