Monday, May 9, 2016

The Art of Storytelling Vs. the Art of Selling Out

A Lego man figure.
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Lately, Hollywood has been turning to big brand toys and games for its movie ideas. One of the biggest examples is the series of Transformers movies. But another big one are the Lego movies. Recently, Hasbro teamed with Paramount with plans to merge several of its universes, which are the settings of its character products, into a single series of movies. The characters from these universes, most of which are based on action figures, are the 1970s’ Micronauts and Rom, and the 1980s' M.A.S.K. characters. Apparently the producers of these films are not good storytellers themselves. According to, "with each new [movie] adaptation, Hollywood further underlines just how un-interactive its product is, and lacking in playful imagination its producers can be." And so the two companies selected some writers from outside the film industry to help develop the stories. One of these writers is Pulitzer prize-winner Michael Chabon who wrote the novel, The Amazing Adventures of Cavelier and Klay. So, big brand name companies like Hasbro have invaded storytelling in film and the next target may be prose fiction.

In a sense, this isn't a new thing to prose fiction. During the 1980s, much prose fiction was already merging with game products. Sure, many games have their storylines and named characters, especially role playing games (RPGs). However, they are meant to be played rather than read; the purpose is for the players to interact with a story rather than read one that the reader interprets in his or her own mind. Dungeons and Dragons had its own series of novels including the “Choose Your Own Adventure”-like books where the reader decides the course of the story, and more recently there have been several novels based on popular video games such as Halo.

The biggest wave of commercial brands invading cinema today doesn't just consists of games such as Battleship. It also consists of toys such as Legos and My Little Pony (for which an animated film is in the works, although this is nothing new since an animated feature had already been made about the same time the Pony figures came out in the 1980s). The Pony characters also have a TV series on The Hub network, among many other children’s shows based on Hasbro toys, according to National Public Radio.

It's rare that a big commercial product company turns to a prize-winning author of prose fiction, such as Michael Chabon, to write the storyline to their movie. It makes you wonder what Chabon was thinking when he took the job which, of course, is his right and choice. At the same time, however, it seems like it would be somewhat insulting to him to give into the commercial system to use his high quality fiction writing to make, what are basically, approximately two-hour commercials (or “extended infomercials” as The Guardian calls them). Science fiction and fantasy authors are being taken seriously unlike 20 years ago. Because of this, a high quality author such as Chabon, who writes speculative fiction on and off, developing the story to a brand product's movie may be a door open wide enough for big corporate CEOs to get a foot too far in to literary fiction. Therefore it might leave a way for big brand companies to buy out fiction authors and turn their stories into literary commercials.

I’m a fiction writer because I want to tell my stories, not somebody else’s. If a story's goal is to sell someone's product, it's going to be about the product more than about the characters themselves or the author's own vision of life. The art in storytelling would go out the window. Then it wouldn't be art, it would be commercial strategy. If it would be any kind of art, it would be the art of selling.

Do you think film and prose fiction are influenced by commercial brands too much to where they prevent the writers from telling their own stories? Leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .

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