Designing a blockbuster • 5 November 2007 • The SnowBlog
Designing a blockbuster
So I watch quite a lot of TV. Most of which is scripted dramas, generally with a bit of a thriller or adventure element. I'm a bit envious of Em and Anna who hardly ever turn the telly on, but on the other hand I'm very interested in that sort of storytelling - how you do it, what works, what happens behind the scenes. I used to get very frustrated with overly-neat TV shows that insisted on returning to the status quo ante at the end of each episode. It lead to that silly scenario where if one of the characters gets into a relationship with someone you know that either a) their love interest will die or b) their love interest will turn out to be evil. Eliminating any sort of progression allowed U.S. TV networks to show reruns in any order. That led me onto thinking about other forms of interference in visual storytelling, the way certain kinds of shows have to maintain an eye-candy quotient; they can't tackle storylines that will be a turn-off to advertisers; and any movie with a budget over $40m has to have an American lead (or an actor pretending to be American). You listen to DVD commentaries and read insider interviews and it's amazing how often 'the studio' wanted this change or 'the network' would prefer it if that happened. It made me realise that novels are the last great uncensored, un-demographically targeted, un-commercially tweaked form of mass storytelling. And I wondered how long that will last. Even the best movie script runs the risk of being altered and re-written before it gets made. How long before a publishing company sets out to create a blockbuster novel, rather than waiting for it to drop into their lap? Has it already happened? In fact, why not play publisher-as-god for a moment and try designing the ultimate blockbuster in your head. Would it need to appeal to kids and grown-ups (a la Joanna Rowling)? Would it involve a technowhizzery hook like Michael Crichton? The uncovering of a Big Secret told with a form of metronomic onion-peeling tension-building a la D. Brown? Maybe it would seek to combine more than one of those approaches.
So what do you say to that prospect? I'm afraid I've come to think of publishing as having more than its fair share of those who chant 'it will never happen' when faced with any scenario involving change. So, in this case, will it never happen a) because the public are just too discerning to swallow it*? b) no novel-writer or publisher would compromise their integrity by assisting with it**? or c) there's just not enough money in books to make it worthwhile***?
* Exhibit A for the prosecution: tell-all celebrity 'biographies'
*** Sad but more likely than the other two