What do Movie Production Companies do?
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Usually operating under the umbrella of a major studio like 20th Century Fox, either as a sister company, subsidiary, or division, production companies are responsible for getting movies made. Production houses are tasked with securing finances for a feature film as well as scripting, casting, and even the marketing of a film. For the larger production houses, the funds are made available from the parent company.
Entertainment companies like Warner Bros. operate several different divisions, making movies, television programs, video games, video production, and so on. With this business plan, parent companies are able to keep all the revenue from different streams. For example, Disney owns Marvel Comics and the rights to the movies, comics, action figures, and games.
Independent Production Houses
For many independent production companies, outside financing is required to get the movie made and released, either via an investment firm, a few wealthy individuals, or by the filmmaker(s) themselves. Which isn’t to say an independent house doesn’t occasionally partner with the big boys. For instance, if an independent film hits it big at any of the major film festivals, it may need help with distribution for wider release, and partnering up with one of the biggies is the way it’s typically done.
The birth of independent film popularity can be traced back to Easy Rider, a film by Dennis Hopper. Completely removed from Hollywood, the film was nominated for two Oscars. Midnight Cowboy (the only x-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture) and Apocalypse Now followed. The growth of commercially viable independent films began.
Independent films – now so reliant on film festivals – spawned the birth of the festival circuit. Though the Cannes film festival was well-established, the Sundance Film Festival brought these smaller, more intimate movies to American audiences. Many filmmakers cut their teeth at Sundance, including Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino.
In an effort to rein in the independent upstarts, the Hollywood machine began buying up smaller production houses. They also began to make their own “independent” movies. Today, nearly half of the movies seen in theaters are considered independent, even though they were created by the behemoths of the industry.
Publishers as Film Production Companies
Chances are, you’ve seen a movie adapted from a book at some point. With the Harry Potter and Twilight movies alone, that covers just about all of us. In 2012, six of the nine best picture nominees were book adaptations. 12 Years a Slave, Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country for Old Men all won Oscars over the last 12 years.
And yet, publishing houses such as Scholastic or Little Brown see very little – if any – profit from the Harry Potter or Twilight movies. Movie popularity may help push more books, but any revenue from those sales is paltry compared to the millions the movie companies receive.
That’s beginning to change as publishers and major studios become partners. This has been advantageous for both for a couple of reasons. The publishers begin to see some of the profits from adaptations and movie companies don’t have to outbid others for film rights.
Random House became one of the first publishing houses to start their own film unit—Random House Films. Others are starting production companies as well as screenwriters now seek out publishers to turn their screenplays into books. This increases their chances of getting them made into movies, often as package deals.
There’s room for self-published works too. The Martian was a box-office hit and was nominated for seven Academy Awards. Still Alice earned the best actress Oscar for Julianne Moore. And Legally Blond was very well received, earning two Golden Globe nominations and making nearly $150 million at the box office.
For the most part, production houses use freelancers to make their movies. The dawn of moviemaking saw studios employing directors, actors, and crews as part of in-house staff. Today, production houses are mostly run by management staff who are in charge of hiring line producers, gaffers, grips, actors, directors, and others.
In the film industry, crewmembers, talent, and others, commonly belong to a guild or union. In order to secure the most talented professionals in the industry, the major production companies have entered into an agreement with the unions (SAG, for example). This arrangement provides regulations to help protect its members. Hence, union members, such as actors in SAG, must be used on major features, while smaller films may employ whomever they like.
Production companies, whether they act independently or as part of a major studio, are essential for making the movies you love. It doesn’t matter if it’s an animated film, a spy film, or a romantic comedy. The production team is responsible for hiring animators, actors, and even ad men to make sure audiences know when the next blockbuster or Academy Award winner will be released.