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Studio System

First day of trial.

First day of trial. The Commonwealth v. Henri Miller.

This past week there were a variety of reports locally and nationally about the industry. In the Hollywood Reporter there was a story about how the major studios don’t actually pay to make movies anymore they are more facilities, marketing and distribution companies. It has been true for some time. The studios mitigate their risk by partnering with production companies, investment funds, etc. This practice particularly picked up steam when capital was flush pre recession and especially post recession. As the majority of the major studios are divisions of multi-billion dollar companies, risk avoidance is what they now do best.

Kim Gordon as district attorney Constance Smith.

Kim Gordon as district attorney Constance Smith.

Here in Massachusetts, there were new reports on the building of film studios in Devens and in Westborough. For any of us in the region that is even remotely tied to the industry, we all remember the grand plans of Plymouth Rock Studios. Having recently just moved back from Los Angeles at the time I knew Plymouth was never going to happen. First, even with the tax credit benefits of the state (and they are nicely generous), there were simply too many empty stages in Los Angeles and unless you signed contracts with the production companies that supplied TV programming where on Earth was the revenue going to come from to support such an ad-venture?

Paul Lussier as defense attorney John Darrow.

Paul Lussier as defense attorney John Darrow.

Anyone that has worked with me knows that I am the consummate optimist. I strive to push the envelope until it gives, but in the end I’m a realist as well (I’m a New Englander after all!). When I see with these “studio” projects and the bravado of one person who claims mysterious sources of capital with a “build it and they will come mentality,” I just shake my head. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way in this business or any other business. If you don’t build a solid foundation to a business how are you going to support it?

George Katz on the witness stand.

George Katz on the witness stand.

The one thing we have in the New England region is great talent on both sides of the camera. This talent deserves to be involved in major projects not reaching for the crumbs when a BIG film comes to town. What film projects need is capital. Can you imagine instead of building all these buildings, a few million dollars in capital were raised to produce independent films with varying budgets? Sure as the budgets grow, you need to attach bankable (usually out of town) talent to sell your project domestically and internationally. But that doesn’t mean that after you secure bankable talent at the top (say 1-3 actors) the rest can’t be cast locally between talent and facilities in the region. Imagine a talented actor who is leading an independent film produced for under $50K and the project does reasonably well in sales. As that actor’s profile starts to rise at some point they may be the “anchor tenant” of a larger film. Just like in the studio system days long past, an actor, a cinematographer, a writer all had to start somewhere. The studios had smaller films to test talent before moving them to larger projects.

Jeffrey Phillips as George Katz. Phillips played the President of the United States in First World.

Jeffrey Phillips as George Katz. Phillips played the President of the United States in First World.

For anyone that’s produced an independent film you basically need to create a virtual studio to make it work anyway. Someone handles casting, locations, editing, marketing, distribution, etc. Why not seek to formalize it by raising capital to produce films under one virtual roof rather than build buildings and wait for product to come?

John Darrow cross examines George Katz.

John Darrow cross examines George Katz.

With the digital age we live in a virtual studio system is possible. Once enough films get into the distribution pipeline and the revenue stream starts, the foundation is there to eventually build a studio. When I started a magazine I launched it on the dining room table and eventually got an office once we had revenue to support it. It’s not a foreign business concept it’s a practical one.

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2 responses

  1. Debra George

    Great article Mark! I also thought the studio building in and around Massachusetts was an odd approach. You’ve outlined a much more realistic scenario.

    December 16, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    • Thanks Debra. And, yes, I think it’s a pretty odd approach as well. I’d rather see the money go to producing films rather than buildings.

      December 16, 2012 at 7:12 pm

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