Screenwriting : Cinematic trends in the current climate by Roger Hewett

Roger Hewett

Cinematic trends in the current climate

Hi everybody,

I've been wondering. Having watched an (over)abundance of movies, shorts, tv series during this pandemic environment, is there a trend towards more human stories, more emotional content, and less of the bombastic action-thriller apocalyptical content of recent years? Has the pandemic directed us toward a certain level of...cultural maturity?

I have found that I am seeing more content that touches real human stories. More relevant, touching on how we come together as a race, to face our real-life problems and challenges from a personal perspective.

As a composer, I'm also noticing this trend in recent scores. Relatable stories that draw us into the lives of those onscreen are accompanied by scores that often sound much more intimate in scale. They revisit melody and musical structure, yet remain fully-charged emotionally. These scores are as equally well-married to their visual partner as they are outstandingly beautiful in their own right. They are drawing the audience into an appropriately personable setting which I'm finding refreshing and inspiring.

Then again...maybe it's just me! I'd be curious to know how other creators here, the 'sowers of seeds' so to speak, feel about it.

Cheers, and stay safe!

Jess Waters

Definitely agree that things are trending toward more emotionally driven human stories. And it makes total sense. Hollywood had to take a backseat to its own market and more and more people needed to find ways to be more creative, practical, and impactful. I think it's less about cultural maturity and more about audiences and indie filmmakers finally working around gatekeepers and getting what they've always wanted. Whether this trend is here to stay or not, I'll definitely continue writing "human stories" because that's what matters to me. And having recently had a really great conversation with a composer, I hope to work more in-depth with composers in the future to create better stories too.

Andy Lyberopoulos

We’re definitely in a golden era of storytelling and crafting complex characters that move the story forward – music is reflective of that, which is exciting. Television is also producing great content right now. I’m not a composer but I do love writing my scripts to a score that captures the mood I’m going for. I remember when composers used to create individual themes for characters. Williams and Elfman were fantastic at creating character themes. I feel like we started to hear less of that approach in the last decade or so, but I could be wrong. I’m hearing compositions that focus more on story (nothing wrong with that) than character. But then there are composers like Giacchino or Desplat, which have taken a character-driven approach in a couple of their films. Anyway, I’m not a composer by any means but it’s something that I've noticed.

James Welday

I've long enjoyed the human experience inside an epic scale, which I think will make a comeback. Forging a connection through film or any other available medium is an important one, one for us to understand each other a little better. I hope to create those connections in my own writing, as I've been inspired so many others.

Roger Hewett

Good point, Jess Waters. It could be circumstantial, with the larger studios taking that backseat thus allowing for more independent productions to take a more relatable approach to storytelling. I hope it sticks around longer than the pandemic. out of necessity.

Andy, you are right. There has been more of a musical tendency towards textures and away from strong musical themes, especially the larger features. I wonder how much room we have left for the bombastic, explosion/FX-filled megablockbusters that begin at 95% energy and invariably don't let up after. But that's just my opinion, and I accept that.

Maybe I've just reached the saturation point and am welcoming the thoughtful, emotional storytelling I'm seeing these days, both in some excellent episodic tv writing and some amazing films. Especially in this year's Oscar contenders.

Btw, I'm a huge fan of both Giacchino and Desplat!

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

I suspect a rom-com and comedy boom for a bit once vaccine rollout is stronger and things have stabilized in the world a bit more. Because we could all really use a laugh.

James Welday

Giacchino and Desplat are two wonderful modern composers, who understand how a film should sound. For Inside Out, you can just feel Riley's childhood memories tragically falling away (not to mention his Oscar-winning score for Up where you get the sense of Carl's long-lost love never too far from his heart). I feel Thomas Newman is the best when it comes to living, musically, inside a moment. It's breathtaking how he accomplishes this with minimal expression.

Bill Costantini

Hi Roger,

Obviously, during the shutdown, much production was affected/delayed, but I don't think there's a "trend" in the way you described it. I think "more humane" stories have always been there. There has always been hundreds of many "smaller" indie domestic films - every year - that explore the human condition in more personalized/more quiet ways and with less budget than "bigger" films. The sad reality is this: most people don't get as exposed to them as they do with "bigger" films because they don't reach the big screen and aren't mass-marketed in the ways that big screen films are.

And there is also a whole slew of horror films, action films, thriller films headed our way. Check out the trailers on youtube or a 2021 film release schedule and you'll see them. (And I will be seeing Nobody tomorrow, Wrath of Man the following week, and the Vegas Heist Film/Zombie Apocalypse Film Army of the Dead next after that.)

And there has already been a lot of content inspired by the pandemic, and there will be a lot more, to be sure - this year, next year, and for years after that.

What is "trending" more is this: films/content by and about under-represented peoples and groups. I look forward to the day when the word "trend" can be removed from that sentiment, and when it becomes more of a "standard."

Best fortunes in your creative endeavors, Roger, and stay safe!

(Edited to Add: I have a DirectTV package that probably has over 50 film channels (premium and non-premium combined), so I might have a little bit more exposure to cinema than the average person. And I go to the theater quite often, and buy a lot of DVD's, too. )

Roger Hewett

Cheers Bill! You're probably correct...still plenty to come from the big ones! I'm actually missing the cinema these days, especially as we are still very much locked down here in SW Ontario. I agree with your feeling towards the term 'trending'. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. And yes, content about under-represented peoples is welcome.

Most recently I've thoroughly enjoyed 'The United States vs Billie Holliday' and 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom', two outstanding films based on similar subject matter. 'The Father' is outstanding. and 'Nobody' hits the spot well, despite being thrown a curveball by the trailer!

And yes, James. The opening of 'Up' is a fine example of a great, simple theme that is manipulated to cover a broad spectrum of emotions in the shortest of time.

And Nick, yes, we could all use a good laugh! There must be some great pandemic-related scenarios that could lead to some fine comedy!

Cheers, everybody!

Timothy Dee

I hate to be the cynical one, but I believe (yet I don't know) that the reason we are seeing more "human" stories is because talk is cheaper than action or VFX. 200-million-dollar productions probably can't recoup their costs through streaming, let alone make a huge profit. If they can't first pack theaters to then generate "legs" for all ancillary markets, I imagine their viewership drops dramatically. And don't forget that tentpoles make as much in international markets as they do in North America. Many countries are feeling the economic effects of this pandemic on their own entertainment industries. My guess is that studios are sitting on some major productions until we all get back to buying tickets on a weekly basis. Then LET THE SEQUELS BEGIN!!!

Kiril Maksimoski

This pandemic (soon to be resumed) didn't leave some lasting effect on today's film society - my least not the way WW2 or Cold War did. Still same pre-pandemic themed block busters roar the box office, same suitable and artsy movies get the prime awards and indie makers struggle in the middle on same terms...All in all it's if mostly gonna be zeitgeist effect which is more or less everlastingly present...

Dan MaxXx

be back to normal in year 2022. Marvel is in phase 4 or 5. Top talent are not taking paycuts. Scorsese's next movie is like $250M budget. Lord of the Rings tv series is $600M+ for first season.

unfortunate for filmmakers releasing films in 2020-2021. Many great indie movies didnt find an audience. "Sound of Metal" box office gross is less than $1M. "Another Round" is remaking into English language, white American characters.

Erik A. Jacobson

Driving across Arizona once, I stopped at a remote gas station for some quick food. Coming out of the station, I noticed a small Navajo boy staring intently at a poster I had designed which was visible in the car's rear window. When I offered him a copy of the poster, the joy on the boy's face was unforgettable. You'd think I'd just given him the original Mona Lisa. As I drove away, I determined to learn more about America's many Indian tribes and their stories.

If there's one thing the past year has taught us, it's that there are millions of people across America whose lives and stories DO MATTER, particularly those in black, Latino, Asian, and American Indian communities. Post-pandemic cinema will see the usual glut of films in the usual genres, but I believe the real opportunity in the next few years will be the explosion of films aimed at underserved audiences. Ignore them at your peril. They represent the highest growth segment in the current market.

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