Recently, I was watching a lockdown horror movie. A group of friends gather for a spooky séance over Zoom and, naturally, they invite an evil spirit into the mix and the standard haunting stuff starts happening. As I like to do from time to time, I looked the film up on IMDB afterwards, read some trivia, have a quick read of some of the reviews. There were quite a lot of negative reviews and one of the things that came up most frequently was the fact that there was no innovation in the film. It didn’t bring anything new to the genre. That got me thinking about two things. Firstly, who cares if something is innovative, secondly, what actually is innovation?
I’ll look at the second question first. Innovation can, in its most basic forms, be categorised in two ways; incremental and radical. Incremental, as the name suggests, is adding something to something that already exists, generally in small amounts. Coke adding what they call lime flavour to Diet Coke would be an incremental innovation. Radical is when you do something completely differently than anything that has come before. Netflix, Amazon, social media are all examples of radical innovation. They completely changed the way that we consume media or buy products or interact with others.
Innovation is a good thing. It brings something new to the table and has the potential to positively change the way that we do things. But bringing it back to my original example, I really enjoyed the film. A lot of the reviews spoke about how Hereditary was a better film and did innovation better – I’m paraphrasing what they said, by the way. I was bored out of my mind watching Hereditary – a film that has been applauded as new and creative and innovative in the genre. I much preferred a fifty minute film that was literally filmed over Zoom during lockdown. And that’s okay.
As I’ve said, innovation is great; we need people to keep innovating. But is not innovating a bad thing? There is an argument to be made that the film, Host by the way, was innovative in the way it did things, if we assume it isn’t, is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. There’s a reason that we still go back to those books or films that we’ve been enjoying since we were younger. We, as people, find comfort in things that we know and there’s no shame in that. Understanding and accepting this is important for writers for two reasons.
The first reason is that you will meet people who will tell you that if you’re not bringing anything new to the table then there’s no point. That’s complete balderdash because of the second reason; a good story told well trumps everything. If you can tell your story well, and it’s engaging to the people that you want to engage with, then you’ve done your job and you’ve done it well, whether is innovative or not. A third point, I know I said there were two reasons, this isn’t really a reason, is that if you try and force something that you don’t want to do your art will suffer. If you write a really good story and you’ve done a great job and someone tells you that it needs some innovation so you change it, it will probably suffer because of it. It might not, but it will probably will.
So, write your story, make your film, do whatever you want and let everyone else argue if it’s innovative. There’s a pretty big argument that Star Wars Nine was an innovative film and that is objectively the worst film ever to grace the silver screen because it was a bad story told badly, but with innovation. Innovation doesn’t make something good, good storytelling does.
© 2020 Davina Chime
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.