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The Time for Remakes: How to Make Old Content Fly in a New Direction

If you go to the movie theater today, you can buy a ticket to see Dumbo or Pet Sematary. However, if you look at the calendar, it is neither 1941 nor 1989.

CBS is airing new episodes of Magnum P.I., MacGyver and more recently The Twilight Zone. Disney is currently promoting the upcoming theatrical releases of Aladdin and The Lion King. An unsuspecting person may think for a moment that they inadvertently discovered the key to time travel if it was not for such frequently sued terms as “remakes” and “reboots.”

There is a profound lesson in content development and marketing taught by such remakes as Dumbo and Pet Sematary, though, that you should carefully consider. Keep in mind that:

  1. Dumbo was a 64-minute animated film released over 77 years ago that told the simple story of a baby elephant ridiculed for a birth defect that turned out to be a superpower.

  2. Pet Sematary was a horror novel about a family home near a mysterious burial ground published in 1983 made into a franchise of 2 horror films released in 1989 & 1992 long before the remake was released in 2019.

Here are the crystal-clear gems you can take away from these examples of this cinematic era of remakes, reboots and remixes:

The Value of a New Direction

Tim Burton was not even born until nearly 17 years after the original Dumbo was released in theaters. Does this mean that you should get someone much younger than you to create your new content? No. However, it does mean that you should consider taking the content in a new direction.

As mentioned above, the original movie was barely an hour long. Chances are that the studio would not have greenlit the movie with a multimillion-dollar investment if it was just going to be the same exact story that they already told several decades ago. Tim Burton knew that he needed to take the classic story in a different direction and add his own spin to the familiar tale that had already been told.

How can you take your content in a new direction?

  1. Approach the same topic from a different perspective – developing it as if you were a different writer chosen to work on the project for the very first time.

  2. Brainstorm various ways to convey the same message in different ways. Keep the destination the same but find new routes (or directions) to take to get you there.

Prevent the Loss of Emotional Engagement

The last thing that you want to do when remaking an emotionally-engaging piece is to eliminate that engagement. When you think of the general tone and nature of most remakes/reboots today (especially on the big screen), they are a bit darker and more serious than their predecessors. Some have even gone to the point of taking comedies with a moderate dose of tragic dramas and turning them into tragic dramas with a mild dose of comedy.

If you were able to engage the emotions of your audience with the original content, then you should avoid severing that connection by working hard to retain it.

Think about Dumbo. The original film focused on making you sympathize for this baby elephant even when it was clear that none of the other characters in the movie did so. Tim Burton made sure that he kept audiences emotionally engaged within the remake as well. When Dumbo was sad, the audience was sad. When Dumbo was excited, the audience was excited. When he took flight, the audience felt as if they were flying right along with him.

How you can protect the emotional engagement of your content?

  1. Identify the key points of the original content that sparked the most emotions.

  2. Find creative ways to rework those key points into the “remade” content.

  3. Search for new ways to expand on those points to keep the audience connected from start to finish. Otherwise, they may disconnect after you have already made your point of engagement and then forcefully moved onwards.

Meet the Core Expectations of Your Audience

You must know what your audience expects from your content. Think about the original content. What questions did it answer? What did the audience expect to receive from it? How did the content deliver and meet those expectations? More importantly, what questions were left unanswered?

You can make sure that your audience gets exactly what they expect from the content – especially if they are big fans of the original content. For instance, can you imagine Dumbo without the bubble scene and the typical circus scenery? Tim Burton more than likely knew that and made sure that he met that expectation with a little taste of his own style and authentic storytelling skills.

Creative Control vs Creative Liberties

There is a huge difference between creative control and creative liberty. When recreating or remaking content, the line that separates these two worlds can quickly become too blurry to distinguish.

Exercising creative control allows you to add a dose of your own style and creativity to breathe new life into the content. It does not mean you have the freedom to completely gut and scrap the content to start from scratch. If you are focused on doing that, then you should solely focus on developing original content. As mentioned earlier, once your audience knows that you are remaking or rebooting existing content, there are certain expectations that must be met.

Think about it like driving a car. You are given a license and a set of keys to control a vehicle on the road. However, you do not have the liberty to simply do whatever you want when you get out there, do you? The same principle applies to developing and remaking content. Fortunately, you can still find creative and clever ways to color within the lines and still leave a profound impact with your work.

Simplicity is Essential

Keep It Simple, Stupid.

If all the bones are in place, then there is no need for you to add anything to the skeleton. It is your job to breathe new life into it by finding creative and clever ways to convey the same message in a different way. Find a new direction without risking the emotional engagement of the original content. Work hard to meet (or even exceed) the core expectations of your audience without abusing the creative control provided to you.

Before long, you may be able to recreate an artistic masterpiece of developed content that will make more headlines than a flying elephant in a circus!


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