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A movie studio (aka film studio) is, in the established sense of the term, a company that distributes films. Literally, however, the term denotes a controlled environment for the making of a motion picture. This environment may be interior (sound stage), exterior (backlot), or both. In general parlance, the term is synonymous with "major film production company," due largely to the fact that the leading production companies of Hollywood's "Golden Age"—stretching from the late 1920s to the late 1940s—owned their own studio facilities, as do a few today. However, worldwide (and even in the United States) the majority of production companies have never owned their own studios, but have had to rent space at independently owned facilities that, in many cases, never produce a film of their own.

Beginnings

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

In the early 1900s, companies started moving to Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, because of the good weather and longer days . Although electric lights were by then widely available, none were yet 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 Angelesmarker. Early movie producers also relocated to Southern California to escape Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company, which controlled 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 Hollywoodmarker area was Nestor Studios, opened in 1911 by Al Christie for David Horsley. In the same year, another fifteen independents settled in Hollywood. Other production companies eventually settled in the Los Angeles area in places such as Culver Citymarker, Burbankmarker, and what would soon become known as Studio Citymarker in the San Fernando Valleymarker.

The "majors"

The Big 5

By the mid-1920s, the evolution of a handful of American production companies into wealthy film industry conglomerates that owned their own studios, distribution divisions, and theaters, and contracted with performers and other filmmaking personnel, led to the sometimes confusing equation of "studio" with "production company" in industry slang. Five large companies, 20th Century-Fox, RKO, Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Loews (MGM) 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 collectively came to be known as the "studio system."

The Little 3

Although they owned few or no theaters to guarantee sales of their films, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists also fell under these rubrics, making a total of eight generally recognized "major studios". United Artists, although its controlling partners owned not one but two production studios during the Golden Age, had an often tenuous hold on the title of "major" and operated mainly as a backer and distributor of independently produced films.

The minors

Smaller studios operated simultaneously with "the majors." These included operations such as Republic Pictures, active from 1935, which produced films that occasionally matched the scale and ambition of the larger studio, and Monogram Pictures, which specialized in series and genre releases. Together with smaller outfits such as PRC TKO and Grand National, the minor studios filled the demand for B-movies and are sometimes collectively referred to as Poverty Row.

The independents

The Big Five's ownership of movie theaters was eventually opposed by eight independent producers, including Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Walt Disney, and Walter Wanger. In 1948 the federal government won a case against Paramount in the Supreme Courtmarker, which ruled that the vertically integrated structure of the movie industry constituted an illegal monopoly. This decision, reached after twelve years of litigation, hastened the end of the studio system and Hollywood's "Golden Age".

Film to television

Midway through the 1950s, with television proving to be a profitable enterprise not destined to disappear any time soon -- as many in the film industry had once hoped -- movie studios were increasingly being used to produce programming for the burgeoning medium. Some midsized film companies, such as Republic Pictures, eventually sold their studios to TV production concerns.

Today

With the breakup of domination by "the Studios" and the continued incursion of television into the cinematic audience, the major production companies gradually transformed into management structures that simply put together artistic teams on a project-by-project basis and distribute the finished products. Their studio spaces or backlots have been in most cases retained and are available for rental.

Notable movie studios



See also

Greenpoint Terminal


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