Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Keys to a Successful Film Franchise: Key # 5 - Longevity

With Hollywood franchise crazy, I felt I'd lay down the five things that all good film franchises need to do in order for them to be successful.  In other words the Five Keys to a Successful Film Franchise.  I started this series the other day illustrating the first four  Keys:  Concept, Characters, Worlds, and Continuity.  I did this by using my five favorite film franchises of all-time:  Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, and The Thin Man.  I will also be using these franchises to illustrate the final Key as well.  While I wont always be praising these franchises and will often use individual films in the franchises to show how not to do a film in a franchise, at the end of the day not only do I love majority of the films in these five franchises, I think in terms to adhering to the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise, they have been the most successful at implementing them.  With that all said, it's time to wrap up the series with the fifth and final Key.  Key Number Four, which is Longevity.


5.  Longevity
The final key to a successful film franchise is the simplest to understand -- longevity, or in other words, the ability to make sequels, prequels, and spin-offs.  Hollywood wants to keep their franchises alive forever, and fans do too.  The trick with the fans, though, is not rushing out haphazard sequels or spin-offs, cause otherwise the fans will nail the filmmakers for it.  Bottom line to achieving longevity, is always making everything tied into that franchise of high quality.

Nothing can hurt a film franchise worse than a bad film in that franchise.  Every film franchise always has a low point, but I think you could argue that there has never been a poorly made entry in any of the five franchise I've been using as examples.  While some might complain about Indy being nuked in a fridge, the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton eras of 007, or the Prequel Trilogy in our favorite far away galaxy, at the end of the day, those were all well made films and it's why all of these franchises are still so beloved.  These franchises understand the most important principle to longevity, quality.  Many would be franchises have gone the way of the dodo because the studio or filmmakers did not treat the material with the right amounts of respect or good filmmaking techniques, and the franchises suffered for it.  How many poorly written films with lousy dialogue and overtly predictable plots exist in our current world?  Most of these films were lackluster sequels to actually good movies, or they were films made in hopes of launching a franchise and fell flat on their face.  Why?  Because they just weren't good films.  Now, another thing about quality, is it adds another kind of longevity to these franchises, shelf life.

Shelf life is kind of like an expiration date.  Some movies come along and they're fun for a while, but after they've aged a few years they're just not good anymore, this is because more and more films come out that are similar and way better.  This happens all the time, but through quality filmmaking, these films gain a shelf life.  Quality movies are timeless, it's that simple, and as long as people watch movies, they're going to want to watch something of quality.  The quality movie may not appeal to everyone, but it's the thing that makes movies classics and therefore makes people want to watch them time and again.  This is shelf life, and it's why it's another important element to longevity for a franchise,  However, in order for a good film franchise to also achieve longevity, the franchise must also feel limitless.

What do I mean by limitless?  I mean, there needs to be that feeling, that even if it's a finite franchise and the story is done, there is still that potential for adventure in this world.  Sure, Harry Potter has defeated Voldemort, but as long as there is magic there will be dark wizards to fight.  Nothing makes me think that there still aren't many more adventures to be had.  The same with Star Wars.  As long as there is the Force, there will be Jedi and there will be Sith, forever embroiled in battle.  For neverending franchises this is even simpler to grasp, seeing as how there's almost always a new case for Nick and Nora Charles to investigate, or a new artifact that Dr. Jones needs to find, or a new secret mission that only 007 can accomplish.  Of course, while a good film franchise needs to give you the feeling that it's limitless, it also needs to act on those feelings and deliver.

In many ways, what makes Star Wars the ultimate film franchise of all-time, is that George Lucas did not stop with the films.  Sure, you could conceivably keep making new Episodes of Star Wars every few years for as long as time exists (which seems to be Disney's plan with the new films), but Lucas also took it beyond film by commissioning writers and artists to create books, video games, comic books, and TV shows, that expanded upon the world, filled in the gaps between movies, and created even more lovable characters and fascinating planets to explore.  Lucas also did this with Indiana Jones and the same has been done with James Bond.  The two film franchises that have really dropped the ball in this area are The Thin Man and Harry Potter.

Honestly, since it's been nearly seventy years since the last movie in The Thin Man franchise, any sequel or remake would probably pale in comparison without William Powell and Myrna Loy, but there's no reason someone couldn't write a book picking up where the movies and novelist Dashiel Hamett left off.  Then with Harry Potter, JK Rowling could do everything that George Lucas has done with his franchises by expanding the wizarding world beyond her books and films, but to do so would probably require bringing in other writers and I don't know if she'll let anyone else take care of her baby.  Even so, how cool would it be to see a detective show on TV about the aurors in Harry Potter hunting down dark wizards?  I'm just saying, the possibilities are endless and even if the possibilities aren't always fully explored, at the very least, that feeling of endless possibilities is the final thing that grants a film franchise longevity.


So there you have it, the Five Keys to a Successful Film Franchise:  Concept, Characters, Worlds, Continuity, and Longevity.  I hope you've found this series informative and fun, because I had fun writing about it, and it's really given me a lot to think about too in my own writing and filmmaking practices, as well as my own filmgoing experiences.  Till next time!

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