Recently, I came across a video that kind of blew my mind. While watching, it occurred to me how much of a perfect metaphor it was for Hollywood. The video is called 4 Chords 72 Songs. If you haven’t seen it, it is embedded below. In the video, the piano player works through 72 pop songs while playing the same four chords in the same manner and basically the same tempo. The only thing that changes between the songs is the lyric (melody). The songs range from country to hip hop to rock to soul and all have the same four chords running through them.
The reality that Hollywood produces repetitive music is undeniable. But this metaphor applies to more than the music side of Hollywood. Someone might easily create a video called 100 movies, one story. My daughter noticed it when she was only 7 years-old, “All the movies are the same,” she observed rather offhandedly, “they just change the characters and the setting.” Of course, Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero With A Thousand Faces to point out this exact reality. George Lucas used Campbell’s book to help him create Star Wars. The stories that worked in ancient mythology still work today. For Hollywood, it might be stated, the stories that sold yesterday will sell again today. And so they do–or sometimes don’t–it doesn’t matter to Hollywood because it’s all they’re willing to do for the most part.
When it’s done well, people rarely notice, but when TV show after TV show seem to repeat the same plots, same jokes, same contrived situations movie after movie, song after song, is there any question why Hollywood’s main demographic is 18-27? They need people who haven’t seen all the stories already–or who aren’t paying attention too closely–perhaps too caught up in the special effects.
What’s this mean for writers and creators? It means don’t be too original if you want to sell your idea to Hollywood. If it’s too new–if it doesn’t use the same 4 chords–they won’t be able to play it in Hollywood. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t do your content independently. Part of deciding on whether or not to put your time and energy into breaking into Hollywood is deciding whether Hollywood will let you do what you want to do once you get here. If you have a bunch of new melodies to add to those four chords, Hollywood is waiting for you. If not, you may want to look elsewhere because although there’s a certain glamor to Hollywood, that glamor fades quickly for the artist trapped in creative monotony.