Bill Mechanic, former head of Fox (under whose reign X-Men and Fight Club came to be), left that company to become a producer, and found the green grass on the other side of the fence was something of an optical illusion:
... the independent world, which should be aiming to do things better and different from the Studios, doesn’t have that as a mandate at all. If anything, the only thing that independent distributors and financiers look for is the SAME. Maybe costing a little less than the Majors, but they want what the Studios want, or in FIGHT CLUB speak, they want copies of a copy.
I now understand that unconventional choices like X MEN and ICE AGE would barely have a prayer getting made independently. Why? Because at the time, they didn’t look like anything else.
It’s disrespectful if not downright dumb to think audiences can’t tell the difference between the original, which occasionally might even have some fresh faces, and the copy, which almost always is populated with retreads. It’s like thinking you can sell yesterday’s news under a different banner.
My notes about self-publishing often being a cesspool of retreads comes back to mind. Here we have a fantastic system for getting truly independent and truly creative work out to audiences, and the overwhelming majority of what's pushed out to people through that particular pipeline is the worst imaginable string of knock-offs of whatever's currently clogging up the bestseller lists.
I could not tell you how many people are willing to throw money at a bad Dan Brown clone, but the fact that the survival of such things is not dependent on them being profitable means one of the evolutionary pressures to keep such things off the market is conveniently removed.
It's all rather ironic. The very system that should be connecting audiences and creators is helping, instead, to create a junk-filled closet that by its very nature can never be pruned. But since pruning it from the outside is all but impossible, the only thing we can do is educate those walking in on how not to fill that closet with garbage.
A self-published author is something like a studio mogul in that he has near-total control over what he produces. He is limited by being only one man, and the nature of what he will produce will also further limit him (if you're just not a good writer, that is in itself a constraint), but he still has quite a bit of latitude. But with that freedom comes a responsibility to do things better than the competition — not just the competition provided by mainstream publishing, but the competition of one's own fellow self-publishers. It's not enough to simply emulate the mediocrity of your neighbors, even though it can be superficially rewarding to do so.
At one con I was at a couple of years ago, the table next to a friend of mine's in the art alley was occupied by a girl selling her own Twilight knock-off. I wondered if she knew just what she was getting herself into, or how far she would have to go to produce something that wasn't just a copy of a copy. I also wondered if she sincerely believed she had already come that far.
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