Film Production Companies
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At the start of most films, you’ve probably wondered why so many companies are listed before the movie starts. A studio presents a movie, which was produced by another company, sometimes in association with yet another company. Why so many? Surely, film studios like Warner Bros. or Disney have the resources to make movies on their own.
Of course, they do. In fact, all of the big studios have their own production companies. But that wasn’t always the case. And thanks to film festivals around the world, more and more independent film production companies are coming on the scene. What’s more, many of these independent production companies are then acquired by a studio.
So if TriStar Pictures and Screen Gems Inc. co-produced a movie as subsidiaries of Sony Pictures, why list them at all? They’re all under the Sony umbrella. While this is true, they are still their own brands. Consider many of the products you buy. Are you going to buy a pint of Unilever ice cream? Or does Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey sound better?
What Does a Film Production Company Do?
Everything. From securing financial backing for the movie, to tracking down the perfect bow tie for the leading man in a two-minute scene. Outside of securing rights to a screenplay, a film production company takes care of everything they’re equipped to do so, because not all production companies are created equal.
Working Title Films, as a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, will have a much easier time acquiring the needed money to finance a film. Independent film productions will have a harder time getting the money it needs by talking to investment firms, wealthy individuals, or partnering with a studio.
With money in place, the production company can then go about spending it: hiring actors, the crew, and other staff members. Then it’s onto renting needed equipment, scouting locations, and securing the wardrobe. Now don’t forget, the scheduling, distributing, and marketing. From start to finish, the production team is responsible for all of it.
In most cases, a production house is mostly a managerial entity. It hires the gaffers but doesn’t work the lights. It hires the makeup artists but doesn’t apply the blush. It hires the caterers but doesn’t put out the veggie trays. What they do is bring all of those people together and get them on the same page.
The Big Six
Although not the front-runners they were a decade or two ago, the “Big Six” film production companies have dominated the filmmaking industry for more than a century. There have been many changes to the industry since 1912, the year Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures first came on the scene.
Walt Disney Pictures began in 1923, followed by Warner Bros. (1923), Columbia Pictures (1924), and 20th Century Fox (1935). These six studios were responsible for most of the movies made during the “Golden Years” of Hollywood. Directors, actors, and so on were under contract and worked exclusively with these studios.
Until the ’60s, Hollywood operated under this “Studio System.” With the popularity of television, along with grueling antitrust lawsuits, the Studio System began to breakdown. This gave way to the rise of independent films, star-driven movies, and more creative freedom from filmmakers. Easy Rider was the first wholly independent movie to gain mainstream success.
This was followed by Midnight Cowboy, Apocalypse Now, and eventually Jaws, the first summer blockbuster. The New Hollywood emerged, giving creative license to film producers and allowing them to create movies with little to no studio involvement.
Which also brought a lot of risks. Jaws was famously over-budget and Francis Ford Coppolla had a myriad of problems trying to get Apocalypse Now made. Heaven’s Gate single-handedly sunk United Artists. However, many of these independent production companies began partnering with the studios, which then began to create independent production firms of their own.
Really Independent Films
The 1990s’ saw an explosion of very small film production crews creating huge hits. El Mariachi was made for under $8,000 but made $2 million overall. Clerks was made for just under $30,000 and brought in $3.2 million. The Blair Witch Project, which was shot in eight days, cost $60,000 to make and made almost $250 million.
With such paltry amounts of money, how did anyone know these movies even existed? Film Festivals. Although the Cannes Film Festival had been in operation for decades, The Sundance Film Festival helped all three movies find distribution partnerships. More festivals sprang up and more independent productions found homes.
A Return (of Sorts)
Seeing the popularity of these smaller films, the Majors made a point to get in on the action. This was done by buying smaller production firms or just creating their own. The original Big Six was shrunk to the Big Five at this point: Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros., Disney, and Sony (which bought out Columbia Pictures).
While these major studios are still responsible for most of the films you see today, they’re focused largely on providing the financial backing and distribution. The heavy lifting gets done by either one of their subsidiaries or by the independent production company they’re partnering with.
With streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, getting a movie made has never been easier. Both companies are now in the business of making their own movies and serials while giving filmmakers one more avenue to prove their worth.
But none of it happens without a film production company. Some of their names – Red Crown Productions, Annapurna Pictures, Gilbert Films – aren’t widely known. Notwithstanding, they’re responsible for some of the most popular and critically acclaimed films of the past decade, including Beasts of No Nation, Zero Dark Thirty, and La La Land.
Production companies are an invaluable part of the movie-making business. By creating solid relationships with studios, favorable working conditions for the crew, and securing a big-name cast, production companies will always find a way to exist in Tinseltown.
Want to get in on the action? Consider applying to Film Connection. You’ll be placed with a working production company and work side-by-side with your mentor, an industry professional. You’ll need to hustle, absorb as much as you can, and be willing to help at a moment’s notice. And if you have the desire, drive, and determination it takes, you just might pave your own way to Hollywood.
Let us help. Apply today.