Film Production: Art vs.Business

Late in the 19th century, moving pictures emerged as a public amusement. They succeeded because they spoke to the imaginative needs of a broad-based audience. All the traditions that emerged - telling fictional stories, recording actual events, animating objects or pictures, experimenting with pure form - aimed to give viewers experiences they couldn't get from other media. The men and women who made films discovered that they could control aspects of cinema to give their audience richer, more engaging experiences. Learning from one another, expanding and refining the options available, filmmakers developed skills that became the basis of film as an art form. During the 1910s and 1920s, many films that aimed only to be entertaining opened up new possibilities for film editing. As for the matter of value, it's clear that popular traditions can foster art of high quality. Cinema is an art because it offers filmmakers ways to design experiences for viewers, and those experiences can be valuable regardless of their pedigree. Films for audiences both small and large belong to that very inclusive art we call cinema.

Art vs Business

Sometimes, too, people treat film art as opposed to film as a business. This split is related to the issue of entertainment, since entertainment generally is sold to a mass audience. Again, however, in most modern societies, no art floats free of economic ties. Novels good, bad, or indifferent are published because publishers expect to sell them. Painters hope that collectors and museums will acquire their work. True, some artworks are subsidized through taxes or private donations, but that process, too, involves the artist in a financial transaction. Films are no different. Some movies are made in the hope that consumers will pay to see them. Others are funded by patronage (an investor or organization wants to see the film made) or public monies (France, for instance, generously subsidizes film projects).

Filmmaking is an artistic expression. But it is also a huge business. Across the country and around the world, cinema has thrived enormously. Production companies and film schools can be found in virtually any country these days. The economics of the industry is quite complex. From the producer that earns millions of dollars per picture to the gaffer that could be fired tomorrow, the range of the business encompasses union and non-union professionals, contractors, freelancers, and more. It spreads around the nation and employs projectionists, ushers, and corn farmers. Even though theatrical runs generate the greatest revenue to studios, selling and renting discs create a submarket that is responsible for the livelihood of many people.

Movies are make-believe. They are designed to portray reality to such an authentic degree that even stories taking place millennia ago in far-away galaxies look true and convincing. In historical movies or science fiction films this becomes obvious, as there is no such “reality” which might be used to film in - but of course this is true for stories set in everyday life as well, and even for documentaries to a certain degree. Considering that it takes a small “army” of technicians, actors, and other personnel to create this illusion it becomes clear that there is no “let’s just go ahead and shoot” without meticulous preparation, planning, and legal work far in advance to any first day of cameras rolling. Filmmaking is a very complex business, whichever way you look at it. First there is the idea, then writing the script, then the financing, casting, crew, prep, shoot, post... the list seems to go on forever. Even experienced professionals struggle to understand how all the various parts of the filmmaking process fit together.

Leni Riefenstahl editing, Berlin 1935

Film production involves a complex set of processes that balance aesthetic, financial, and organizational needs. These processes have changed over time: some changes have arisen in response to the different kinds of film that have dominated various industrial eras; some have arisen from the changing shape of industrial organization; and others are a function of the ways in which technology has evolved. Yet even in the present day, filmmaking practices used to create different types of film can vary greatly. The production processes of a live-action film and an animated film, for instance, will differ substantially. Nevertheless, the main stages through which production moves are normally clearly identifiable regardless of the type of film involved. This process is conventionally divided into four parts: scriptwriting and funding, which deals with conceiving, planning, and financing the film project; preproduction, when key resources such as cast, crew, and sets are assembled and prepared; production during which time the film is actually shot; and postproduction, which involves editing the raw footage and sound, executing special effects, inserting music or extra dialogue, and adding titles.

Film is a blend of creativity and commercialism. It must always be remembered that most film production is an 'industry', a business designed to make money through entertainment. The profit motive of the industry cannot be stressed enough. America's film industry, for example, is the country's second largest source of export. At the same time film production is very expensive and involves high overhead costs. Finance, therefore, is essential to every stage in the life of a commercial film and those who provide the money - investors, financiers, distributors and exhibitors - have great influence over the film itself. Most of cinema’s profitability is due to the simple fact that movies reach a global audience. More often than not, the long-awaited summer blockbuster is scheduled for a simultaneous premier around the globe. Although a movie like The Dark Knight (2008) can easily open in tens of thousands of screens worldwide, no one can actually tally the amount of people that watch it because of the underworld market.

According to the LA Times in late September 2011, Hollywood's business model was poised to make a revolutionary shift. Due to a rapid 40% decline in home entertainment revenue (from the once-profitable sale of DVDs, the previous revenue model), the newest switch would be to on-demand services and the acceleration of the delivery of movies over the Internet. Many options would be developed to accommodate consumers' Internet-connected digital devices (smartphones, tablets, and TVs), in order to facilitate digital movie consumption (and collection) via downloads. The article (The Revolution Will Be Downloaded) predicted: "It may be the biggest shift in Hollywood's business model since the explosion of the DVD in the late 1990s". However, the complexity of downloading a film on one device for viewing it on another device (in the bedroom, minivan, or portable DVD player) wasn't yet clearly delineated.

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