Friday, January 6, 2012

The History of the Film Studio

The film studio has always been to many the most exciting aspect of film-making. When one imagines the golden era of Hollywood, images of James Dean walking the lot reading his lines while Marilyn Monroe arrives by Rolls Royce are imprinted on our minds. However we never question where the film studio came from, its purpose and the interesting history of where they originated. The history of the film production studio reaches as far back as the late 1800s and is tied intrinsically to all aspects of film production.

The First Film Studio
The first film studio, American or otherwise, was built by Thomas Edison in 1883; it was dubbed the Black Maria. The construction of the studio was similar in terms of building a warehouse although modern features such as column guards or metal rigs were not available. Made entirely of wood and tar-paper the studio cost the modest sum of $637.67; the purpose of the film studio was to film promotional footage for Edison’s own film camera which had competition in Europe from the Lumière Brothers in France.

The earliest film studio productions include ‘Fred Ott’s Sneeze’ which was five seconds of Edison’s own assistant sneezing; this became the first film ever registered for copyright. The majority of the films produced were of realistic content; magic shows, plays, vaudeville performances, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, boxing matches and of course skint-dressed women. Other than that, film studio productions were considerably dull; people boarding a train, slice of life street scenes and similar themes. Eventually Edison controlled all the patents pertaining to film studios in America and so the second rush to California occurred, this time it had nothing to do with gold.

The Birth of the Film Studio System
To avoid the patents, investors took to sunny California which provided a haven away both in climate and production. Here is where the real studios really took off; 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros and the MGM company all were established during this time. The film studios themselves were better constructed including primal air conditioning technology, second hand racking provided incredible security for the all important film reels and large open lots for filming space. Although many of these studios were left empty by the lack of adequate indoor lighting to expose the film, therefore many times the films were shot on the roof. This was the true establishment of the studio system which has in recent years become obsolete.

We all a lot to this era however as film studio hire London, New York or even Bollywood saw standard practice because of these early studios. Whether you own a British film studio in London or a simple private independent film studio, most of the revenue generated from these venues comes from hiring of the space to productions teams. While it seems incredibly obvious, if it weren’t for these early pioneers the film studio system would likely be completely different perhaps even not for the best. So the next time you head to the cinema for the latest Tom Cruise film, keep in mind over 100 years ago these film studios were shouting ‘action’ and have not called ‘cut’ since then.

Eugene Calvini is a proficient writer and cinaste with tastes for all film and television. He enjoys the rich history of Cinema, sharing it is a particular treat.