Reuse, renew, reboot: Story retelling lessons from Hollywood

Photo by  Jake Hills

Photo by Jake Hills

Life might not come with an undo button but there seems to be a redo button. And Hollywood loves pressing it.

Over the years, there has been a huge rise in the number of film remakes. According to entertainment site Den of Geek, as of October 2nd 2017 there are 121 movie remakes in the works. TV studios are getting in on the action too with Twin Peaks, The X-Files, The Crystal Maze, and countless other shows having been resurrected for our viewing pleasure.

So what makes remakes so attractive to film and TV studios? The short (and obvious) answer is money. The 122 movie remakes released in the US between 2003 and 2012 raked in an average of $101,322,786 at the box office.

People might complain at Hollywood’s lack of originality and critics generally give remakes less than stellar reviews but that doesn’t stop these films from drawing in big audiences. For risk-averse movie executives, they’re a safer bet. Rather than having writers come up with an entirely new story, there’s existing narratives, characters, and fictional universes that are already available to use. There’s also existing fan bases ready to embrace the new movies with open, and often sceptical, arms. And even if the movies flop at the box office at home, there are now audiences abroad who are willing to watch.

Calling remakes a lazy option disregards their full potential (although that’s not an entirely incorrect statement). Retelling stories means bringing them to new audiences and along with it comes the opportunity to make them more progressive, inclusive, and relevant. For example, Mad Max: Fury Road put a feminist slant on the road race franchise and the new Star Wars is led by a much more ethnically diverse cast. Remakes can also give creators and viewers the chance to revisit fictional worlds at a different point in time or from a different character’s perspective. And higher production values and better special effects make these movies and shows quite the spectacle for both old and new viewers alike.

When it comes to brands, keeping brand stories fresh can be difficult when there’s only one or a limited range of stories to tell. Retelling these stories isn’t a bad thing; it establishes the brand and what they do. Take the third sector for instance. Charity communications tell people of the problems they’re solving and the great work they do – it’s what they think they must do to get people to donate – but they tend to rehash the same stories again and again.

Taking a leaf out of Hollywood’s book could bring some much needed inspiration when it comes to retelling brand stories. Firstly, consider what the audience already knows. We know Peter Parker gets his superpowers from a spider bite and that Uncle Ben dies, so for our friendly neighbourhood hero’s recent re-reboot, Marvel realised we didn’t need to see that again.

Trying new formats or sharing different perspectives can make an old story more interesting and relevant. Spider-Man: Homecoming opens with Parker vlogging his adventures during the Captain America movie he was introduced in. Disney’s Maleficent retold the story of Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s point of view.

There’s also the option of revisiting a story at a later date and giving the audience a chance to see how things have progressed. TV’s multiple revivals have done just that, as well as films like Blade Runner 2049. Viewers get more of a story that they’ve loved and a look at how characters and places have changed.

A simple rehashing of a tale often leaves audiences questioning ‘what was the point?’ Similarly, when brands put out the same material over and over again, consumers become bored or even numb to the messages. Look at your stories and ask if they’re relevant to today’s audiences. Is there a way of telling them that could be more inclusive? Would another perspective make things more interesting? Could they simply benefit from a different editing style or from being shared on a different platform? There are a lot of ways to tell a story and there are a lot of ways to retell one, too.