Studios in action 1930-50 Studios in action 1930-50
Studio System As the cost of making films increased the ability of individual to finance a movie was limited. e.g. D.W. Griffith was bankrupted as his epic films like Birth of a Nation required more and more elaborate sets and equipment and bigger distribution systems to recover costs. The need for finance encouraged links with Banks and financiers for the necessary resources. This was the Studio System.
Studio System 1930-50 Making movies is about money - investing and making it. The Studio System was designed to maximise the return on the investments. This meant that that film-making became an industry with the organisation of a factory. Studios specialised in particular film types: Republic = Westerns, Paramount = European style, Universal= Horror, M.G.M.= Musicals. Studios employed their Technicians, Directors and Actors on salaries and expected them to work as required by their contracts. Studios also controlled the distribution and screening of the films as they also owned the theatres and distribution systems. Warner Bros. for example, owned the Stanley Theatre chain while RCA owned the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Theatre group.
Studio System 1930-50 Directors were expected to produce films on schedule (e.g. Curtiz made 44 films for Warner Bros between 1930-39.) compared to the present where a Director may make only one film a year. Directors had little control over the final product as editing was done by the post-production unit with Studio Executives often making final decisions. Actors were on seven year contracts to the Studios. e.g. Mae West & Joan Crawford were contracted to Paramount. Greta Garbo to M.G.M. Mary Pickford to United Artists and Erroll Flynn was contracted to Warner Bros. The contracts controlled the minutiae of the actors’ images and the roles the were to play.. They could also be loaned out to other Studios as and when it suited.
Studio System 1930-50 The effectiveness of the Studio System can be demonstrated in their market share / profitability during the period 1931-41 for the Big 8 Studios. M.G.M. was No.1 for the 11 years. Fox was No.2. Paramount was No.3 until 1943 when it overtook M.G.M. Warners was No.4. RKO was a consistent No.5. Universal Columbia United Artists Question: Can you offer an explanation why In 1932 all the Studios except M.G.M. lost money?
Studio System 1930-50 Early Censorship The Studio System was challenged by growing Governmental concern about the content of the Films being distributed. Particularly in the period 1920-30 as the Fatty Arbuckle scandal exemplified. ( http://www.ralphmag.org/fatty.html) http://www.ralphmag.org/fatty.html The concern with sex & violence as well as the reported scandals associated with the Actors and Directors raised questions about public morality. Fatty Arbuckle - falsely accused of rape of an under-age girl but banned from the screen by William Hays -the head of the MPPDA.
Studio System 1930-50 1930: Production Code: Laid down in detail what could or could not be shown or said in a movie. The code stated that: 1)No picture will lower the moral standards of the audience. 2)Only current standards of life will be presented. 3)The law will not be ridiculed. 4)The sanctity of marriage and love will be upheld. 5)Scenes of passion will not be introduced. 6)Excessive & lustful kissing & embracing will not be shown. 7)Sexual relations between Black & White is forbidden. 8)Obscenity in all forms is forbidden. 9)Nudity will not be permitted. The Self-Censorship attempted by the Studios through the Motion Pictures Producers & Distributors Association didn’t work as there was no real means of enforcing the Production Code formulated by it in 1930
Studio System 1930-50 1943: Hays resigned and Joseph Breen was appointed in charge of the newly renamed: Production Code administration. PCA insisted on a seal on all films signifying they’d met the moral guidelines of the Code. This was backed with a $25,000 fine. The PCA vetted a film from first script draft to final production. This meant that Breen could control the content of a film as this example shows: The classic film: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, almost wasn't made; Breen warned that the novel it was based on had enormous adaptation problems since the book actually suggested, among other things, that senators are controlled by lobbyists. The lack of strength to the code allowed Mae West to purr such lines as: “I can make it happen when the shades go down.” and “Is that a gun I see in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?”
Organisation of the Studio System The Owners Shareholders, Investors & Financiers. Often from the East Coast and investing to make a profit. Exhibitors: Box Office indicates popularity and profitability. Often limited by the Block Booking system imposed by the Studio. Had to screen quality as well as filler films sold in a block. Distributors: Deal with Exhibitors to provide marketable deal for Studio. C.E.O. Made decisions re schedules, budgets of A&B movies and prestige pictures. Often a shareholder or founder of the Studio but dependent on the financiers. Head of Production: Made day by Day decisions about Studio, determined individual film budgets and appointed Directors.
Studio Ownership There were three tiers of ownership during the 1930s. 1.The Big Five: Warner Bros, Paramount, RKO, MGM, Fox. 2.The Little Three: Universal, United Artists, Columbia Pictures. 3.Poverty Row - Independents: Disney, Monogram,Selznik,Samuel Goldwyn,20th Century Pictures, Republic. The Big Five
Studio Ownership These Studios had a total vertical integration of the production, distribution and exhibition of the movies. The Big Five produced 90% of the fiction films in America and controlled the distribution and exhibition of their movies nationally and internationally. Posters for the first talkie. The Jazz Singer (1927 )
Studio Ownership The Little Three: These studios were not fully integrated as they did not own their own theatres. Poverty Row-Independents: These studios were centred on “Poverty Row” (Sunset Boulevard & Gower Street. ) and concentrated on making cheap, low budget, stock footage films with second tier actors. Usually Westerns, Science Fiction, Horror or Thrillers. Disney specialised in animation. The Big Five: Had vast studios with elaborate sets for film production. Owned their own film exhibiting theatres - about 50% of the seating capacity of all first -run US theatres. Owned the distribution system for their films. Required “Block Bookings” of films. A system that forced theatre owners to take a block of 20 films (mainly cheap B grade films) in order for the studio to distribute the one A grade movie the theatre owner wanted to screen. (Block booking lasted until the US vs Paramount anti-trust case forced the studios to divest selves of their theatres.
Studio Ownership Big Five: Warner Bros, Paramount, RKO, MGM,Fox Vertical integration. Owned means of Production, Distribution & Exhibition. Dominated Movie industry 1930-50. Broken up by US vs Paramount anti-trust decision 1948. Little Three: Universal, United Artists, Columbia Pictures Lacked full Vertical Integration of production, Distribution & Exhibition.. Benefited from Paramount decision. United Artists model of contracting basis of present system. Independents: Disney,Monogram, Selznik,Goldwyn,20th Century,Republic. Niche market films.
Financing the Studio System From the beginning of the 1920’s Film Companies began to move to California attracted by: 1.Low Land prices 2.Attractive climate allowing regular out-door shooting. 3.Disparate locations within a short distance. 4.Cheap labour. 5.Distance from the Motion Pictures Patents Company which controlled film making on the East Coast. West Coast Companies sued the MPPC under anti-trust legislation forcing its dissolution in 1915. World War I shifted the European industry expertise to America giving the production companies effective domination of the international industry. By 1918 the California Movie industry produced over 90% of American films & dominated the European distribution & exhibition system. Effectively becoming an oligopoly.
Financing the Studio System From 1930-50 Eight Studios dominated Hollywood. They were vertically integrated controlling the means of production, distribution and exhibition. Exhibition was the most profitable sector as the receipts from the box office recouped the costs of production. The “first-run” cinemas delivered 75% of all theatrical revenues.This meant that the Studios controlled the money & power within the film industry. Block-Booking: The practise of forcing film exhibitors to buy cheaper B grade films in order to get the A grade films was devised by Zukor of Paramount Pictures (hence the Court case).This system guaranteed audiences for all of the Studio’s out put regardless of quality. Contract System: All staff involved with producing a film were under long-term contract with the Studio. Actors were on a 7 year contract that dictated the number of films they made and removed their ability to choose the type of film they made. Actors could be suspended without pay and their contracts extended without negotiation.
Production Process The Studio System treated movie making like a factory so that productions were made on a assembly line process. Studios needed to produce an average of one film a week to meet audience demand. The Studios broke down the tasks involved in movie production so that once the individual’s function was completed for one movie he could be moved onto another film project.
Production Process This meant that from the Director down all people on the set were salaried staff employed according to their function. A film moved from the Writing Team to the Director and the personnel selected for the film by the Producers. Once the film was shot the project was passed to the Editors who made the decisions about the final film. The Associate producer was the only person who saw the complete process concentrating on ensuring the film ran to budget and to schedule.
Production Process The Studio style developed Generic story structures or Genre. The Genre format meant that: 1.The movies offered financial guarantee. The formula could be consistently recycled to meet the demands of the target audience. The genre also allowed the Studio to predict the size of the audience and thus its profitability. 2.The genre saved money as the Studios could re-use sets, props, costumes, story-lines and actors repeatedly.
Production Process Historical Context: Between 1929-49 thev USA underwent a series of traumas: 1.Wall Street Crash. 2.The Great Depression. 3.World War II. The trauma gave the film industry a boost as the Studios offered escapism from the harsh social conditions of the time. W.W.II also meant that the film industry received government support as an “essential propaganda industry”.
Decline of the Studio System From 1949 the Studio System began to decline. While the Studios didn’t disappear their ability to control and dominate the production, distribution and exhibition of the films was limited. Reasons: 1.Divorcement: (1948) US Courts required the Studios to break up the vertical integration structures because it broke US anti-trust laws. 2.The growth of Independent Production Companies to meet the 1940s demand for films meant that the Studios faced stronger competition than the System had allowed. 3.Stars began to demand independence from the Studios. e.g.Olivia DeHavilland had sued Warner Bros over her contract. The fixed 7 year contracts were replaced with unlimited contracts. 4.Unionisation of the work-force that put an end to the unreasonable and often dangerous working practices imposed by the Studios. 5.International reaction against the Hollywood product as countries revived their own film making industries.
Decline of the Studio System 1.Competition from Television post 1950. This lead to a decline in Theatre audiences. 2.Social trends throughout the USA. e.g. a developing suburbia which meant that the central city theatres lost popularity. Peoples’ leisure focus moved to being home based. 3.Increasing production costs, decreasing revenues (Theatre audiences fell 50% between 1946 and 1956.) and the closure of 4000 cinemas limited the market for the films the studios produced. The Studio production line system was no longer viable.
Controls Controls are the factors that control the production of movies. Controls are both Internal and External. Internal = include: production processes, editorial policy, commercial considerations, codes and quality controls. External = Government and societal agencies, pressure groups, market demands, codes and industrial standards.
Controls INTERNAL CONTROLS Quality Control - A or B grade / genre Production Process (film- factory) Commercial Considerations Contract system Block Bookings Vertical Integration Code of Practice (MPPDA) EXTERNAL CONTROLS Censorship movements World Events Wall Street Crash Depression World War II - Essential industry Market Demands (Genre appeal ) Anti-Trust legislation Task: Write a brief definition of each of these controls and identify possible effects each had on the film- making industry.