Noted film critic and writer on all things film-related Chris Gore was recently interviewed by Film Courage and the question was put to him – does he think 99% of films are garbage? After much insightful discussion – not that I agreed with everything he had to say – he ended on the point that perhaps 99% of big studio films are garbage. The phrase “factory filmmaking” came up and this is certainly an issue I am very interested in. I think films are art – and that includes everything from Phantom Thread to Game Night – the only time I think a film might not be art is if making money is the only concern. To me, factory filmmaking is when that becomes the case and any idea of telling a good story is replaced by how to make as much money as possible. Sometimes that idea can lead to a very entertaining film but that is very much the exception.
Few things sum up factory filmmaking more than the ongoing Marvel and DC cinema projects. Marvel’s project has distinct eras or phases where films are planned out years and years in advance with release dates booked out to maximise profit. There is a constant plundering of the Marvel comic books looking for new heroes and villains and there can be no failures with the Fantastic Four constantly being redone until a successful format is found and Marvel recently announced another Fantastic Four film is planned. It seems the idea of ‘does anyone have a good script for Random Superhero?’ has been replaced by ‘does anyone have a script for Random Superhero?’. It’s certainly true there are many really good Marvel films (and a few DC ones) but also a lot of bad ones and there are clearly directors who’ve shown great originality and creativity so I don’t want to trash their entire output but I’ve never liked this model.
Gore is very critical of “dead franchises” that are just continuously awful. The Terminator franchise has fallen from the incredible T2 which I think of one of the best films ever made to films I have zero interest in seeing. Jurassic Park was a genuine cultural touchstone that has ended up with fans photoshopping dinosaurs in high heels to mock the absurdity of the recent sequels. Alien and Die Hard struggle on making bad films, the X-Men films keep going and wasting some of the best actors in the world. Even something like Kingsman was earmarked to be a franchise despite running out of ideas in the first film. According to IMDb Terminator: Dark Fate, which I’ve yet to hear someone say something good about, made $260,000,000 worldwide and I would say it’s not that film that made but the money, but the brand of The Terminator, and while there’s money to be had movies will keep being made regardless of quality.
Like I said at the beginning I don’t agree with all of Gore’s points, for example, he could be arguing for more fan service when it comes to these franchises. I am a huge nerd, I am a fan of Star Wars, superhero films etc, but when making a film your job is not to give the fans what they want. For a start, there is no consensus amongst fans but more importantly, you are there to make a good film, not something to please the fans. Many fans were unhappy with the portrayal of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, with some seemingly wanting a Luke who was far more active in the fight. Personally, I think the portrayal of Luke is the best thing in the film. Gore points out that there was no scene in the new Star Wars films with Luke, Han and Leia and that was a giant mistake and in this, I disagree but that probably would have really pleased the fans.
Gore also talks about injecting politics into Star Wars and how A New Hope was only concerned with fun and this seems ludicrous. Lucas himself has said he wrote it with the idea of the Vietnam War – a mighty empire battling a small and outgunned rebellion. A New Hope was released only two years after the end of the Vietnam War, you can watch and not have that interpretation and enjoy it but politics was there.
Gore attributes legendary director Francis Ford Coppola as the person who coined the term “factory filmmaking” and while I have been unable to find that exact quote it certainly chimes with his views on cinema – that it should be art rather than industry. A famous quote from Coppola about his delight in the rise of people using 8mm cameras to make their own films and how that would be the future of cinema does bring the reverse side of factory filmmaking. If studios only want a product they can sell there is very little a person needs to make a film themselves.
Also Read: Superhero Stand-off: Superheroes Vs Art