Movies and Film: Film Financing, Production, and Distribution

Film Financing, Production, and Distribution

In 2006 Hollywood's box-office receipts totaled $9 billion. Because movies are a major industry and an expensive instrument as well as an art form, money has almost always been of vital importance in determining the meaning of the medium, from Leland Stanford's bet about how horses run—and his 1872 hiring of Eadweard Muybridge to photograph galloping horses to the latest megamerger that results in a major studio being owned by a multinational megacorporation. Who provides the dough? Who takes it? How is it distributed? How do investors recoup their investments? What strings are attached?

We'll treat this section a little like a murder mystery, "following the money" from its various sources—banks to fertilizer salesmen—in an attempt to discover how the meaning of films is in part determined by who funds them. We'll examine the three basic modes of moving money: production, exhibition, and distribution. We'll look at the different sources and methods for funding in different countries, with special reference to countries with different economies and therefore different ways of viewing films. Finally, we'll provide a list of films that take a look at the industry and economy of film.

The Economic and Industrial Setting: The Primitive Era

Why, between 1893 and 1914 (when commercial film went through its birth pangs), would anyone want to watch movies when they had opera, baseball, ballet, theater, dime novels, horseracing, boxing, and vaudeville? (I'm glad you asked.) The end of the nineteenth century coincides with a peaking in industrialism in the developed countries, especially in England, France, Germany, and the United States. This industrialization meant, first, that the technology was available for making pictures move.

But for this discussion, it's more important to remember three things about the industrial revolution:

  • The urban working classes, composed in the United States significantly of immigrants, African Americans, and children, were working in the factories for 10 to 12 hours a day. For these people, there was less time and not much money for entertainment.
  • Industrialism gave the middle classes a greater amount of leisure time and disposable income.
  • The pace of everyday life for everyone was generally increased, in the same way that today we think of computers as having speeded everything up.

Film was the entertainment response to these facts of industrial life. In its first incarnations as "mutoscopes" and "kinetoscopes," film appealed to thrill seekers who wanted—or only had time for—a few seconds of entertainment. As we discuss the economy of Hollywood, keep in mind that, even as the one-reeler becomes the 90 minute feature film, movies remain shorter and cheaper than the several-hour "legit" stage production of Hamlet.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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