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Qualities Of Better Films #2 of 31: Originality

I know how hard it is to make a film, let alone a good film. And as hard as one works to make it good, it is even harder to truly make a film original. I know I fail on this latter point sometimes, just in the effort to make characters or plot resonate. That said, present day film culture still has a big problem on its hands.

So many films that are made feel like remakes of other films already out there—and I am not talking about the films that are actually intended to be remakes. Some people might find it comforting to recognize characters, situations, plots, or behavior, but unless it also reveals some new aspect about life, culture, or craft, I find it dullDullDULL. There is a pretty high bar established by the great film artists that show how it is done. You’d think it would shame others to just regurgitate what has already been done, particularly when there is such great original work to consider—but so many filmmakers keep on traveling down well beaten paths. Some of the over-explored themes and techniques can be chalked up to filmmaker ignorance, but that is still not a legitimate excuse. Why would one want to repeat what has already been done?

I am always taken by the filmmaker who in pursuit of originality is willing to fail, by the filmmaker who risks elegance or perfection in service to taking the audience somewhere new.

There are many directions in which originality may be manifest, but the most common are:

1) Character: Show us someone we haven’t seen before, whether in occupation, attitude, psychology, or behavior; or at the very least, show it in a more complete or nuanced or complex manner;

2) Setting: Show us a part of the world we’ve never been to, a work force that is not normally explored;

3) Narrative Structure or Approach: why tell it linearly? Can we learn something more from a different approach? Does it need to have singular protagonist?

4) Aesthetic: Through the camera work, editing style, or design, certainly there is a way to make it fresh;

5) Subject matter: even when choosing to work within a specific genre, there is so much that still hasn’t been shown. Is the film fully reliant on the dictates of its genre, or is it aiming for new ground? Has this story ever been told before?

6) Inspirations & references: Is the film free of presenting its inspirations on its surface (although, alternatively that could also be its point)?

A filmmaker in pursuit of originality, seeks to avoid any reliance on cliché. Culturally we have developed a shorthand so that we can get to a story much quicker or gain access to a complicated emotion.

— Ted Hope

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