It’s a complicated question that lays bare one of the worst-kept secrets in the movie business — if you want to enjoy great writing or wrestle with complex moral dilemmas, you should be watching television, which over the past decade has become an oasis for the most gifted writers in the business, many of them refugees from the world of feature films. Sorkin acknowledges that if he’d bought the rights to “The Social Network” himself, he would probably have taken it to HBO, since the odds are so long for getting a film made in today’s Hollywood without having to make a million creative compromises along the way.
TV isn’t just a dream job for writers because they get to control their own destiny. It’s a dream job because you don’t have to stoop to conquer. Less is more, in the sense that if you’re willing to shoot a TV series on a relatively low budget, you can have nearly all the creative freedom in the world. That’s the secret behind nearly every great TV show, from “Mad Men” to “Weeds” to “The Wire.” Of all those wonderful films that I mentioned above, from “Quiz Show” to “American Beauty” to “Traffic,” it’s hard to imagine any of them being made by a major studio today, largely because of the economics of a business that has increasingly become focused on The Big Score — movie franchises that can be sold to a broad global audience.
Remember, too, that American Beauty and Traffic were both released only around ten years ago. And 1999 was overall a fantastic year for smart, groundbreaking movies from the major studios, films that relied on great screenwriting, film such as Three Kings, Fight Club, The Insider, Being John Malkovich, Election, Magnolia, and Toy Story 2. Even The Matrix is at least as dependent on great writing as it is on FX.
I’m not saying — and neither is Goldstein, I’m sure — that there are no great studio films today that are great thanks to their scripts. There are just far, far fewer of them than there were a mere decade ago. What changed so much in so short a period of time? Individual people cannot have dumbed down so much in 10 years… so how did our Hollywood movies get so dumbed down?