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.