Movie studio

A movie studio is a company which develops, equips and maintains a controlled environment for the making of a film. This environment may be interior (sound stage), exterior (backlot) or both.



In casual usage, the term has become confused with production company, due to the fact that, especially in the United States, the major, well-known production companies of the "Golden Era of Film" (roughly 1925-1960) normally owned their own studio subsidiaries. In point of fact, however, worldwide, and even in the USA, most production companies did not own their own studios but had to rent needed space at independently-owned studios which, just as frequently, never produced a film of their own.


In 1893, Thomas Edison built the first movie studio in the USA when he constructed the Black Maria, a tarpaper-covered structure near his laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey, and asked circus, vaudeville and dramatic actors to perform for the camera. He distributed these movies at vaudeville theatres, penny arcades, wax museums and fairgrounds. Other studio operations followed in New Jersey, New York City and Chicago.

But in the early 1900s, companies started moving to Los Angeles, California, because of the good weather and longer days. Although electric lights existed at that time, none were powerful enough to adequately expose film; the best source of illumination for motion picture production was natural sunlight. Some movies were shot on the roofs of buildings in Downtown Los Angeles. Another reason that early movie producers located in Southern California was to escape Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company, as he owned almost all the patents relevant to movie production at the time. The distance from New Jersey made it more difficult for Edison to enforce his patents.

The first movie studio in the Hollywood area was Nestor Studios, which was opened in 1911 by Al Christie for David Horsley. In the same year, another fifteen Independents settled in Hollywood. Other studios eventually settled in such towns and districts in the Los Angeles area as Culver City, Burbank and Studio City in the San Fernando Valley.

By the mid 1920s the evolution of a handful of American production companies into wealthy film industry conglomerates, which owned their own studios, as well as their own distribution divisions, theaters, contracted performers and filmmaking personnel, led to the incorrect equation of "studio" with "production company" as a result of industry slang. Five large companies, Fox (later 20th Century Fox), Loew’s Incorporated (parent company for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Paramount Pictures, RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) and Warner Bros., came to be known as the "Big Five", the "majors" or "the Studios" in trade publications such as Variety and their management structures and practices came to be called the Studio system. Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures and United Artists also fell under these rubrics, although they did not own their own theaters to play only their own productions: United Artists, in fact, also did not its own studio or contract personnel, and functioned only as a financier-distributor.

The Big Five's ownership of theaters was eventually opposed by eight independent producers, which included Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Walt Disney and Walter Wanger, and in 1948 the U.S. government won a case against Paramount in the Supreme Court, the ruling being that this high level of power constituted a monopoly and was therefore against the law. This decision effectively helped end the "studio system" and The Golden Age of Hollywood, along with the economic after-effects of World War II on the general American economy.

By the mid-1950s, when television proved a profitable enterprise that was here to stay, movie studios started also being used for the production of programming in that medium. Some companies, such as Republic Pictures, eventually sold their studios to TV production companies. With the end of "the Studios" and the continued incursion of television into the audience for film, more and more to companies became simply management structures which put together artistic teams on a project-by-project basis, usually renting space from some of the surviving studios, which is still the norm today.

Production and Distribution

(needs de-merging)

According to a 2000 study by ABN AMRO, only about 26% of Hollywood movie studios' worldwide income came from box office ticket sales; 46% came from VHS and DVD sales to consumers; and 28% came from television (broadcast, cable, and pay-per-view).

Once a movie is completed, the movie studio first releases the movie to theaters, typically opening the movie as widely as possible (over 3000 screens for the largest blockbusters), and backed by a very widespread and expensive television advertising campaign. Attendance for an attractive movie is typically highest in the first week of release, and drops substantially with each successive week. Movie theaters pay a percentage of movie ticket sales to the movie studio as the film rental fee. This percentage can be as high as 90% for certain blockbuster movies, and the percentage drops with each successive week the movie is shown; the average percentage due to the movie studio is about 55%.

This differs from the practice decades ago in the United States, when a movie was released in a few dozen theaters and spread after receiving good "word of mouth" and good reviews, moving around the country for several years.

After the movie's theatrical run is almost completely spent, the movie is introduced for sale and rental to consumers, on VHS and DVD. For about six weeks, this is the only way potential customers can watch the movie.

After the six-week protected window on video, the movie is shown on pay-per-view stations (both on cable TV and satellite TV) for a period ranging from 2 to 6 weeks. The studio gets around 50% of the resulting income.

After a period of exclusive pay-per-view showing (ranging from 3 weeks to 3 months), the movie is shown on premium pay TV channels, like HBO and Showtime. The movie studio receives a fixed payment based on the movie's previous performance in theaters, averaging from US$6 million to US$8 million, and reaching US$25 million for some blockbusters.

After about 18 months of showing on premium pay TV channels, the movie appears on network television or on a basic cable channel (like TBS, TNT, or USA Network) for 12 to 18 months, or in some cases for several years (ABC and its affiliate networks currently have 10-year broadcast rights to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). The network typically pays from US$3 million to US$15 million, depending on the movie and the number of runs.

After the network television runs are complete, the movie goes into playout runs on cable before entering television syndication for broadcast and/or basic cable television, receiving payments based on the size of the market that sees the movie, and ranging up to US$5 million in the largest markets.

In most cases a theatrical film will bypass pay-cable runs for broadcast television because the cost of running these films may be too expensive for such networks as HBO, Showtime, and Starz to run. For example, in the early 1990s, Universal Studios pieced together a package of films for pay-cable networks to acquire. After these networks passed due to its tremendous cost, Universal allowed CBS to acquire the package, thus these films went from pay-per-view cable directly to broadcast television (with obvious edits made due to network standards). Many recent Disney animated films (such as Lilo and Stitch and Mulan) have also bypassed pay-cable runs and have gone directly to broadcast television (in this case, ABC).

On very rare occasions a film will bypass pay-per-view and go directly to broadcast television. In 2000, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace virtually went from home-video release to a broadcast run on the Fox network without ever seeing any premium cable release, although its sequel, Attack Of The Clones bypassed pay-per-view and went straight to HBO for its standard pay-cable run.

Some early movie studios

See also


PBS Frontline, "the monster that ate hollywood" ( ja:映画スタジオ


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