One area of film study that is nearly always overlooked is the business and financial side. While some may find it to be less interesting than the artistic or technical aspects of cinematic achievement, it is nonetheless an important factor in how movies are made and sold.
The series of essays contained in THE CONTEMPORARY HOLLYWOOD FILM INDUSTRY covers all levels of motion pictures from a business perspective, including international sales and ancillary markets such as television and video. The industry has changed, it is more corporate, there are conglomerates that own studios, TV stations, and music distribution that combine to create one product. This book examines the industry in contemporary marketing terms, and each essay clearly explains another aspect of American film as a business.
The introductory chapter explains the new contours of the film industry, using, as an initial example, a film entitled THE MUMMY released by Universal in 1932 at a cost of less than $200,000, compared to the 1999 feature THE MUMMY, with no relation to the older movie, but also released by Universal, at a cost of $80 million. The 1932 MUMMY was followed by a handful of sequels, which were low budget B pictures that may have cost less than $100, 000. The 1999 film by that title was followed by sequels that rose in production cost. The 1999 MUMMY’s immediate followup rang in at $98 million.
These huge numbers are explained by subsequent chapters, which are clearly outlined in the book’s introduction. Essays explain corporate business practices, cross-promotions, sales figures from other levels of media, and labor politics within the industry. Perhaps to some, a book of this sort would seem that filmmaking in America has become less of a creative medium and more of a business. The corporate creativity from a business perspective is quite different than the inspired work of a director who works hard to put his vision on film. But business has always been part of Hollywood movies, and the fact that it has been so key a factor in the past 30 years makes the paucity of material unnerving for those of us who study cinema as art and/or commerce.
THE CONTEMPORARY HOLLYWOOD FILM INDUSTRY is a truly indispensable book, and a pioneering effort in understanding cinema’s business aspects. It’s thorough study of the financial side of motion pictures, complete with full lists of sources after each insightful essay, is fascinating, enlightening, and instructive.