Hollywood’s lingua franca: Narrative formulas, Chinese consumption, and the self-censorship of U.S. films

Authors: Christopher Lukinbeal*, University of Arizona
Topics: Communication, China, Cultural Geography
Keywords: China, Hollywood, Cinema, censorship, narrative formula
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Oakley, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2005 a screenwriting book was published showing us what we had already known all along: Most Hollywood movies are the same. What separated this book, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, from its predecessors, was that rather than providing general advice on how to develop a unique and innovative three act story, Snyder laid out a precise formula of 15 “beats,” or specific events, that not only must happen, but that must occur on the exact same page of the script. With this presentation, we argue that “Save the Cat” has become cinema’s lingua franca allowing Hollywood to transcend cultural differences. This lingua franca has never been more vital to Hollywood’s success: With the turn of the new millennium, international ticket sales—especially in the ever-expanding markets of China, Russia, and Brazil—dominate American box office revenues. To understand the role of Hollywood’s lingua franca on the industry’s global expansion—or rather, the effect that global expansion is having on the types of narratives that Hollywood producers are interested in making—we show how Snyder’s formula can be applied to Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, a recent blockbuster that peaked in China, the largest of the new markets. Following this, we demonstrate how this film panders to Chinese viewers and government censors. Finally, we argue that the continual drive for capital represented by the "Chinafication" of Hollywood movies is a new form of censorship that strangles creativity by dictating what gets made.

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