Updated: Jan 24
Today, I’m hitting you with a new film production post! Ok, so we’ve taken a look at a broad sense of filmmaking, what makes it a story, how it’s made and what it takes to make it. So, we’ll take a deeper look into the industry of film production, and what makes it such a great medium for storytelling and art. Essentially, we’re going to really dig in and see what it means for films to be a story, a piece of art and an industry, in a single 1 ½ hour moving audio-visual.
So, for those of you who aren’t film buffs, or don’t really care for the in-depth knowledge, then why don’t you take a look at my other sections, they’re much more interesting, but for those of you who want to know, and who are in the midst of studying film production, media and similar courses, then carry on. From now on, these sorts of posts will become more like an essay, and really look into what makes film a film, and what makes them interesting. Of course, you’ll also get a few film reviews, but they too will take a more in-depth approach, rather than what I think makes it a good film.
Anyway, I’m blabbing, let’s get going!
FILM IS AN INDUSTRY, AN ART FORM AND A STORY
Ok, so what do I mean by this statement. First of all, let’s look at film as an art form. As I’ve probably mentioned before, film is an art, because it not only entertains, but tells a story. Most films have a concept, a basic plot and require artistic vision to create it. It’s hailed as an art form, just as theatre, literature and yes, art pieces in galleries, are. But why is there a distinction between art and entertainment, because of where a film is made?
This is simple, most people associate “art” itself with the elites. So, think about artists from the Renaissance Period, or impressionists, like Monet, or abstract geniuses like Picasso. Their pieces are highly coveted because they are inventors in their own right. They used their own techniques to create the pieces we have today, and we, as a viewer, call it “high art”. Essentially, thanks to those who can pay for it, “art” is “highbrow”.
Now, think about “entertainment”. Entertainment is defined as a piece of work, designed to excite and entice the masses. So, what this means is that those who can’t afford “highbrow” art will turn to pieces and works that are designed to excite them as a whole, just as “art” does for the elites and their private viewings.
Film – A History
In terms of filmmaking, we need to go back to when it was invented more than 100 years ago, in the late 1880s and 1890s. Back then, art meant theatre productions, operas, literature and gallery pieces. Art was something that the nobility and royalty could afford, while vaudeville acts, like circuses, travelling troupes and magicians were considered entertainment, and readily available for the masses. Now, during this time, inventors like Thomas Edison were becoming more and more interested in the invention of the camera, and many attempted to create one that made moving images.
Many early versions, of what would later become a film camera, were nothing more than sideshow machines. You insert a penny, watch through a peephole, and be entertained for a few seconds by the images that the machine gave you. Think of it this way, they were big and bulky machines that used a kaleidoscope mechanism to create their version of a moving image. However, these “films” were rather short, and basically amounted to the same value as a flip book, which was apparently invented in 1868 (Fliptomania.com, 2014). They were nothing more than pieces of entertainment that the masses queued up for, because they were affordable to watch.
However, with Edison’s invention of the Kinetoscope, and Lumiere’s refinement of the film plates that were used, to create their Cinématographe (Puttnam, 1997, p. 16 -17), film started to become something a little more spectacular. Even though the first few films ever made were about 15 seconds long, just like the penny machines, they were much more interesting. That’s because instead of viewing the moving images in a box, these films were projected onto a screen, thanks to the Lumiere brothers, whose Cinématographe not only acted as a camera, but as a projector as well.
The Major 5
Now, let’s fast forward, past the Edison-Lumiere debacle, and the dispute over the rights of the invention, and let’s take a look at the birth of the first Major 5. For those of you film students, who’ve been studying for the past few years, you will have heard of this title, but for those of you who haven’t, the Major 5 is a title for the most successful studios in Hollywood. Initially, this meant the very first 5 studios, who established themselves in Hollywood, and grew in their popularity, thanks to the films they were making. These studios were Metro Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers, RKO and 20th Century Fox (History.com, 2018).
What made these studios so popular wasn’t just the films, it was people too. In fact, not one of these studios were founded by anyone from the nobility, who’d largely stayed in Europe, before USA’s independence. They weren’t founded by those who had worked in politics, or in any of the established industries that dominated the entire east coast. These studios were founded by people, no different to those who watched their films. Paramount Pictures was founded by Adolf Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky and W. W. Hodkinson (Paramount Pictures, n.d.), MGM by Marcus Lowe and Louis B. Mayer (MGM, n.d.), RKO by David Sarnoff (Hollywood Lexicon, n.d.), 20th Century Fox by William Fox, Joseph Schenck and Darryl Zanuck (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019), and of course, Warner Bros by the Warner brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack (Success Story, n.d.).
If you looked up their names now, you’ll probably find their biographies, and many of them were newspaper boys, shoe shiners, factory workers, “ordinary” people, who simply found their luck by creating an industry built on the vaudeville act of watching other people and their drama. They created their fortune, simply by travelling west, where the west coast was still largely unused, and the influence of the domineering industries from the east couldn’t reach. By establishing their base in Los Angeles, these now-monopolies hired local miners and workers to build their studios, and star in them, so that they could make something out of the burgeoning film industry. Thus the Golden Age of Hollywood began, and these founders pocketed enough money to last them a lifetime (maybe even two).
Of course, nowadays, you’ll find that some of the studios have been replaced. So, instead of MGM, which had gone bankrupt in 2010 (Andrew Clark, 2010), RKO, which was in decline and was completely dismantled in 1957 (Schatz, n.d.) and Paramount Pictures, which is still in production today, but its box office income, compared with that of the other studios that are currently named, isn’t as high, despite still racking up billions of dollars in royalties, you’ll find the names Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Columbia Pictures (Reeds, 2018) instead. Why? Simple, they earn the most money, and get the best stars.
But What Does This Have To Do With Film Being An Art?
Now, you’re probably thinking that I’m just looking at the entertainment side of film and calling it art, but that’s exactly it. These studios churned out films pretty much every few months because film itself was a spectacle, and because of that, films that were made by Hollywood were simply classed as “entertainment” because they were made for the masses, never mind the fact that they were the inventors of so many film techniques, which independent filmmakers use today, to create their “pieces of artwork”.
But I have to be fair, and I do need to look at the “artistic” side of film too. So, let’s take a look at the other end of the scale, in France, who were the competitors to the USA, at the beginning of the film industry’s timeline. Let me ask you this, first, can you name at least 3 major studios from Europe that could rival Hollywood?
I bet you had to do some research right? That’s because, although their productions don’t rake in the billions, like Hollywood, they don’t care. For European filmmakers, it isn’t about the money, or if it is, it isn’t a major part of why they make films. They make films for the sake of the “art”. For example, if you’ve heard of the production company Pathé, you’ll have heard of films like Philomena (2013), Judy (2019) and The Iron Lady (2011). If you’ve watched these films, then you’ll understand the rest of this comparison, if not, I highly recommend it. Why?
Because the style of films that Pathé makes is less entertaining, and more enlightening than those made by Hollywood. True, every now and then, Hollywood does dish out the odd “thinking” film, but if you take a look at Pathé’s repertoire, you’ll find that most of its films are heady and require a great deal of attention, just as “high art” used to do, and still does, for the elites. This is what I mean by “artistic films” made by Europe and its partners. Unlike Hollywood, European filmmakers focus more on the “art of making film”, rather than the numbers that come with the result, and that is where the line between “art” and “entertainment” exists.
If you look at a Hollywood film, like The Avengers (2012), by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney, and compare it to the likes of, say for example The Queen (2006), by Pathé, you’ll find that the filming styles are completely different. Where The Avengers is all about the heart-racing action scenes between the superheroes and their villains, The Queen is more poignant and slow-paced. The Avengers demand attention, because it’s colourful, it’s loud and it has the biggest names. The Queen, while not starved for attention itself, with its titular character played by Helen Mirren, has a more muted palette, even the acting is underplayed, because it focuses on the drama the British Royal Family had to endure, after Princess Diana’s death.
It’s like two sides of a coin, where Hollywood is entertainment (probably tails), Europe is art (probably heads). One reason for this is the fact that Europe is an old continent. It’s set in its ways about life and culture, and because most traditional art comes from, or was made by the acquisitions of the nobility and royalty of ages past, film too is considered a platform for art. After all, you only have to take a look at their film festivals to really see why film is an art, rather than a piece of entertainment.
On the flip side, the USA we know is a relatively young country too, about 240 years old (if you take away the precolonial settlements), and with film being even younger, Hollywood itself is all about the entertaining side of things, and while many would still call it an art, it is first and foremost entertainment, because it doesn’t make you “think” in the same way European films do. It may grab your attention and hold it riveted for 1 ½ hours, but it doesn’t make you want to do more research into the subject they’re talking about, unless you’re a film critic yourself, and you see the deeper concepts behind the pomp and glory.
But You Said Film Is An Art
Film is an art, regardless of the comparisons you make between the different institutions. After all, you could call Bollywood either/or, since it showcases a different culture, but at the same time is filled with song and dance numbers that can be mind-numbing. So, no matter which side you look at, whether it’s Hollywood, Europe, Bollywood, Latin America or Asia, every film that is made has its artistic elements. It isn’t considered art, because it’s “highbrow”, it is considered art because of the connection every film has to its audience, whether it is a simple piece of entertainment, like a slapstick, or it’s a riveting drama or documentary that highlights the deeper parts of human life and our relationship to the Earth.
So, whether you consider Hollywood to be art, or European cinema to be pretentious, film is the same wherever you go. It is a medium of storytelling. It is a platform on which creatives can experiment and develop their skills. It is an industry built on entertainment, and it is an art by which people like you and me can either escape reality or learn from the messages deeply embedded in it.
Well, that’s it from me today, I’ll see you guys next time. For now, don’t forget to like, subscribe and follow for more updates and the latest posts here on Feather’s Charm and on my social media accounts. Oh, and share these posts with family and friends, those who you’d think might enjoy these topics and tips! I’ll see you later!
Image 1: iDesign Wiki, (2020), San Francisco Kinetoscope Parlor, 1895, [photograph], Available at: https://www.idesign.wiki/thomas-edisons-kinetoscope-1893/ [Accessed: 6th January 2021]
Fliptomania, (2014), 'A History of Flipbooks and the Moving Image' Fliptomania [online], Available at: 1. https://fliptomania.com/did-you-know/ [Accessed: 5th January 2021]
Image 2: Andymation, (2019), 'DISINTEGRATING Flipbook - Mr Stark I don't feel so good' YouTube [video], Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7LGMN4xWS4 [Accessed: 6th January 2021]
Puttnam, D., (1997), The Undeclared War, London: HarperCollins Publishers
History.com, (2018), 'Hollywood' History [online], Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/hollywood#:~:text=Golden%20Age%20of%20Hollywood,-The%20Golden%20Age&text=Under%20the%20all%2Dcontrolling%20studio,Columbia%2C%20Universal%20and%20United%20Artists. [Accessed: 5th January 2021)
Image 3: West, A., (2015), 'The End of the Studio System, Part 1' Criterion Close Up [online], Available at: https://criterioncloseup.com/2015/06/21/the-end-of-the-studio-system-part-1/ [Accessed: 6th January 2021]