The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood
Edward Jay Epstein
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During the heyday of the studio system spanning the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, virtually all the American motion picture industry’s money, power, and prestige came from a single activity: selling tickets at the box office. Today, the movie business is just a small, highly visible outpost in a media universe controlled by six corporations–Sony, Time Warner, NBC Universal, Viacom, Disney, and NewsCorporation. These conglomerates view films as part of an immense, synergistic, vertically integrated money-making industry.
In The Big Picture, acclaimed writer Edward Jay Epstein gives an unprecedented, sweeping, and thoroughly entertaining account of the real magic behind moviemaking: how the studios make their money. Epstein shows how, in Hollywood, the only art that matters is the art of the deal: major films turn huge profits, not from the movies themselves but through myriad other enterprises, such as video-game spin-offs, fast-food tie-ins, soundtracks, and even theme-park rides.
The studios may compete with one another for stars, publicity, box-office
receipts, and Oscars; their corporate parents, however, make fortunes
from cooperation (and collusion) with one another in less glamorous markets, such as cable, home video, and pay-TV.
But money is only part of the Hollywood story; the social and political milieus–power, prestige, and status–tell the rest. Alongside remarkable financial revelations, The Big Picture is filled with eye-opening true Hollywood insider stories. We learn how the promise of free cowboy boots for a producer delayed a major movie’s shooting schedule; why stars never perform their own stunts, despite what the supermarket tabloids claim; how movies intentionally shape political sensibilities, both in America and abroad; and why fifteen-year-olds dictate the kind of low-grade fare that has flooded screens across the country.
Epstein also offers incisive profiles of the pioneers, including Louis B. Mayer, who helped build Hollywood, and introduces us to the visionaries–Walt Disney, Akio Morita, Rupert Murdoch, Steve Ross, Sumner Redstone, David Sarnoff–power brokers who, by dint of innovation and deception, created and control the media that mold our lives. If you are interested in Hollywood today and the complex and fascinating way it has evolved in order to survive, you haven’t seen the big picture until you’ve read The Big Picture.
When two studios see that their competing films are headed for opening on the same weekend, both have to reconsider that date, since, as a Sony executive said, “there is no longer a clear path for the advertising drive. ” The studio whose film has the weaker appeal to the target audience has a strong incentive to change its slot, since if the NRG numbers prove correct, it stands to get a smaller share of a confused and cross-pressured audience and will probably fail. By moving such films to another weekend, even if it is a less optimal one for audience size, they give their marketing campaigns a better chance to succeed in getting a large part of that smaller audience to turn out.
The Midas Formula Part Five: The Social Logic of Hollywood 22. Homo Luden 23. The Communal Instinct 24. The New Elites 25. Hollywood at Work and Play 26. The Culture of Deception Part Six: The Political Logic of Hollywood 27. The Pictures in Our Heads 28. The Rules of the Game 29. The World According to Hollywood Epilogue: The Once and Future Hollywood Notes Acknowledgments About the Author Also by Edward Jay Epstein Copyright For Clay Felker 1 The Two Hollywoods The Twilight of the Gods On March 20, 1948, the elite of Hollywood, braving freezing temperatures and gale-force winds, filed past the newsreel cameras into the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for the twentieth annual presentation of the Academy Awards.
And the theater owners no longer restrict their bookings to only major studio releases. So the six studios now have to compete with studioless studios (such as MGM, DreamWorks, and Artisan Entertainment), as well as other independent filmmakers, for the desirable times and screens at the multiplexes. Indeed, the six major studios, including their subsidiaries, accounted for less than half of the 473 films released in the United States in 2003. As a result, their take from the American box office totaled only about $3.
He also changed the company’s name to Vivendi (derived from the Latin “to live”), which he believed had a more international-sounding ring, and adopted a new mission: “to provide audiences throughout the world with entertainment and information across all distribution platforms. ” His goal, as he told one of his American investment bankers, was to create a company that would “out-Murdoch” Murdoch. Meanwhile, he planned to spin off the company’s industrial water assets into a separate entity. Even though Vivendi already controlled a film studio in Paris—StudioCanal, through Canal Plus, French films could not attract the audiences Messier sought for his global “distribution platforms.
Although less than a decade earlier Sumner Redstone had made the case that the Hollywood studios depended for their survival on the video business of Blockbuster Entertainment, Viacom moved in 2004 to divest itself of that business. With fewer potential buyers coming into video shops to rent and return videos, they were becoming far less important than mass merchandisers for studio sale of DVDs. The studios now needed sought-after shelf space from retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Circuit City.