The Concession Stand

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Movie Deep Dive: The Industry Changes, Part 2

After the motion picture industry solved its problems with Thomas Edison by relocating to Southern California, it soon ran into another problem- supply. The world was clamoring for more motion pictures, far more than the industry could provide at that time. Theater owners decided to take matters into their own hands; establishing and buying studios of their own that could ensure a steady stream of product. William Fox’s Fox Films was one such enterprise. Fox’s theaters would get first pick of the studio’s films. The studio would sell its films to the highest bidders in markets without Fox theaters.

Marcus Loew, whose Loew’s Theater chain was one of the biggest exhibitors at the time, decided to assemble a supplier by buying three existing studios- Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Mayer Films. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While it might have seemed like a pricy option to buy three established studios which were owned and operated by three opinionated moguls, it turned out to be one of the smartest deals Loew had ever made.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would reign over Hollywood during the golden age of films. Led by Louis B. Mayer, who ended up winning the studio power struggle, MGM proved that it was up to the challenge of producing the pictures its parent company needed for its theaters. Mayer created a literal motion picture factory whose film making prowess was unmatched by anyone else. MGM locked up Hollywood’s top talent- actresses, actors, directors and writers- providing them with a steady income based on their value to the studio. Whereas many in Hollywood today have to hustle for parts, at MGM the talent were full time employees, making weekly pay regardless of whether they were actively working on a project. Mayer’s dream factory often seemed to be less of a dream and more of a factory.

MGM would become the gold standard in Hollywood; the studio that all others would be judged against. Nobody could make films as quickly or efficiently as MGM and nobody had more power than its leader, Louis B. Mayer. Mayer’s power and influence wouldn’t insulate him or his studio from Hollywood’s next big challenge.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie Deep Dive: The Industry Changes, Part One

Much has been made of recent comments made by acclaimed directors who derided the type of big budget movies that have become a staple of modern cinema. Bizarrely enough, the media has highlighted these statements as though they were anything other than a few older talents bemoaning the fact that these young people dared trampling on their lawns. The rise of big budget movies has happened because of changing audience expectations and competition. Adapting to change is nothing new and something that both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola took advantage of themselves in the 1970’s when an even older group of legends bemoaned their lawn trampling. This week we’ll look at past changes and how Hollywood dealt with them. As we’ll see, the only constant in Hollywood is change.

Our story begins not in Hollywood, but in New Jersey. The burgeoning motion picture industry got its start in New Jersey, centered around Thomas Edison’s company. Edison had the earliest patents for motion picture equipment which originally consisted of a kinetoscope and a kinetoscope viewer. His early equipment would take numerous, quick pictures that when flipped would appear to depict moving scenes. Customers could view these vignettes at arcades where they would peer inside a machine to see them.

While some of the machines would feature risqué film of women in bloomers, mainstream machines would have short, captivating vignettes. The technology behind these “motion pictures” would advance quickly. Eventually, filmmakers could make short films that could then be projected on a screen to large audiences. The public soon had an insatiable desire to watch these films and the young entertainment business would spring up in New Jersey.

While Thomas Edison would attract these businesses to New Jersey he would also be responsible for chasing them away. The young studios wanted to buy Thomas Edison’s equipment outright, but Edison only wanted to lease them out. Additionally, Thomas required a royalty from every picture filmed with his cameras. These startups could barely afford to make their pictures to begin with. Having to pay an additional royalty to Edison on top of the camera rental threatened to kill the industry before it began. Enterprising “entrepreneurs” swooped in to build and sell their very own cameras, which probably violated a few of Edison’s patents. These grey market cameras were irresistible to the studios up until Thomas Edison sent in his goons to bust up studios he suspected were using equipment that violated his patents.

Yes, Thomas Edison had “goons”. These violent altercations proved to be bad for business, but instead of encouraging the studios to use his cameras, Edison encouraged the movie industry to make its first big change. The studios decided to move as far away as they could to escape Edison’s wrath- to Los Angeles, California.