What exactly is the business of a "film studio"?

Making films, one might guess. Yet I’m constantly confused about the sheer number of different companies mentioned in the opening credits of modern films. There seems to be a number of companies which were somehow involved in the “production” of a flick.

Just to pick a voluntary example, I checked Paycheck (starring Uma Thurman and Ben Affleck, directed by John Woo), the first contemporary film of which I happened to have a DVD at hand. First of all, we see the familiar logos of DreamWorks and Paramount; then the opening credits tell us that the film is presented by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures, that it is a Lion Rock and Davis Entertainment production, in association with Solomon/Hackett Productions. That gives a total of five entities billed as being somehow involved in the film.

I understand the role of the distributor - making copies of the film, distributing them to theaters, and collecting license fees from them. Is there a custom in the movie industry that the distributor is billed as the one “presenting” the film? So does that mean that Paycheck was co-distributed by DreamWorks and Paramount? DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures are, according to Wikipedia, both production and distribution companies, so that could be the case.

From Wiki, I also learn that it is the film producer “initiates, coordinates, supervises and controls matters such as fundraising, hiring key personnel, and arranging for distributors.” That seems that he organizes all the financial and business matters of the film, while leaving the creative work to the director. Does that mean that a “film producer” is an employee (presumably an influential and well-paid one) or the owner of a “production company”? And finally: Whose project, financially, is a film, i.e. who gets the profits and carries the risk of loss should the film fail at the box office?

My understanding of this whole process is like this: A film producer who has the idea of producing a film, but not the resources to finance it on his/her own, discusses the project with other companies and drafts up a contract with them detailing about the contributions of the various stakeholders. After an agreement has been concluded, the producer hires a director (probably by guaranteeing him/her a share of the profit in the case of success), actors, technicians, and whatever you need to do the thing. After production is complete, they distribute the film, via a distributor, to theaters, rake in license fees, and share them among each other according to the provisions of their contracts. Then the cooperation of the various production companies is dissolved, until they work together with another project. So it’s all more of an ad hoc organization set up for the purpose of producing one single film. Am I right?

To sum it up, I’m asking the Teeming Millions to explain the economics and organizational workings of the film industry to me.

If you look at the Producer list of Paycheck, you get:

Produced by
Arthur Anderson … co-producer
Terence Chang … producer
John Davis … producer
Michael Hackett … producer
Keiko Koyama … co-producer
Stratton Leopold … executive producer
Caroline Macaulay … co-producer
David Solomon … executive producer
John Woo … producer

Each one of those people are part of a Production company they work for. In fact they’ll be grouped in pairs or more under the five different companies. As Producers, Co-Producers, and Executive Producers, some will supply funds, some will organise funds, and the rest will organise particular specifics for the production to run. Only a couple of them will be hands-on.

However, having said that, the whole system is a complicated mess, and sometimes members are given credits that don’t really explain what their role was, and are there just as an acknowledgement of some kind of support or contribution that doesn’t have a regular official credit easily assigned to it.

So really, what I’m saying is, your guess is as good as mine. It’s an inexact industry.

The OP’s suggestion that it is an ad hoc arrangement seems to be close to the mark. For any particular film, there is likely to be a more-or-less unique arrangement regarding what entities are providing the funding and which ones are more directly involved in the actual creation of the film. (Some films might be entirely funded and produced by a single entity.)

Here’s the dope on the biggest U.S.A. one east of California. BTW, its president, Frank Capra, Jr., died of prostate cancer last month. After coming to the area to film Firestarter with young Drew Barrymore, he married the daughter of the owner of Orton Plantation. He then was instrumental in getting Dino Delaurentiis to build the studio, about 30 years ago.


You might find this link helpful: http://folknation.wordpress.com/2008/01/11/

Since the death of the studio system in the 50s, every film is developed on an ad hoc basis. Producers handle the business side of things, and the production companies are involved in money issues.

During the studio system, it was more clear cut. The studio ran everything, and movies were a product, like cars on an assembly line. The studio would decide, budget, and hire for all products, plus take care of distribution (often in studio-owned theaters). Talent worked for the studio: if you were an actor, you were signed to a contract with a studio and they’d determine which films you would appear in.

This started falling apart in the late 40s, especially when the studios were ordered to divest themselves of the movie theaters. Talent started becoming more independent and eventually the system phased out into the all-freelance version of Hollywood we have today.

I can only speak for the music industry, but I’ll bet there are many parallels with movies.

It’s common for a person’s name to be added to writer’s, producer’s or even performer’s credits for the sole purpose of getting money from the project. They may have had little or nothing to do with writing, producing, or even performing, but for one reason or another, they are being given a slice of the pie. And that slice might be quite lucrative monetarily or nothing more than a name shown with others that they can parade about town as proof of accomplishments.

In songwriting, a deal may be struck with the true writers by a producer, who agrees to perform some services in exchange for being added to the writer list. Big-time producers often have the clout to do this, and it increases their take. Small-time songwriters might agree to this on the theory that a small slice of a big pie is better than 100% of no pie.

I have been added to the list of performers on a recording session on occasion when I played no instrument. I may have provided consulting services to someone of an unspecified nature and he rewarded me by making me a performer. I have arranged for orchestras and been added to the performer list, which effectively got me double-scale (once for arranging, once for “playing”).

Of course, this doesn’t say that all names are not deserving, but you need to take a vast credit list with a grain of salt.