Most Good Art Will Never Get Made

Danny Reinan, copy editor

The new Korean survival drama series “Squid Game” is taking the world by storm – and for good reason. It’s a thrilling take on a death game story, pioneered by works like “Battle Royale,” with layered characters, deceptively colorful set design and biting social commentary about class struggle in South Korea. It’s a shock, then, that creator Hwang Dong-hyuk scripted the chart-topping series all the way back in 2008, and had to spend 11 arduous years pitching it to studios before Netflix finally agreed to produce it. There have been countless stories of this nature coming out in the past several years alone. The hand-drawn Fleischer-inspired 2D shooter game “Cuphead” has been a phenomenon since its release in 2017, but in order to secure the funding to make it, creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer had to gamble by remortgaging their houses. These stories are emblematic of the passion of artists and how much their relentless perseverance can pay off, but even moreso than that, they reveal deeper problems with the entertainment industry, which makes the process of pitching and producing good art into a death game of its own.

As a hopeful artist and playwright, I know how I’m supposed to feel when I hear stories like these. I’m supposed to be inspired. I’m supposed to think that, with enough persistence and grit, I too could get my work off the ground and into the hearts of millions. I’m supposed to think that, no matter how many times my work is rejected by studios, I need to just pick myself off the ground and try again, because there’s no telling whether the next one might finally be a success. I’m supposed to think that, if I gamble away everything I have on more funds or production time, the gamble will surely pay off. But in actuality, I don’t feel inspired when I hear these stories – I feel discouraged. I feel like my work is doomed to flounder in a state of pitching hell until it gets produced — if it even gets produced at all. And I wonder why that pitching hell has to be a necessary part of the process for any art that is trying to do something new.

Moreover, we only ever hear about these stories of the value of persistence when that persistence does ultimately pay off, while the artists who continue to struggle to get their work made are swept under the rug. Hwang was ultimately able to get “Squid Game” produced after a decade-long struggle, but some artists have surely been pitching their own work for even longer, and will continue to do so until they give up or die trying. The Moldenhauers gambled their own houses to make “Cuphead,” and that gamble paid off because of what an overwhelming success that game was – but how many artists will make that gamble, only for their work to never see release? How many artists don’t even have the financial stability to make such a gamble in the first place, and will be forced to give up on their work? How many brilliant works of art will never see the light of day because the system wasn’t built for them?

For as long as the entertainment industry remains as it is, with studios shutting out creations that are new and subversive, artists are doomed to spend years pitching their work to studios who may never see its value, make personal sacrifices that might leave them in ruins, or give up entirely. Or they could try to go independent, and instead be beholden to the whims of fickle website algorithms that may never lift their work into the limelight. For as long as the entertainment industry remains as it is, most good art will never get made.