The Venture Capital Philosophy of the IP Era Has Tainted Films

The issue of intellectual property is one of many horrifying issues that are descending on us from the top of the film business. The ability to make a living by generating anything else has only recently been eliminated, not because adaptations are new. The mid-budget film has perished, along with the movie star and the rest of the industry, because of IP preoccupation. At whatever level, this is a problem that affects both viewers and filmmakers equally, and it all stems from the same issue: our acceptance of unchecked greed.

For those in charge of the industry, tidy, reliable, sustainable profits—the kind produced by movie studios that formerly provided a wide slate of affordably priced adult dramas, teen-date rom-coms, family flicks, and fence-swinging art movies—are a thing of the past. There are undoubtedly additional forces at work in the entertainment industry, particularly the rise of prestige TV as a replacement for what films have abandoned. But because it feels familiar, the transition to the IP Era seems straightforward. It’s because clean, steady, and sustainable profits alone are insufficient. There must be development. There must be domination. There must be Shared Universes.

This attitude goes beyond being risk-averse. Risk aversion isn’t new. It is a single-minded endeavour to alchemize IP into gold.

The management actions blocking workers from their proper pay—as described by Writers Guild of America board member John Rogers in a post regarding the current strike—are the same ones milking old IP for all it’s worth: “Hollywood’s new robber barons are on the run from justice.” This change represents tech-bro economics and “vulture capitalism,” which prey on the industry rather than advancing it.

Jeremy Neuner claimed that if revenues had only been $5 million a year, everyone would have profited. “That’s enough to support yourself, purchase a home, and pay for your children’s education. But no one wants something that only generated a comfortable living. They were all looking for the next Zuckerberg. Not a fan of unique films with manageable budgets like Michael Clayton, but rather a rival of WeWork, whose company failed as a result of venture investors’ irrational investment beliefs. But if you substitute “MCU” for “Zuckerberg,” you can see what happened to films.

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Yes, a business executive could risk a few million dollars on a writer’s “idea.” They could also turn the large Binder of Properties into a random page, douse it in coke, and pay $100 million to restart whatever is found there. An updated Ghostbusters? Attempting the Dark Universe once more? Let’s get going! Monopolies, even those erected on unsustainable assets, or, to use a board game analogy, on the slums of Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues, have the potential to be more than financially successful. They are able to describe decades of strategy. It appeals to investors. It feels reliable but intriguing, boundless yet potentially endless.

David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, reassured investors, “We’re going to focus on franchises.” “It has been 13 years since the last Superman movie. Harry Potter hasn’t been produced by us in 15 years.

It doesn’t matter if the franchise is intimately linked to a raving clown or if the audience has grown weary of it. There are recognisable media out there that is begging to be turned into an empire that may continue to expand indefinitely. If it eventually goes up in flames like Rome, for example, if you’re former Disney CEO Bob Chapek and your streaming service is losing money while releasing subpar franchise films right into it, you can just screw around while leaving on your golden parachute. Naturally, studio executives like this strategy, which establishes the standard for the types of films their businesses will finance, sell, and force into theatres.

This has already been made clear to the nation’s moviegoers.

When they recognise something, people tend to go to the movies, and when they don’t, they tend to stay at home. It’s much quicker to identify which films aren’t based on pre-existing properties when looking at the box office Top 10s of the previous ten years: Frozen, Gravity, Inside Out, Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Sing, Onward, and Tenet.

I’m done now. Eight films out of one hundred.

A person could possibly be seen in two of them.

People, however, are essentially a burden in the IP Era. Humans in front of the camera are only necessary when they serve as an extension of IP for films aiming for this contemporary form of success—as many sequels, spin-offs, and commercial tie-ins as possible.  For the most recent Jurassic World money grab, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum were brought back to wow us as physical representations of a superior film. They are no longer actors. Mascots, they are.

It becomes clear why the biggest films in recent years have essentially consisted of ensembles standing about reskinned warehouses and parking lots when you see that’s all AAA performers are being cast as. When acting is “reduced to stewarding IP,” as Jake Ures puts it, you don’t want people to become emotionally attached to the actors. Instead, “it’s better for investors if they function as empty vessels for stories that are much bigger than them, ones that can be endlessly iterated long after they’re out of the picture.”

Ah, never-ending iteration. It resembles shady investor chatter. And the tools and technology that make it possible are making us more and more at ease. We were all horrified by the use of digital necromancy in Rogue One to Weekend at Bernie’s the body of Peter Cushing, and for good reason. There was less commotion when Carrie Fisher was put together piecemeal in The Rise of Skywalker, and even less when Harold Ramis appeared in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, presumably because the latter movie is a fictional creation.

Performers have always harboured a fear of becoming IP. In order to prevent his moves from being recorded in some Warner Bros. collection and used in the future by a business that no longer required his martial arts expertise, Jet Li famously chose not to participate in the sequels to The Matrix. The innovations in technology also have a role to play.

It might work, though. However, after hearing Neuner, the man whose company WeWork bulldozed before it crashed, you realise that it truly makes no difference. “When you get engaged in the startup industry,” the speaker claims, “you meet all these brilliant entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas and, over time, you watch them get pushed by V.C.s to take too much money, make poor decisions, and grow as quickly as possible. After that, they explode. You ultimately come to the realisation that the V.C.s will always be wealthy. Even if creativity is the only thing costing the robber barons their lives, they nevertheless proceed with their death mission. As long as Hollywood is plagued by this venture capital attitude, the IP Era will continue. The only remedy is to keep your money away from their franchisees.

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