Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hollywood’s Sequel Saga: Ten Dramatic Lessons for Firms

On June 12, 2015, Jurassic World would hit theatres worldwide, marking yet another potentially blockbuster sequel in Hollywood’s glorious history. There is a high level of expectation that Jurassic World would set new benchmarks in projecting an unseen dangerous reptile world. The number of sequels that Hollywood has been witness to are many. Some noted sequel sagas are: Terminator, Transformer, Star Wars, Die Hard, Bourne, Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Mission: Impossible, Aliens, Elm Street, Underworld, Wall Street, Hunger Games, X-Men, Men in Black, Mummy, Toy Story, Thor, Fast and Furious, Rocky, Lethal Weapon, Rambo, Batman, Superman, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Rush Hour, Mad Max, Godzilla – the list seems to be endless. And, of course, there is the unending spy series on James Bond which continues to weave its magic decades after the first Bond movie, and even twenty five Bond movies and seven Bonds (actors) later!

It is interesting that the Hollywood sequel saga endured even if some of the sequels failed to be of the same standing or as successful as the original. Such setbacks never deterred the Hollywood Moguls from embarking on sequels, each one bigger and better than the respective predecessor.     As the movie buffs would recount, whatever be the genre, the sequels always had a set of factors in common: unlimited scale, unstoppable action, unimaginable visuals, and more importantly, unceasing entertainment, all with increasing brand equity and increasing expectations. The creativity of Hollywood seems to have no limits or endpoints, given the number of sequels each central theme or central actor had given rise to. It is also interesting that the churn in the ownership of movie studios and production houses has not in any way dampened the spirit of sequels. Though not obvious, there is something to learn from the Hollywood sequel saga for the corporate firms and the professionals who shape the firms. 


Industrialization predates movie making by several decades. Actually, without products of industrialization such as cameras, lights, film and projectors, movie making would not have originated and developed as an industry in its own. That does not, however, mean that the core of what movie making seeks to provide, namely entertainment cannot be provided through non-industrial means. The stage dramas of yesteryears and the street plays of current years are proof enough that both entertainment and education can be provided through simple and direct human interaction and interplay. Industrialization, like it did for every other activity, has, however, dramatically transformed how movies can be made and viewed in theatres, and in addition spawned several auxiliary and substitutive industries such as viewing through televisions, compact discs and now through the Internet and computers/mobiles.

Industrialization, as is commonly experienced, seeks to constantly develop new products and services for newer functionalities. A new product tends to make the previous product obsolete eventually, if not immediately, even if the basic functionality does get only morphed but not rendered obsolete. Industrialization is nothing but the sum total of the persistence and progress of individual firms. The role of individual firms, and the professionals, in industrialization that constantly seeks to develop new products to supersede older ones is a practical expediency. Put in another way, the movie industry’s persistence and success with sequels is a fascinating contrast to how firms seek to survive and grow. While firms do launch successive generations of products, they do not have the magic of sequels that movies have. This is because several firms compete to launch multiple products with the same functionality while each movie has its unique emotional mix for the viewers. That is not the whole story, however.

Movie magic

Viewed philosophically, all movies, save some art and niche movies, are made to entertain. Thousands of movies are thus filmed to satisfy one single objective but manage to be different. Compared to that, firms become frustrated at the first sign of competition and crave for differentiation. There lies the magic of movies, and more so of movie sequels. If one is able to decode the magic of movies in general, and that of sequels in particular, there could be valuable lessons for conventional firms. This blog post tries to identify ten relevant factors through the discussion below; first on movies in general and later on sequels, in particular.

Singular purpose

Movies may differ widely, both in thematic content and in the movie formula; yet all movies have only one singular purpose of entertaining the viewers. Firms may take a leaf out of this. The fundamental purpose of any product is not fulfilling its functionality; rather, it is making users happy! Once firms have this clarity the entire value chain of such firms get defined and operated accordingly. 

Continuous stream

Movies are made with no particular sense of timing. Essentially a creative art, movie making is fired by the spark of spontaneity. Unlike products which are clustered around events (motor shows, equipment shows or electronics shows, for example) or seasons (summer and winter, for example), movies are made almost like an eternal stream. They are made with different timelines and get released when ready, and in no particular pre-designed competition with any other movie.  

Standard pricing

This is one aspect in which a movie makes a radical departure from any other product. Whatever be the movie, for a given theatre, the price of viewing or entertainment experience is just the same. Just because a movie is made with a mega budget it cannot have a higher ticket price. The revenue and profitability is purely dependent on achieving the maximum reach and repeat viewership. This is in marked contrast to firms deriving higher specifications and quality from higher investments and therefore demanding differential pricing for products. The egalitarian pricing requirement is not merely a great leveller for customer access but also a great motivator for product superiority.  

Many hues

The magic of movies is that the ‘common’ looks ‘uncommon’ in the hands of the movie makers. The same nature looks different in myriad hues depending on the film director and the cinematographer. The same ragas are mixed to develop new tunes by the music maker. In contrast, firms try desperately to juggle around a few factors (metal, glass, plastic and polycarbonate, for example) instead of achieving multiple hues on those factors. Bringing creativity for better use of available factors is a lesson firms that could be well learnt from movie making.

Unknown demand

Firms typically look for defined customer demand before developing a product. In respect of a movie, the requirement (except the generic requirement of entertainment) is never pre-defined by the viewer sample or universe. Professionals who look for all sorts of assurances before embarking on their product development may take a leaf out of movie making; the uncanny ability to fulfil a purpose which is not quantifiable but may only be intuitively imagined by the developer!

End as beginning

Professionals despairing at product failures and industrialists dejected at business failures need to get inspired at how sequels are made with both passion and gumption. Sequels demonstrate that any end is artificial and every end can be a new beginning with the right creativity. It is the same park and similar reptiles but Jurassic World promises to be excitingly different from Jurassic Park. Rather than belabour the hostile product-market waters, professionals and businessmen must look at better and bigger sequels to start with the end but undo the past of desperation and dejection, if any.

Thematic core

The success of the original as well as the sequels lies in a strong thematic core. All the sequels listed in the beginning of this post have a unique thematic core built in a pioneering way; some, truly exotic and esoteric like Star Wars and some, primal and thrilling like Jurassic Park. Successful products like BlackBerry, iPhones and Windows had strong thematic cores (communication security, mass media and business documentation, respectively, for example). The skill for these firms lies, as do sequels do, in keeping the thematic core vibrant and contemporary. Otherwise, there would be no scope for a product or service sequel, unfortunately!  

Emotional connect   

Every endeavour, be it a blockbuster movie or a successful product, would have a few factors that appeal to the experiencing people (not customers, per se). It could be the exciting opening and signature tune of a James Bond movie or the do-good action of a Batman franchise. The ability to build on those factors of emotional connect and enrich them further ensured the success of the sequels. Every product or service to be long lasting (not merely as a successful one-timer) needs an emotional connect. Once an emotional connect is developed and nurtured it would become an overarching hallmark.

Creative technology

Movie sequels are often seen as triumphs of technology rather than as providers of fresh new entertainment. That probably is not true. Higher technology (especially superior graphics and dazzling visual effects) are no doubt deployed to take the sequels to higher levels but it is the movie director’s creativity that calls upon such an exalted role for technology. High-tech movies are invariably products of highly creative film makers. In contrast, firms and professionals tend to be cautious in deployment of higher technology, often setting limits through investment caps and returns arithmetic. Here again, firms have a lesson to take from sequels.

Reliving demand

As we noted earlier, unlike physical products, movies have demand and yet have no demand. They are an addictive habit as an option for entertainment. To hypothesize, a priori, that sequels would have a natural assured demand is a doubly wrong hypothesis, therefore. Yet, sequels are successful in rejuvenating and reframing demand. There are not many products that last through a whole span of civilization. One may think of the Indian saree as one product that stayed conservative as well as contemporary; handcrafted as well as technology driven over the ages. Creatively thought and executed, more products may well last through ages.

Mission: Impossible?

‘Mission: Impossible’ is one of the success stories of Hollywood sequel sagas. Just as the movie makers and the actors as well as technicians of sequels make the ‘Mission Impossible’ of each sequel a ‘Mission Possible’, firms and professionals in the day to day businesses and product-market spaces ought to adopt certain principles that underlie successful movie and sequel making that can keep themselves and the products or services long lasting. To recall, the ten principles are as follows.
Firstly, there must be only one singular purpose of business: to make the users happy and contended.  Secondly, new developments should be a continuous process; neither timed to competition not timed to seasons. Thirdly, developments should be made with the rigour of a standard sticker price; efforts must be to recover higher investments through expanded reach and repeat purchases. Fourthly, firms must develop the available designs and materials in many capabilities and elegances, rather than look for unique ones each time. Fifthly, firms must have the conviction and passion for an intuitively felt demand.  

The next six principles which come on top of the five earlier principles are specifically derived from the sequels saga. Sixthly, a good product, like a good movie, need not have an end; each end can be a new beginning. Seventhly, there must be an enduring theme in each product or service that is rather ageless. Eighthly, emotional connect builds a long lasting relationship between the firms and their stakeholders, especially the users. Ninthly, the more creative a firm or a professional is the higher can be the level of technology that can be marshalled; lack of creativity at firm level would be an impediment to deployment of technology even if technology were to be available. And, tenthly, the ultimate challenge lies in rejuvenating a satisfied demand.

Just as time progresses and never ends, firms and professionalism must move on, and live on to perpetuity. Amidst the dramatic entertainment of Hollywood sequels there are many lessons for such an approach as discussed herein.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 31, 2015

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