Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1209: What It Takes To Make Movie Studio

Reading The Genius Of The System by Thomas Schatz is an eye opening experience, letting you know exactly what it takes to make movies and to build a company that makes and releases movies on a professional level.

Making a movie is relatively easy when you boil it down to the basic elements: Money & Time.

Anyone with the money and the time to make a movie can do it.

Whether or not they make a good movie is totally up to the talent of the filmmakers.

But what does it take to make and release movies on a consistent professional basis?

Well, that takes, not just an army, as Orson Welles said, but an organization, perhaps a company or what we have come to call a "studio" whether they actually own real physical studios or not.

Let's have a little thought experiment.

Let's say that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and the Sultan of Brunei all drop dead, and the shocker is that they have left their combined fortunes to you. You, as a movie fan, decide you're going to make movies, but without buying a major studio, you're going to start your own.

What will you need?

Well, it's not so much what you need, but who you will need.

Your intention is not to make a bunch of movies no one will see, you want to make movies that people see, and build a self-sustaining business. Now let's look at who you will need.

Let's start at the top, titles may vary, depending on the structure and nature of the company, so I made up some vague descriptions.

Artist's conception of a movie studio's executive board.
BUSINESS ADMINISTRATOR: Every business needs someone to run it. Someone to handle the money, negotiate contracts, and oversee the business aspects of the company as a whole.

PRODUCTION CHIEF: This is the person who decides what to do in the creative realm. They're the one who picks and develops projects, forges relationships with other producers and talent, and oversees the creation of the company's output from script to screen.

Then we move onto the departments:

PRODUCTION DEPARTMENT: This answers to the Production Chief and can consist of producers or production supervisors who each oversee individual productions and do what they can to see they come in on time and on budget.

DISTRIBUTION: This department oversees the how, when, and where the movies will be released in theatres. 

MARKETING: This department oversees the selling of the movies to the general public.

HOME VIDEO: This department handles release and marketing of DVDs/Blu-Rays, and licensing to television broadcasters, and video-streaming services.

FINANCIAL: This is the department of accountants and bookkeepers who monitor spending, revenue, and all the other financial doodads and report directly to the business administrator.

That's the core people and departments that a film company needs.

Now what sort of intangible qualities does a film company need?

INSPIRATION: Despite what the Harvard MBAs say, a movie studio is in the business of selling stories. Stories that people will pay money to see, and hopefully inspire merchandise, theme park rides and other money-making ventures.

DISCIPLINE: Inspiration is one thing, but to build a company that's viable requires intense self control on the part of the filmmaker and the studio. This goes beyond staying within budgets and on schedule, it's also important to practice creative discipline. That means not letting ego make decisions that your creativity should be doing, which I will be getting to in just a second.

What qualities should a film company avoid?

As I said just a couple of lines ago, the ego, when out of control, can overwhelm creativity and lead to these two destructive tendencies:

INDULGENCE: We've seen it with filmmakers, where a director with clout spends over a hundred and fifty million dollars to turn what should have been a simple romantic comedy into an overlong, self-important mess. But it can also happen to producers and studio executives who think that bloating a project will improve their own importance. It's an all too common problem, especially with blockbusters, where the solution to every problem is to just overdo everything.

INTERFERENCE: This is a tendency among studio executives and certain producers to meddle needlessly in a production. This differs from enforcing discipline because discipline in needed. Interference is unnecessary.

Legendary super producer David O. Selznick burnt himself out while just in his 40s because he lost the ability to tell the difference between discipline and interference.

After the gruelling creation of his monster-hit Gone With The Wind, he began to believe that he was more than just indispensable and that everyone, regardless of talent, could not do the simplest, smallest job without his intricately detailed instructions. His meddling had gone from above-the-ordinary to downright nuclear proportions and it alienated his talented staff until they all left for other companies as soon as their contracts allowed. This forced Selznick to expend immense amounts of unnecessary energy and money out of ego and fear. During the making of his last big mega-epic Duel In The Sun, he burned through 8 directors, countless writers, and several million dollars because every single camera angle of every scene had to pre-approved by Selznick.

His output dwindled, and so did his once legendary stature within the industry, and he was pretty well spent and out of the business at an age when most studio heads would be hitting their peaks.

Those are the basics of what you need, and what you need to avoid when you're starting a movie company.

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