So I wanted to do a post about the importance of original storytelling in cinema and the importance of screenwriters writing original fiction. It's something that I'm very passionate about as a screenwriter and a researcher on the subject of screenwriting.
All this came about after watching Miss Sloane some months ago. Miss Sloane follows Jessica Chastain's titular character, a female lobbyist in a male-dominated Washington D.C. who leaves her lobbying firm to take the side of the anti-gun campaigners trying to fight for gun reform. Throughout the film, she uses every trick in the book to get what she needs and in the end, not only does she bring about change but she does so in a quite spectacular fashion.
The reason the film stands out for me is down to the fact that this is a movie about a strong female protagonist bringing down corrupt politicians while at the same time bringing about gun reform in the United States. This couldn't be more timely and relevant if it tried! It sounds like it should be based on a true story and yet all of these achievements in the film are possible precisely because it is an original story. The characters are fictional and the outcome of their journey is fictional as well.
Without getting political, it seems to me that if I asked you to name a time that such a significant event, like what is depicted in this film, took place, you'd be left scratching your head. It's sad to say, but we live in a world where hopeful and positive stories like this can sometimes only exist in works of fiction. Sometimes...
This is why it is important to put more of a focus on original storytelling, rather than running straight for biopics, historical dramas or adaptations. Now don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with these kinds of movies - in fact, many of my favourite movies or films that I hold in high regard would fall under these categories. These films can certainly act as a mirror for our own contemporary society and promote healthy debate and conversation, but sometimes we need to show audiences an alternative to the norm. This is what Miss Sloane achieves.
Okay, full disclosure: I wrote a post recently about Spielberg's use of allegorical storytelling and the power it has as a storytelling technique. I'm not against it and I really like the way he uses this technique. I think a story about the Munich Olympics massacre and the subsequent manhunt is a much more effective story as an allegory to a subject like 9/11 than what filmmakers like Oliver Stone try to do. However, allegory is not a one-size-fits-all model and I believe that original stories and works of complete fiction can play an equally powerful role in communicating those same important contemporary issues. Look at 1984 for example.
Getting back to Miss Sloane, at the time of writing this post, I can only imagine what gun reform in the U.S. might look like, or the collapse of a corrupt political system might look like. But in this film, we can see, not just what it looks like, but how it might come to be.
Fictional and original storytelling is, ironically, where we often find the most authentic stories being told. Stories that represent our society as it is, but also as it could be or as we might want it to be. It's where stories of inclusion and diversity can exist and, often times, it's these hopeful and inspiring works of fiction that can inspire the greatest change.
Movie studios will naturally prefer established works first and foremost - novels, existing movies, games and comic books. And in many cases, these works are already 'original' stories or works of fiction. But these products can become outdated very quickly and in the case of a novel or a game, can take a long time to produce. A 90-minute screenplay, though not an easy thing to write, can be developed in a much shorter turnaround and can be more responsive to the society we live in at the time.
It's easy to see why the historical or existing stories can be the safest bet for a producer, but you'll never get to see Jessica Chastain take down a political conspiracy and change the gun laws in America that way.
(Image copyright: Filmnation)