Money In A Hollywood Corporate Age
week, most newspapers publish the movie industry's Top 10
weekly box office grosses. To the press and to most consumers,
this chart is the barometer of financial success for films.
But as well-respected journalist Edward Jay Epstein writes
in his meticulously reported new book, The Big Picture,
the size of those box office receipts has little to do in
defining success in today's Hollywood. The major studios
receive about five times as much revenue from home entertainment
as from theaters. This "new logic" has altered
the way movies are developed, produced, marketed and distributed.
Epstein traces the decline of the old studio system, which
for decades maintained control over actors through multi-year
contracts and controlled distribution and exhibition through
their movie theater ownership. The new conglomerates - Time
Warner, Viacom, Fox, Sony, NBC Universal and Disney - exist
to collect revenue from a variety of sources derived from
the control of intellectual property.
Walt Disney, who operated outside the studio system, was
the first to appreciate the commercial possibilities of
movies beyond mere ticket sales. In the 1930's, he began
licensing the Mickey Mouse image to other industries, making
him a pioneer in the sort of branding that is pervasive
The Big Picture examines the powerful dynamic among
stars, agents, writers, directors and the connections that
all of them have with the current studios, which Epstein
refers to as "clearinghouses." Great sums of money
flow through these corporations in a dizzying array of licensing
deals and complex arrangements.
Epstein cites the 2003 action movie Terminator 3: Rage
of the Machines, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, as
a model of how the new system works. With its huge budget,
multi-faceted production, star veto-power, global marketing
plan and massive home-entertainment distribution, Terminator
3 is a textbook example of how today's Hollywood works.
Whether it is a good movie is beside the point.
Much of the book is a step-by-step look at the process of
how movies are made. Epstein examines development (and "development
hell"), writing and rewriting, principal photography,
music scoring, editing, advertising and distribution. These
painstakingly-reported sections are occasionally tedious
but essential for the reader to get the "the big picture."
Epstein is not a critic agonizing over the absence of artistic
integrity in the movie industry today. He notes that movie
executives still covet Oscars and Golden Globes, media recognition
and artistic bragging rights, which explains why the big
studios have specialty film units designed to produce the
less commercial, more sophisticated movies that may receive
believes the growth of digital technology and the power
of the global youth market will further blur the distinctions
between theatrical releases and the new digital delivery
systems - video on-demand feeds, interactive cable boxes,
Internet modems and DVD players.
"To be sure there still may be movies made for grown-up
audiences to see in theaters," he writes, "but
they will play an increasingly small part in the big picture."
reading this book, I'm afraid Epstein is probably right.
Moore is The Sun's public editor. A movie enthusiast, he
has reviewed a number of books about films for The Sun.