Creative Industries and A Series of Unfortunate Events

Creative Industries have been dominating the artistic scene for quite a time now. Some people are concerned that the functionalist reality of the neoliberal policies and practices of the creative industries create a space where creativity can almost do without the artists. Has art become formulaic? Are capitalism and creativity being merged together?

In the film industry, specifically involving adaptations, we can see a large amount of discrepancies between remakes of books and even other movies. The majority of the time, it appears that most authors or original creators do not have much of a say, if any at all, in regards to creating a new version of their original book or movie.

The pinnacle of this concept can be easily observed in the work of David Handler, or better known by his pseudonym as Lemony Snicket. Handler is the author of an extremely successful book series called A Series of Unfortunate Events, which contained an impressive total of 13 children’s books. Handler was initially interested in writing gothic literature for adults, but after having a conversation with his publisher, he went onto writing these children’s book characterized by Victorian gothic tones and absurdist textuality. Initially he was opposed to the idea, but managed to incorporate the elements of dark humour and sarcastic storytelling elements into the children’s series (“A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV Series 2017-)”).

The interference of the publisher is a small indication of larger corporations or positions having influence over the ‘little guy’. Even this minute example gives us an insight to what cultural industries believe they have the power to do, and what they do to enforce them.

A Series of Unfortunate Events gained significant popularity throughout the entire publishing period, which lasted from 1999 to 2006. At one point, books were being published at a rate of three to four per year. Between all 13 books there were over 65 million copies sold and were translated into 41 different languages (“A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV Series 2017-)”.

Due to the worldwide success during this period of time, the creative industries began to swoop in. A video game, card game, board game, song album, film, TV show, several companion books as well as assorted merchandise were made as offspring to a the book series.

In 2004, Paramount adapted the first three books of a Series of Unfortunate Events into a feature film. Globally it was quite successful, bringing in 200 million US dollars. Although, no additional films were made to incorporate the remaining ten books in the series.

Even with these statistics, fans to A Series of Unfortunate Events were quite disappointed with how the film came across. It was way too condensed, leaving out large portions that were quite significant in the books. Also, the tone was much too comical compared to the series. The books were solemn and serious, with the occasional implication of wry humour. This largely had to do with the power that Paramount had and the lack on involvement of David Handler. We can see here that the authority of the ‘new owner’ of the creative material does not need to stay true to the original artist.

This bring us to the discussion of why this is seen as unsuccessful. When working with a big name company such as Paramount, the artist must realise that the brand must come first, which is a hard thing to accept. Even though the material stemmed from Handler’s original creativity, he must let them follow through with their business plan. In this sense, it does take the autonomy away from the artist when you involve the commercial business.

We discussed in seminar how money has been come a vital part of cultural industries and creation. In this situation with a Series of Unfortunate Events, the creative product and original intention of the artist has been lost. This truly represents how the distinction between private creation and public business sectors are diminishing. Handler would not have had the funds to film the movie on his own, so he would have to compromise with the big companies to get the means to do so.

In John Hartley’s book ‘Creative Studies’, he brings up a valid point about the contradiction in the term ‘creative studies’. “’Creative’ seems to preclude organization on an industrial scale, emphasizing instead the aspect of individual imaginative creative talent. ‘Industries’ seems to preclude most human creativity from consideration. In short, if creativity is part of human identity, then what has is got to do with industries? Most people do not ‘identify’ with industries as part of their sense of self, even if they work in an industrial environment- which most people in the world do not.” (Hartley 2005,106)

So from this perspective, is it ever possible for the artist to remain autonomous if they’re part of the whole world of creative industries? In some ways it is completely possible to work in synergy with a large company and keep the integrity of one’s work. A Series of Unfortunate Events managed to do so after the whole movie fiasco.

Earlier this year, the Netflix original series ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ was released. Although it’s produced yet again by Paramount, the same company to produce the earlier 2004 film, it has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. Their involvement is much smaller than the film, including the fact that their television department will be producing the show (Gatenburg, 2017).

Cultural industries are becoming more and more streamlined in terms of what they actually specialise in. “The ownership and organisation of the cultural industries have changed radically. The largest companies no longer specialise in a particular cultural industry, such as film, publishing, television or recording; they now operate across a number of different cultural industries. These conglomerates compete with each other, but, more than ever before, they are connected- with each other and with other companies- in complex webs of alliance, partnership and joint venture.” (Hesmondhalgh, 2013, 3)

It seems odd that Paramount would get another shot at producing A Series of Unfortunate Events, but when you realise how large of a scope they have on the industry it makes sense. An entirely different production group will get to have control, so it won’t even matter what happened during the making of the previous movie.

This series will be much more in depth than the previous 2004 film, so no prior knowledge of the books or film is needed for any of the viewers. The first season of A Series of Unfortunate events will only cover books 1 through 4, spanning over a total of 8 episodes. This gives them a chance to go extremely in depth with the material from the original book series. All 13 books will be covered in the Netflix series and supplemental stories. David Handler is very involved in the series this time around. He wrote every single episode alongside Emily Fox (Gatenburg, 2017).

This time around, a stronger approach to the use of creative industries has been illuminated. The ability for a big company to work with the original artist, and still allow them to remain autonomous is a step in the right direction for this community. The Netflix series is still in the beginning stages of its first season, so we can’t be entirely sure how successful it will be in comparison to the film. Although, there are rumours that the second season has in fact been undergoing its pre-production phase.

One can’t say if creative industries destroy autonomy completely. It’s a matter of how the companies are willing to work with the artists or how the artists must work for the companies.

-Ashley Edwards

Bibliography:

“A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV Series 2017-)”. IMDb. N.p. 2017. Web. 13 Feb, 2017.

A Series of Unfortunate Events. Paramount, 2004. film.

A Series of Unfortunate Events. Paramount, 2017. Available: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80050008. Last accessed 22/02/2017.

David Hesmondhalgh (2013). The Cultural Industries. 3rd ed. London: SAGE. 1-3.

Gartenburg, Chaim. “Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Gets Right What The Movie Got Wrong.” The Verge. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

John Hartley (2005). Creative Industries. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. 106.

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