AFI Retrospectives

Imagine a world where the American Film Institute (AFI) decides to hold retrospectives for a new generation of so-called “auteurs,” a term loosely applied to filmmakers who specialize in adapting intellectual properties (IP) for middle-school audiences. This hypothetical scenario may seem far-fetched, and indeed, it is. The concept of “middle school auteurs” is, in reality, an astroturfing creation designed to sell IP to the masses, packaged as something more substantial than it truly is.

The Absurdity of Middle School Auteurs

In the realm of cinema, auteurs are traditionally revered for their unique and visionary approach to filmmaking. Think Alfred Hitchcock’s mastery of suspense, Stanley Kubrick’s precision, or Martin Scorsese’s gritty realism. Middle school auteurs, on the other hand, are anything but visionary. Their work predominantly centers around rehashing existing IP, often from literature, comic books, and video games, to cater to a younger demographic.

These filmmakers hardly embody the spirit of auteurs. Instead, they specialize in an uninspired and formulaic approach to storytelling, prioritizing profits over creativity.

if we were to hypothetically define the psychological traits of individuals who prioritize commercial success over creative innovation in filmmaking for a middle school audience, some potential traits might include:

  1. Profit-Driven Motivation: These individuals are primarily motivated by financial gain, often foregoing creative satisfaction in favor of commercial success.
  2. Adaptability: They are skilled at adapting existing intellectual properties for mass consumption, showing a preference for established brands that appeal to middle schoolers.
  3. Risk Aversion: Middle school auteurs tend to avoid creative risks and prefer well-known, marketable stories to reduce financial uncertainty.
  4. Nostalgia Exploitation: They understand the power of nostalgia and use it as a tool to connect with their target audience, often recycling familiar characters or themes.
  5. Market Research Focus: Their decision-making heavily relies on market research, trends, and demographic analysis, as they aim to capture the largest share of the middle school audience.
  6. Emotional Detachment: Creativity is often secondary to financial success, leading to a certain emotional detachment from the artistic process.
  7. Brand Loyalty: They demonstrate a preference for working with established studios and known intellectual properties, showing a strong allegiance to recognizable brands.
  8. Low Creativity Threshold: They tend to use existing formulas and clichés to create content rather than innovating or experimenting with storytelling techniques.
  9. Limited Artistic Vision: Middle school auteurs may lack a unique artistic vision, opting for conventional and mainstream approaches to storytelling.
  10. Resistance to Critical Feedback: They might be less receptive to constructive criticism if it threatens their established market strategies and IP adaptations.
  11. Merchandising Focus: In addition to film production, they may prioritize merchandising and licensing opportunities associated with their adaptations.
  12. Short-Term Thinking: They might favor short-term financial gains over long-term sustainability and artistic growth.
  13. Trend Chasing: These individuals tend to follow industry trends rather than setting new trends themselves, conforming to what is currently popular.
  14. Pandering to Audience Expectations: Instead of challenging their audience with thought-provoking content, they often cater to the perceived expectations and preferences of middle school viewers.
  15. Lack of Artistic Integrity: Middle school auteurs may compromise artistic integrity by making creative decisions solely for financial benefits, leading to the potential dilution of storytelling quality.

Exploiting the Middle School Audience

Middle schoolers are a prime target for marketing and monetization. They represent a demographic with significant influence over their parents’ wallets, making them the ideal audience for IP-driven adaptations. Middle school auteurs shamelessly exploit this fact by churning out films that water down complex source materials into simplistic narratives, all while reaping the financial rewards.

Filmmakers who adopt the “Middle School Auteur Theory” and focus on adapting intellectual properties for middle school audiences often aim to create content with fast-food-like effects on their target demographic. These effects are more about delivering immediate, easily consumable gratification rather than fostering meaningful, long-lasting cinematic experiences. Here’s how these filmmakers cater to such effects:

  1. Instant Gratification: Just like fast food offers quick satisfaction, these films aim to grab the audience’s attention from the start and keep them engaged throughout with simple and straightforward narratives.
  2. Visual Spectacle: They rely on visual spectacle and special effects to create an immediate visual impact, similar to how fast food is often presented in a visually appealing way.
  3. Simple, Predictable Storytelling: The plotlines are often uncomplicated, predictable, and easy to follow, ensuring that middle school viewers can immediately understand the narrative without much effort.
  4. Recycled Themes and Tropes: Just as fast-food chains serve familiar menu items, these filmmakers tend to reuse popular themes, tropes, and characters from well-known intellectual properties that middle schoolers are already familiar with.
  5. Convenience and Accessibility: Films targeting middle school audiences are designed to be easily accessible, whether through streaming services or theaters, similar to the convenience of fast-food outlets.
  6. Low Effort, High Reward: The primary goal is to provide entertainment with minimal effort on the part of the viewer. Much like fast food is readily available and requires minimal preparation, these films are designed for immediate consumption.
  7. Short Attention Span Appeal: Middle schoolers may have shorter attention spans, and these films aim to maintain their focus by employing constant action, humor, or other attention-grabbing elements.
  8. Repeatable Formula: Just as fast food chains have a consistent formula for their products, these filmmakers often adhere to a formulaic approach to storytelling, relying on proven techniques that have worked in previous adaptations.
  9. Lack of Nutritional Value: While fast food may lack nutritional value, these films often lack depth, intellectual stimulation, or educational content, providing entertainment without significant substance.
  10. Merchandising Opportunities: Like fast food franchises selling branded merchandise, these films create opportunities for the sale of toys, clothing, and other consumer products related to their IPs.

The retrospectives, though presented as a celebration of their work, would inadvertently highlight the cynical marketing strategy of feeding easily digestible content to an impressionable audience.

Intellectual Property: The True Star

In the world of middle school auteurs, the true stars are the intellectual properties themselves. These filmmakers are mere conduits for established brands, capitalizing on the recognition and nostalgia factor that IP brings. The retrospectives would inadvertently place a spotlight on the power of IP and its dominance in contemporary cinema.

In reality, the concept of middle school auteurs underscores the film industry’s reluctance to take creative risks and its obsession with profiting from established franchises. The retrospectives would inadvertently expose the industry’s lack of originality and a fixation on recycling familiar stories.

The realms of filmmaking often find themselves at a crossroads between two contrasting approaches: prioritizing well-established intellectual properties (IP) and emphasizing intellectual exploration. While both have their merits and serve different purposes within the industry, the tension between them reflects the ongoing debate in cinema about commercialization versus artistic innovation.

The Allure of Intellectual Property

  1. Recognizability and Marketability: Intellectual properties, whether derived from literature, comics, or video games, come with built-in fan bases. This pre-existing audience recognition can boost a film’s marketability and potentially guarantee a return on investment.
  2. Profit Maximization: Filmmakers often turn to existing IP to tap into the profitability of established franchises. Successful adaptations can result in a series of sequels, spin-offs, and merchandising opportunities, making them an attractive choice for studios.
  3. Nostalgia and Emotional Connection: Adaptations of beloved IP can evoke strong emotions and nostalgia among viewers, fostering a sense of connection to the source material and generating enthusiasm.
  4. Risk Mitigation: The financial success of IP-driven films can mitigate the risk associated with filmmaking, as they are perceived as more predictable and safer investments compared to original, untested ideas.

Intellectual Exploration in Cinema

Intellectual exploration in cinema can be intricately linked with the concept of Deleuze’s “lines of flight.” Gilles Deleuze, a renowned philosopher, introduced the concept of “lines of flight” as a way to describe the potential for escaping established structures and norms. In the context of cinema, embracing intellectual exploration can be seen as a cinematic “line of flight.”

Deleuze’s concept of “lines of flight” signifies a departure from the established patterns and conventions, allowing for new, uncharted territories of thought and creativity. In cinema, this aligns with the pursuit of intellectual exploration, where filmmakers venture beyond the constraints of formulaic storytelling, genre conventions, and commercial norms. Here’s how these two ideas intersect:

  1. Breaking Away from Conventions: Intellectual exploration in cinema often involves breaking away from established narrative structures and genre conventions. Filmmakers use “lines of flight” to create new and unorthodox approaches to storytelling, challenging traditional filmmaking norms.
  2. Exploring New Ideas: Deleuze’s “lines of flight” represent a departure from the known and the exploration of new, uncharted ideas. In the realm of intellectual exploration in cinema, this translates to filmmakers delving into unconventional and thought-provoking subject matter that goes beyond mainstream or commercial storytelling.
  3. Pushing Boundaries: Intellectual exploration often entails pushing the boundaries of what cinema can achieve. Filmmakers who embrace “lines of flight” challenge the limitations of traditional narrative and visual techniques, introducing innovative approaches that encourage viewers to think deeply and critically.
  4. Cultural and Social Commentary: Both intellectual exploration in cinema and Deleuze’s “lines of flight” offer opportunities for filmmakers to engage in cultural and social commentary. These approaches enable the exploration of pressing issues, the deconstruction of prevailing norms, and the promotion of dialogue on important topics.
  5. Artistic Freedom: “Lines of flight” and intellectual exploration emphasize the importance of artistic freedom. Filmmakers who undertake intellectual exploration are free to follow their unique artistic visions and aren’t constrained by the commercial considerations that often accompany adaptations of established IP.
  6. Incorporating the concept of “lines of flight” into intellectual exploration in cinema highlights the transformative power of filmmaking. It underscores the ability of filmmakers to transcend the confines of established conventions and encourage viewers to embark on a journey of intellectual discovery and reflection. By challenging cinematic norms and venturing into unexplored territories, cinema becomes a powerful medium for intellectual exploration, innovation, and cultural evolution.


While the idea of AFI retrospectives dedicated to middle school auteurs may seem amusing, it is essential to recognize the satirical nature of this hypothetical scenario. Middle school auteurs, as presented in this essay, represent a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the film industry’s tendency to prioritize commercial success over creative innovation. The retrospectives would serve as a humorous critique of the industry’s reliance on intellectual properties and their cynical exploitation of the middle school audience. Ultimately, the middle school auteurs’ “legacy” is a testament to the ongoing debate between artistic integrity and financial gain in the world of cinema.

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