The Hollywood Studio System Film Studies Essay

1634 words (7 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 Film Studies Reference this

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In the 1930s Hollywood was dominated by “The Big Five” which included Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount, RKO,MGM and Fox . There were also a number of smaller studios such as Universal Pictures, United Artists and Columbia Pictures , but in the early 1930s they never got to the same level of power as the others. The idea of a Studio system was set up between 1910 and 1920 and it stems from the fact that the studios had control of every aspect of the film industry. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s when the film industry was just starting out, production, distribution and exhibition were actually controlled by different companies. But by the 1930s the Studios actively controlled all aspects of the film industry from production to exhibition. They did this through a large number of trade agreements and through working together to help their joint issues. While according to records during 1900-1925 there were 64 film studios by the 1930s 95% of all revenue from Film was controlled by eight studios, “The Big Five” and the “Little Three”.

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The start of the studio system was in 1910 and was started by Adolph Zukor. Zukor used his Famous Players company to make films and then distributed them around the world using his Paramount cinemas. It was Zukor that started the studio system and saw how best to sell film. Zukor’s aim was to make a stable system for selling and distributing films. Zukor first act was to take a look at the star system that been growing in American theatres, mainly in the Vaudeville theatres which held shows that were made up of a number of different acts. To help sell these shows, they would advertise which stars would be at the show . Zukor was also very interested in the French company Pathe. Pathe was the largest of the French film companies and was the first to have a global film empire and by 1906 they had offices in New York, London, Berlin, Vienna, they also had offices in south-east Asia,South America and Africa. The Pathe company was also the first to set up a system of mass producing films .Being able to create so many films so quickly meant they were able to flood the market with their products. Zukor also created a factory-like setting for the creation of his films, where each bit was handled by a different part of the company such as a set and costume. This allowed him to streamline the movie making process by having a number of movies being worked on at one time.

By 1915 Zukor distributed all his movies using his Paramount cinemas. Now Zukor owned every aspect of his film’s production, distribution and exhibition and the studio system was born but, he still did not have a proper distribution network set up. When World War 1 broke out Pathe and a large number of other European film companies lost a large amount of their power and distribution networks. The war did not stop US companies who did not suffer at the disruption in Europe but actually grew from it. It was during this period that Zukor developed a system for distribution. He created a system based on “runs”, cinemas would be give a “run” such as first-run, second-run etc. The larger cinemas in large cities were given first-run status which meant that the film would be shown there first, it would then be shown in the second-run cinemas and overseas. The film would then not be shown for a period of time, which gave the film a chance to build up hype and demand. Without the intervention of Television the cinemas were the only place a person could see a film, if you missed the first run you would just have to wait and once there was demand the film would run for a second time. Zukor did this for as many runs as there was demand for. This in essence meant he would be able to get as much profit from the movie as possible. Due to the war many of the European companies could not catch up to the American companies and many such as Pathe sold their US and international businesses and actually left film making. By 1920 Zukor had set up a set of principles in which to govern the film industry. Hollywood was made up of a number of corporations that were able not only to produce films but also to distribute them and present them in a way that would make the maximum amount of profit for their corporation. Their aim was through the studio system “to maintain all power in all aspects of the film business through careful strategies”.

Along with changes to the distribution and the exhibition this new studio system also changed the way these companies made their films. The first change was the sheer number of films being made. Through the new changes to distribution the companies had to make more money due to larger overheads. Before the Famous Players Company had made six to eight films a year but this only gave the exhibition side of the company less than a new film a month. It soon rose to 30 films a year giving the exhibition side two and a half new films a month. There was also a change in the actually size of the films themselves. When Zukor started in film he was fascinated by the larger films coming out of Europe. His goal was to change the image of film and make it more for the middle class. Before the studio system most films where one or two reels long. When Zukor tried to get The Passion Play (1910) shown he was told people who not sit through films that were more that two reels long. By 1914 many film such as Wraith of Gods (1914) were reaching around six reels. Maybe the largest change to film production was the film stars themselves. Zukor himself had actually foreseen the star system when he had hired James Hackett, a famous theatre star at the time. Zukor created the base for the star system when he signed Mary Pickford to work for his Famous Player’s company. He saw the need to contract stars , meaning if people wanted to see those stars they had to watch his films. By the 1930s the idea of movie stars had taken off. Films could be sold to theatres just by telling them who was staring in it. RKO was in fact saved by the selling power of two of its stars, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Due to the selling power of stars the companies made sure they put there top stars in as many films as possible, Shirely Temple was in around four films a year.

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With the cost of stars and the increase in the reel length of the average films and the invention of sound the cost of actually making a movie vastly increased. With this came a greater need to make profit on each film. The studios soon found out that the narrative films made the most money, the only time this was not true was in the case of Max Schmeling versus Joe Louis where the short of the boxing match was a bigger draw than the feature films that where shown after it. The key for the Hollywood studios was to create a system to make as many profitable narrative film as possible , they needed to make a narrative style which was formulaic and therefore easy to reproduce. If they where able to standardize they would have greater control over the qualities of the film and the standard of the product. They had already created a factory-like setting in the early 1900s and were able to create large numbers of one-reel films. While the streamlined manufacture did allow them to standardize things such as the quality of stars, sets, locations and create films quicker its main draw was it was able to keep the costs of films down. Due to its formulaic nature it was much easier to predict how much a future film would make. One of the key aspects of Classic Hollywood narration was the invention of the moving camera and while this greatly helped the filmmakers, it was actually created due to economics. With the invention of sound, cameras had grown larger and heavier, It was therefore a lot harder to move them around the set. So the studios created cranes and dollies to carry the camera, this made them a lot easier to move around the set. This actually saved money for the companies, as the cameras were more mobile it meant less time was taken moving them around meaning more of the day’s time could be done filming.

The production side of the industry was always the most public and what many people think of when they think of the studio system. But the studio system was born of the need to control the market. It was primarily led by the exhibition and distribution side of the business. When Zukor started to develop the studio system he was mainly interested in finding a way to distribute films with out having to get approval of the Trust, who were the primary distributors of the period . The studio system created by Zukor was created to make sure that the studios got the most about of profit as they could from their films. The runs and clearance were set up with this in mind. They made sure a film would only stop being shown once the maximum amount of profit had been gained from it. The star system was also just created for economical gains, with stars being contracted to studios the only way to see that star was in that studios films at there cinema. The production side of film was also changed to help maximise profit. The factory like system of creating films in the 1920s was set up to not only keep production values constant but to keep cost down. Many of the changes to the production side such as the change to cameras or the classic Hollywood narrative where created to help keep costs down or to help create more movies in a shorter time. In 1910 Zukor had wanted to show longer films of 3-5 reel but could not, he saw that to show the films he wanted he would have to control the distribution and exhibition side of the film as well as the production.

In the 1930s Hollywood was dominated by “The Big Five” which included Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount, RKO,MGM and Fox . There were also a number of smaller studios such as Universal Pictures, United Artists and Columbia Pictures , but in the early 1930s they never got to the same level of power as the others. The idea of a Studio system was set up between 1910 and 1920 and it stems from the fact that the studios had control of every aspect of the film industry. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s when the film industry was just starting out, production, distribution and exhibition were actually controlled by different companies. But by the 1930s the Studios actively controlled all aspects of the film industry from production to exhibition. They did this through a large number of trade agreements and through working together to help their joint issues. While according to records during 1900-1925 there were 64 film studios by the 1930s 95% of all revenue from Film was controlled by eight studios, “The Big Five” and the “Little Three”.

The start of the studio system was in 1910 and was started by Adolph Zukor. Zukor used his Famous Players company to make films and then distributed them around the world using his Paramount cinemas. It was Zukor that started the studio system and saw how best to sell film. Zukor’s aim was to make a stable system for selling and distributing films. Zukor first act was to take a look at the star system that been growing in American theatres, mainly in the Vaudeville theatres which held shows that were made up of a number of different acts. To help sell these shows, they would advertise which stars would be at the show . Zukor was also very interested in the French company Pathe. Pathe was the largest of the French film companies and was the first to have a global film empire and by 1906 they had offices in New York, London, Berlin, Vienna, they also had offices in south-east Asia,South America and Africa. The Pathe company was also the first to set up a system of mass producing films .Being able to create so many films so quickly meant they were able to flood the market with their products. Zukor also created a factory-like setting for the creation of his films, where each bit was handled by a different part of the company such as a set and costume. This allowed him to streamline the movie making process by having a number of movies being worked on at one time.

By 1915 Zukor distributed all his movies using his Paramount cinemas. Now Zukor owned every aspect of his film’s production, distribution and exhibition and the studio system was born but, he still did not have a proper distribution network set up. When World War 1 broke out Pathe and a large number of other European film companies lost a large amount of their power and distribution networks. The war did not stop US companies who did not suffer at the disruption in Europe but actually grew from it. It was during this period that Zukor developed a system for distribution. He created a system based on “runs”, cinemas would be give a “run” such as first-run, second-run etc. The larger cinemas in large cities were given first-run status which meant that the film would be shown there first, it would then be shown in the second-run cinemas and overseas. The film would then not be shown for a period of time, which gave the film a chance to build up hype and demand. Without the intervention of Television the cinemas were the only place a person could see a film, if you missed the first run you would just have to wait and once there was demand the film would run for a second time. Zukor did this for as many runs as there was demand for. This in essence meant he would be able to get as much profit from the movie as possible. Due to the war many of the European companies could not catch up to the American companies and many such as Pathe sold their US and international businesses and actually left film making. By 1920 Zukor had set up a set of principles in which to govern the film industry. Hollywood was made up of a number of corporations that were able not only to produce films but also to distribute them and present them in a way that would make the maximum amount of profit for their corporation. Their aim was through the studio system “to maintain all power in all aspects of the film business through careful strategies”.

Along with changes to the distribution and the exhibition this new studio system also changed the way these companies made their films. The first change was the sheer number of films being made. Through the new changes to distribution the companies had to make more money due to larger overheads. Before the Famous Players Company had made six to eight films a year but this only gave the exhibition side of the company less than a new film a month. It soon rose to 30 films a year giving the exhibition side two and a half new films a month. There was also a change in the actually size of the films themselves. When Zukor started in film he was fascinated by the larger films coming out of Europe. His goal was to change the image of film and make it more for the middle class. Before the studio system most films where one or two reels long. When Zukor tried to get The Passion Play (1910) shown he was told people who not sit through films that were more that two reels long. By 1914 many film such as Wraith of Gods (1914) were reaching around six reels. Maybe the largest change to film production was the film stars themselves. Zukor himself had actually foreseen the star system when he had hired James Hackett, a famous theatre star at the time. Zukor created the base for the star system when he signed Mary Pickford to work for his Famous Player’s company. He saw the need to contract stars , meaning if people wanted to see those stars they had to watch his films. By the 1930s the idea of movie stars had taken off. Films could be sold to theatres just by telling them who was staring in it. RKO was in fact saved by the selling power of two of its stars, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Due to the selling power of stars the companies made sure they put there top stars in as many films as possible, Shirely Temple was in around four films a year.

With the cost of stars and the increase in the reel length of the average films and the invention of sound the cost of actually making a movie vastly increased. With this came a greater need to make profit on each film. The studios soon found out that the narrative films made the most money, the only time this was not true was in the case of Max Schmeling versus Joe Louis where the short of the boxing match was a bigger draw than the feature films that where shown after it. The key for the Hollywood studios was to create a system to make as many profitable narrative film as possible , they needed to make a narrative style which was formulaic and therefore easy to reproduce. If they where able to standardize they would have greater control over the qualities of the film and the standard of the product. They had already created a factory-like setting in the early 1900s and were able to create large numbers of one-reel films. While the streamlined manufacture did allow them to standardize things such as the quality of stars, sets, locations and create films quicker its main draw was it was able to keep the costs of films down. Due to its formulaic nature it was much easier to predict how much a future film would make. One of the key aspects of Classic Hollywood narration was the invention of the moving camera and while this greatly helped the filmmakers, it was actually created due to economics. With the invention of sound, cameras had grown larger and heavier, It was therefore a lot harder to move them around the set. So the studios created cranes and dollies to carry the camera, this made them a lot easier to move around the set. This actually saved money for the companies, as the cameras were more mobile it meant less time was taken moving them around meaning more of the day’s time could be done filming.

The production side of the industry was always the most public and what many people think of when they think of the studio system. But the studio system was born of the need to control the market. It was primarily led by the exhibition and distribution side of the business. When Zukor started to develop the studio system he was mainly interested in finding a way to distribute films with out having to get approval of the Trust, who were the primary distributors of the period . The studio system created by Zukor was created to make sure that the studios got the most about of profit as they could from their films. The runs and clearance were set up with this in mind. They made sure a film would only stop being shown once the maximum amount of profit had been gained from it. The star system was also just created for economical gains, with stars being contracted to studios the only way to see that star was in that studios films at there cinema. The production side of film was also changed to help maximise profit. The factory like system of creating films in the 1920s was set up to not only keep production values constant but to keep cost down. Many of the changes to the production side such as the change to cameras or the classic Hollywood narrative where created to help keep costs down or to help create more movies in a shorter time. In 1910 Zukor had wanted to show longer films of 3-5 reel but could not, he saw that to show the films he wanted he would have to control the distribution and exhibition side of the film as well as the production.

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