As an average film fan, I rarely care to think about the production process beyond how certain scenes were filmed or how some special effects were added in. The most highlights part of the filmmaking process seems to be the actors and the storyline, while many of those who work behind the scenes in setup, decoration, and film editing are forgotten (by people like me, I admit). Learning about the idea of the Studio System caught me by surprise; every industry has an established process by which most companies abide, but I had never grouped cinema into this category. Since I am an Industrial and Systems Engineering major, the emergence of the Studio System immediately caught my eye.
This trend did, in fact, hold true for the film industry. All major companies used the Studio System whether they were one of the Big 5 (MGM, Paramount, RKO, Warner Bros, or 20th Century Fox) or in The Little 3 (Universal Pictures, Columbia, or United Artists). Today, we see companies like Amazon function at unimaginable efficiency, something every company wishes to replicate. In the 1920s, after the implementation of the assembly line to produce Ford automobiles, the assembly line idea was applied to the film industry among many others in the form of the Studio System.
On the set of Now, Voyager (1942). Source
The Studio System divided film making into pre-production, production, and post-production phases. Pre-production was centered around the producer and included costumes, set making, contracting screenwriters, and hiring directors and actors. Production was the actual filming and involved cinematographers, special effects, props, and actors. Finally, post-production was the transmission of the film into viewable content via editing, music composition (background music), and the printing and copying process done in laboratories.
This system standardized Hollywood films during what is considered to be its “Golden Age”. Films tended to follow a similar structure, have similar plot schemes, and use the same types of technology (quality still depended on the budget of the film). The shortcomings of the Studio System were that the diversity of Hollywood was reduced, small budget films found it difficult to compete because they could not afford the technology of the time, and films had to follow a technical and social production code, which often constrained producers’ imaginations.
From its advent around 1917, the Studio System led to a rampant increase in Hollywood annual film production. Nearly 400 movies per year were produced in the Studio System Era, which includes The New York Hat, The Girl from Missouri, Bringing Up Baby, Laura, and In a Lonely Place. These films all feature technology that diverged from the preliminary film tech: rolling cameras, soundtracks, and even technicolor in some scenarios. They all followed the production code to promote positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. They all featured an active mystery murder or an elaborate romance trail.
The overhaul of the Studio System came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Paramount in United States v. Paramount (1948), which resulted in the loss of theater holdings by the major studios. The high costs associated with the Studio System became deadweight for many companies after they lost their guaranteed revenue streams after this case. Thus, in the next decade, lower-budget movies began to grow in popularity and take over small town America. But as Hollywood always does, they adapted to the change and continue their dominance today.
“The Hollywood Studio System: Art as Industry.” Silver Screenings, 8 Dec. 2017, https://silverscreenings.org/2016/08/04/the-hollywood-studio-system-art-as-industry/.
“Studio System.” Film Reference, http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Romantic-Comedy-Yugoslavia/Studio-System.html.
Studio System of Classic Hollywood – Hollywood Lexicon, http://www.hollywoodlexicon.com/studiosystem.html.
“Studio System.” Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, Encyclopedia.com, 24 Oct. 2019, https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/studio-system.