Although I’m not sure whether I’ve talked about this topic before, I thought that I’d talk about mid-budget creative works today. This was mostly inspired by watching a few movies from the 1990s over the past few weeks and, during a few nostalgic moments, watching Youtube videos about old early-mid 2000s Playstation 2 games.
One of the great things about movies in the 1990s and videogames in the early-mid 2000s is that mid-budget stuff tended to be made a lot more often. Yes, there are still mid-budget creative works being made these days (such as “AA” computer/video games like “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” and “Skylar And Plux“) but they are a lot less prominent or common than they were a couple of decades ago.
But, what’s so great about them? Why is mid-budget stuff so important?
1) Creativity: The main reason why mid-budget creative works are so awesome is because they add a lot of extra creativity into the mainstream. Yes, a very low budget can spur creativity and innovation but it also limits what can be done with certain ideas and certain genres, not to mention that these works often don’t get the kind of publicity that larger-budget stuff does. On the other hand, a high budget allows people to do more but it also usually means that there’s a lot riding on one particular project. It has to be optimised for the largest possible appeal. Creativity and imagination can often take a back seat to focus groups, market trends and a kind of safe “one size fits all” blandness.
Because mid-budget creative works sit in between these two things, they get to enjoy the best of both worlds. Because there’s less money invested in them and therefore less of a loss if they don’t do well, the people making them have a bit more freedom to actually be creative and try new things. Because they also get more money and publicity (eg: cinema releases, advertising etc…) than low-budget works do, they can do a bit more and there’s also more of a chance that a decent number of people will actually take a look at them.
The important thing here is that mid-budget works allow film-makers and game devs to smuggle some actual creativity into the mainstream. They allow for interesting new ideas, memorable concepts, subtle experimentation, fascinating experiences and all of the other cool stuff that would be “too expensive” for a low-budget project but “too risky” for a high-budget one. Not only is this great for the audience, but all of this experimentation and innovation can also help to improve larger-budget stuff too. Which brings me on to the importance of…
2) Variety: A couple of decades ago, a major “blockbuster” film could be a sci-fi film, a thriller, a superhero movie, an action movie, a historical drama, a romance, a horror film etc… These days, “blockbuster” is often synonymous with “superhero movies”. A couple of decades ago, a “major” videogame could be a racing game, a fighting game, a first-person shooter game, a strategy game, a stealth game, a role-playing game, a survival horror game, a platform game etc… These days, popular “AAA” games usually fit into a much smaller number of genres.
This dwindling of variety in the mainstream is a symptom of what happens when the middle is neglected. When companies pour all of their resources into a few large-budget releases rather than spreading them out over a much wider range of mid-budget things. Because several mid-budget projects can be made for the same amount that one large-budget project costs, there’s more incentive to put out a good variety of stuff. Not only does this lessen the risk from the financial failure of any one thing, but it also means that these works appeal to a wider audience in a much more meaningful way than just making one “one size fits all” large-budget thing does.
Variety is an important thing for so many reasons. Not only does it mean that people can actually have individual tastes without feeling “left out” by popular culture, but it is also seen as “good practice” in almost every other area too. There’s a reason why most countries don’t allow monopolies to form, why a lack of genetic variety will often doom a species, why the internet is platform-agnostic and distributed amongst a huge variety of servers across the world (rather than just one giant server), why democracies last longer than dictatorships do etc…
Variety is essential. It prevents stagnation. It means that any errors, failures or mistakes don’t have catastrophic consequences. It is good for innovation and creativity (since there’s a wider variety of ideas, genres, styles etc.. to be combined and mixed in interesting ways). It also just makes everything richer and more interesting (for example, imagine how limited the English language would be if it hadn’t incorporated and adapted numerous words from other languages over the centuries). Ironically, if you want to appeal to everyone, then just having a single “one size fits all” thing is the very last thing you want to do.
3) Quality: Going back to the first point on this list, one of the great things about mid-budget creative works is that they still have to appeal to an audience. Whilst lower budget creative works might enjoy being “avant garde” or “experimental”, the slightly larger amount of money invested in mid-budget projects means that they also have to make sure that all of this interesting stuff can appeal to and be understood by a slightly larger audience.
This might sound like it would lower the quality of mid-budget works, but it often still results in more innovative, intelligent and/or interesting creative works than those that have been built from the ground up for a mainstream audience. For example, whilst a mid-budget 1990s sci-fi film like “Dark City” might have fast pacing and might explicitly spell a few things out to the audience, it still has a lot more visual creativity (inspired by film noir, German expressionism etc…) and complex ideas (eg: What makes us human? What is reality? etc..) than, say, a modern large budget CGI-fest might have.
A medium-size budget means that the balance between producing thought-provoking innovative art and producing art that can actually be enjoyed is a lot fairer. A mid-budget film won’t be full of dry intellectual rambling but it also won’t be a completely hollow and meaningless spectacle either. Because the freedom to create something interesting is paired with the requirement to actually sell a reasonable number of copies, this results in better quality.
Yes, mid-budget creative works might not always have ultra-impressive special effects or hyper-realistic graphics, but they will be a better and richer experience. You’ll get many of the benefits and innovations of intelligent “high brow” stuff, but converted into something that is a bit more immediately enjoyable.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂