Wk3M1 The Studio System

The topic for this Module is the Hollywood Studio System. We we learn and discuss the merits and pitfalls of making film in a ‘factory.’

The films for screening are:

It Happened One Night, Frank Capra, 1934

Mildred Pierce, Michael Curtiz, 1945

The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock, 1963

Today’s discussion is brought to you by Group 3: Chris O’Malley and Nicholas Mertens

37 thoughts on “Wk3M1 The Studio System

  1. Chris O'Malley

    The studio system had many benefits as well as limitations on the film industry. In your opinion would it be beneficial to modern American film if Hollywood adopted more of a factory mentality? Would it be feasible for Hollywood to return to the structures and practices of the studio system? Why or why not?

    1. Andrew Wire

      On factory mentality:
      It seems simpler to have crew and talent on hand as employees. Everyone can do their job and move easily from one project to the next. Belton writes, “Each time a new film is made today, a studio must be assembled from scratch to produce it” (84). As an outsider, the idea of rounding up filmmakers and financing for every single new production feels like a waste. But, I really don’t know enough about the intricacies of the business to know if a factory mentality would or could be feasible, profitable, and/or produce quality films.

      On feasibility:
      Its feasibility is dubious. Those studio-era studios, if they still exist, are all owned by bloated conglomerates now. Films serve more functions than just being screened in theaters. In 1948, the Supreme Court made the studios separate production and distribution from exhibition, so practices like vertical integration are decidedly unfeasible at this point (82).

    2. Nick Neal

      I think you could argue that films still are produced with a factory mentality. I don’t think it would be feasible for hollywood to return to the studio system mainly because the film would loose all the sponsoring connections that it has now. Belton gave the example of Harry Potter where every service that Time Warner performed was used as an outlet to advertise for the Harry Potter films. I also find it ironic that trust busting just put the studios in the hands of bigger corporations, thus centralizing the economic power of the film industry even more.

      1. Christophe Freeman

        I agree with Nick Neal. I do believe some films in Hollywood are still made with factory mentality. These films aren’t as successful in my opinion. Approaching a film with a factory mentality takes away from the quality of the product. Its turning the art into something that can be simply produced instead of making the best quality product possible. Films that focus more on the art of cinema are generally more successful and entertaining. I’m glad that Hollywood is getting farther and farther away from the “factory mentality” and I hope it diminishes completely.

    3. Levi Brown

      It would cripple the studio if they decided to make the switch back to factory production. If studios kept a staff employed year round, they would need to make X amount of films to generate Y amount of revenue and with today’s audiences being sharper than ever, and the advent of online distribution systems (Netflix, Hulu, HBO’s stupid thing) it’s an insurmountable task. It’s better for studio executives to search film festivals for completed works to distribute and to fund and produce films they believe to be sure hits, think superhero blockbusters. Not to mention that if a studio had to put out anywhere from 5-10 films a year, they would probably all be terrible due to deadlines placed upon creative forces.

      1. Parrish Colbert

        I agree with Levi, the different platforms you can now watch a film on changes everything as far as how much and how fast things need to be generated. I think Hollywood could do without factory mentality because I feel that mentality revolves around making money instead of the creative process

    4. Shenese Doll

      I don’t think it is beneficial for a factory mentality completely. On one hand, everyone needed to make a film is there, but on the other, it is a bit controlling, and no matter what your profession, it should not control anyone. I only say that because of the fact that when an actor/actress was in a contract, some of the things in the contract such as, they are not allowed to work on any other projects outside of whomever they work for, and even controlled some of their life outside of work, like hairstyles, clothing and what they did. But the studio system was okay in that, they were able to make so many movies and get much work done. If there was a way to fuse the two together without the workers being under a tyrant…it might could work in these days..

  2. Renee Schuyten

    I don’t think it would be feasible for Hollywood to go back to a factory system. Why pay to have a crew on staff full time year round? There’s health insurance, pensions, vacation pay, social security. Today’s productions are finely honed in their budget. Your 1st AD has a schedule down to the hour of how many locations, which scenes need how many extras, which day will a crane be needed, extra cameras – B camera crew, more wardrobe and makeup people that day, extra van rentals and teamsters to move those extras, extra food… then cut them all off the next day when they’re not needed. Productions today also shoot a lot more on location – and can hire a lot of locals there instead of traveling crew. It gets even more complex when you start looking at some of the tax incentives that local governments offer (Louisiana anyone?) Finally, the example I use above of the shooting crew is just a slice of the pie in making a movie. Pre-production and post production are huge also. In the end, by paying flat rates for the big talent and hiring freelancers for everything else, it spreads out the risk of the huge expense of making a film today.

  3. Renee Schuyten

    Also, I would like to say the benefit to filmmaking in this freelance system is that you get to hire talent that specializes in the specific needs for that film. I worked on Planet of the Apes (2001) and the special effects makeup people on that film were the best in the world – absolutely amazing. I don’t think you get that level of ability with “staff”.

  4. Jennifer Machura

    I could see how it was feasible back in Hollywood’s “golden days” to use a studio system. It seems like studios were cranking out new movies like crazy and didn’t have the time to scout the city for specific talent. I don’t think it would work today, though. There are the financial issues that Renee pointed out, and then there are creativity issues (that Renee also points out). Producers, directors, and writers want believability in their films. Hiring sound mixers and production artists that have a lot of experience in a particular genre or aesthetic is much more efficient than having a staff that may have the skills, but not the experience of working on a sci-fi space epic or a horror movie.

  5. Kendrick Branch

    I also agree with Renee’s reasoning. It is not feasible for such a structure to exist in today’s industry. The creativity issues would go far beyond believability. Collaboration would improve on some levels as a crew worked together, but the idea of keeping an actor or director under a restrictive contract would not go over well with today’s talents. Styles that developed over time by keeping cinematographers, composers, art directors together for years, are built upon today buy individuals who have a different understanding of the cinema. Stars and major talents now explore and experiment with various film crews and genres quite often, providing some variety to the art.

  6. Nicholas Mertens

    All the films this week were made within the Studio Style/Era. How might these films be different if they had not been made within the Studio Style? In what ways did the Studio Style affect these films, as far as acting, stylistically, story, etc.

    1. Benjamin Romang

      It’s tough to say how each of these films would be different if they were shot outside the studio style method of that era. Even if these studios contracted outside work for visual effects, music, or acting, I imagine the end film would not be very different. It is interesting, however, to imagine certain films being directed by other filmmakers outside of their own studios. I also found that many actors would be different had studio contracts not existed. In Mildred Peirce Shirley Temple was originally considered for Veda, but was under contract with Fox. Warner Bros was hesitant to cast Ann Blyth because they would require a “loan-out” to take her away from Universal. However according to IMDB Joan Crawford played a big role in landing Ann for the role. Instances like these were very common in the Studio-Era of Hollywood, and there would be a very interesting alternate-film-history if contracts had not limited talent to individual studios.

      1. Alex Wilson

        That’s a good question and I agree with what Benjamin said. You can give two directors a script or pitch an idea to two different people, and what they are going to envision in the head as they’re taking in the information is going to be completely different. If you take a film and replace any few major positions/rolls in it and chances are you will get two very different movies. From an acting standpoint, an example I would like to use is Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man or J. Jonah Jameson played by J. K. Simmons from the Spiderman movies in the early 2000’s. I love the character each of those two men brought to their characters and simply could not imagine anyone else being able to do it as well or even closely the same.

    2. Levi Brown

      On a more serious note, each film carried certain connotation when a particular studio released it. Warner Bros. was often associated with the grittier films while MGM was known for its glamour. The textbook talks about how audiences knew that films released by certain studios would contain certain elements. Today, I don’t think that applies as much. I usually draw conclusions about the film from the production house that made it, not the distributor. I’m not expecting Twisted Pictures to be releasing the next Gary Marshall film.

        1. Renee Schuyten

          I look more at a director to set my expectations of what kind of film. I’m not going to go see a Scorsese movie if I’m looking for something light.

          1. Christophe Freeman

            I agree the director, genre, and cast are usually what people look at to decide if they want to see a film these days. Not so much the studio or production house.

    3. Shenese Doll

      Some of these films of course would be different if made outside of the the studio style era, because what may have been a comedy might would’ve been a melodrama, and so on. I think it was clever for each big-studio to have a certain style when it came to genres that they stuck to. It would have been okay for them to occasionally make something different, but to stick to generally a few genres was smart. That meant that the actors/actresses and writers and directors they had knew what to do and were good at what they did. The not so good thing about that system was, the people involved in these films, may have been looked at as one-sided, in that they only worked in one type of movie, so if they did want to write, direct, act in a different style, then it may have been hard to prove that they can do more than one genre…A story could have had the same events within a plot, but had it not been made in whatever studio it was made, I think that any film would have been different in some way.

    4. Parrish Colbert

      I think that really all comes down to how well the film was financed because I can watch It Happened One Night all day and still be as sucked into the story and environment as if it was real. If these films were not done in studio style though it would have definitely took longer to make these films because lighting and environment audio could not be controlled as well back then.

  7. Alex Wilson

    I completely agree with what Renee said. The first thing that popped into my head however is you would think if a person was being paid year round that they would also be under contract to work solely for that one studio, ex. you would have to work just for Paramount or Warner Bros. I feel as if a lot of movies are brought up with a director or actor already in mind to play their certain rolls or parts, and if contracts were the case and you couldn’t work with different studios it would put great limitations on how far some movies could go.

    1. Alex Wilson

      And after reading the comment above I’m not so confident that there aren’t such contracts now? Maybe someone more knowledgeable could enlighten me a little bit on that?

        1. Renee Schuyten

          SAG (Screen Actors Guild) was formed in 1933 in response to the abuse of the actors by the studio system. I’d say if anyone’s got a contract – it’s with the unions. They are tremendously valuable to the cast and crew on films today. When I started working, I worked on low budget jobs, flat rates for 20 hours straight with maybe one meal break, no overtime, no benefits. When I got in the union, I still worked 20 hours straight sometimes with no meal breaks (they usually feed you, though, because meal penalties are expensive!), guaranteed overtime, and eventually benefits. You still work your ass off but at least you’re well paid – and you are guaranteed some turn around time to get some sleep.

          I think there are certain directors that like to work with certain actors (Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and Helena B Carter)

  8. Evan Halleck

    I think that question can really go both ways. I think that making films completely in a studio can hurt and strengthen a film it all just really depends on the source material and what kind of film they are trying to make. Obviously a movie like CastAway one hundred percent needs to be shot out side on location to really capture the feeling that this man is trapped on an island. But a film like Life of Pi, which was nominated for several oscars and won for best cinematography, was almost completely filmed in a big warehouse with bluescreens every where. With the advance in technology like green screens and motion capturing it is possible to film a movie completely in a “factory” and really transform that room in to another world or scene.

  9. Landon Getz

    I simply don’t believe this system would work in the film industry today. Like some said above, it logically wouldn’t work. To pay workers year-round would put more pressure on a studio to produce a certain number of films a year in order to pay all of these workers. If this is the case, I believe the quality of films produced would decrease. Film is art, which should be created in its own time, not with the mentality that something has to be produced to pay the workforce. To put a long story short, if this system were to be put into effect, not only would a studio lose money, but their quality in product would significantly decrease.

  10. Steven Colonero

    I do have to agree with all that is being said, and it would also be harder for the actors themselves to choose projects because they would be limited to whatever the studio they signed their contract for has. So there would also be actors who would not be as passionate about their projects and the quality could be diminished as a result.

  11. Allison Hudson

    I don’t think anyone would bother reimplementing the Studio System today. They abused a lot of privileges by doing that so even if there was a way to go back to that, I think things would be a lot different. Actors these days wouldn’t put up with how studios were run in the 30s and 40s. Most actors probably wouldn’t accept being tied to one studio either. Studios put out about 20 films per year, which seems like plenty. They also vary in genre and actors, so they have their own style. Some actors are stuck in a genre today but getting to have a different director or studio produce each film helps keep them a little different. I think when you watch films from the Studio Era you can tell there was a definitive style. Nowadays, audiences are different. We aren’t wooed by the cinema the way people were in the early half of the century. The Studio System just doesn’t fit in with our current society and culture and I don’t think it would be beneficial to bring it back in it’s old capacity.

  12. Alexandra Freda

    I doubt the studio system would be reimplemented into contemporary film, however the factory mentality is still certainly ever present – just without the exact title. The movies made such as Marvels powerhouse (now joined up with Disney) in selling cookie cutter superhero films with essentially the same plot and different variables. In contemporary cinema most actors or actresses would be displeased with being tied to a specific contract with a specific studio exclusively, as a lot of actors and actresses may strive for blockbuster appeal but really long for the independent genre and film circuit, and may take a few larger or more mainstream films here and there for their financial means while striving for more independent projects. Generally the public in terms of todays culture looks at the actors themselves, sometimes the directors or other cast members but generally the leading actors and actresses as to whether or not they are interested in seeing a film. Limiting these individuals to a specific studio seems improbable if not impossible at this point in time in film history.

    1. Alexandra Freda

      Not a part of the discussion presented – but I thought it was interesting that The Birds plot was largely taken from the screwball comedy genre mixed with suspense and horror, which is in the next module (comedy that is). He said the initial humor followed by horror would turn the suspense into shock.

  13. David Martin

    I think the answer to whether cinema would be better off produced in a factory line “studio system” format is simply the answer as to which format grants greater artistic license. Cinema is art before business so i think as filmmakers we should seek the option which provides the clearest path for pure artistic vision.

  14. Chris O'Malley

    Some people have discussed how studios no longer have recognizable styles. Why do you think the studios didn’t stick with their distinct styles? Are there any that still do?

  15. Angelo Lima

    I wasn’t very interested in The Birds like before when I had watched the film the past several years ago. I think the problem is because of the too straight forward dialogue with character and personality of the character compared to now a days where characters are much more developed into the plot of the story content.

    1. Evan Halleck

      I agree. I really think that our generation of film viewers really are used to watching films that have really well developed characters with personalities that a viewer can really figure out what that person would be like if they actually existed. I think that we are just not used to seeing the straight forwardness of characters that was used in older films like this which makes it weird for us younger generations when we are watching them.

  16. Angelo Lima

    I couldn’t happen to notice that both of the other films, It Happened 1 night and Mildred Pierce were both shot in black and white. If the films would have been produced outside the boundaries of a factory line system then the group making the film would have had more of an artistic touch on their film especially with the denouncing characteristic of a primary affect on a black and white film.

  17. Savannah Steiner

    Hollywood adopting more of a factory mentality would be practical for the studios, but it wouldn’t be beneficial to modern American film in the least bit. In doing so studios would take film back to the roots, which may sound enticing, but would ruin all the progress film making has made. Safe plots, simple characters, and predictable story structures would be present once more- allowing studios to make more crowd pleasing films that will pull in money.

    The biggest problem with this is that the film wouldn’t rake in any cash, because audiences simply aren’t interested in that style of film anymore, it’s way too safe. Not that those films are any lesser than what’s released now, it’s just a period in film that we’ve grown pass. What sells now are films with fan bases. Superheroes, books, spy franchises, you name it it’s generally an adaptation of previous material. And in an odd way, the most successful films for studios turned out to be the ones that started off as risks. Batman Begins, Iron Man, Harry Potter are some recent films that come to mind, all being films in which the director started off with small projects and finally reached to a point where they could test their ability and luckily the audiences responded generously.

    It’s the growth of such filmmakers, stars, and creative minds that really pull audiences in these days- faces and stories that they can follow as opposed to faceless production crews churning out film after formulaic film. It worked back then and provided us with some great spectacle films, and that’s that. That part of film history is done and it’s time for studios to embrace what’s happening now and adapt to what’s working.

    Hollywood is at a point where it’s all about taking risks. After being out in Los Angeles for the summer, I’ve heard from several individuals in the business that Hollywood now is a very confusing time. Studios can’t create a game plan, because it would have to change 6 months later. Netflix, Hulu, and online streaming have created a market in which money is being spread out more instead of all going into the theaters like it used to. Studios are even beginning to notice this and put money into companies to create original content for such outlets, i.e. Arrested Development, House of Cards. It’s impossible for Hollywood to go back to the old structure because they would fall flat on their face by actually making the biggest risks to create the safest of films.

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