Film Studios: Types & Environment

Instructor: Nathan Hurwitz

Dr. Nathan Hurwitz is a tenured Associate Professor in Theatre and has three books in print, two textbooks and a coffee table book.

This lesson explores the elements of movie studios. Learn the difference between corporate, corporate-independent, and independent movie studios, and take a look at the ten largest US film studios.

Elements in the Studio Environment

''Lights, camera, ACTION!'' These words conjure in our minds movie sets in the heyday of the Hollywood movie studios. Today's glitz and glamour may have a distinctly 21st-century tint to it these days, but movie magic is still made pretty much the same way in the major film studios today.

Studios are entertainment empires that create and distribute movies and television, run theme parks, and have recording and publishing enterprises. The elements of a film studio include sound stages, house recording studios, digital effects departments and outdoor back-lots, where films are shot. Warehouses store cameras, lights, costumes, props, old sets, and other items of film memorabilia.

Studios also house entire corporate empires including producers, studio heads, writers, designers, directors, marketing departments, lawyers, accountants, and more. They also have commissaries where all studio employees can get a bite to eat.

Historically, studios were surrounded by high walls to keep out reporters and zealous fans. Entry to studios is still strictly restricted by guards at gate-houses.

Types of Studios

There are three types of studios:

  • Corporate studios finance their films in-house from the profits they made from other films. They have the means to make movies as well as distribute and exhibit them.
  • Corporate-independent studios are smaller organizations that exist within major (corporate) studios to produce prestige films, specialty films that appeal to a more sophisticated audience, often with lower budgets.
  • Independent studios make smaller films that usually appeal to a niche audience. While the independent studios make their own films, they have to go to the major studios to get their distribution and exhibition.

Big Ten Major U.S. Film Studios

The current list of the ten largest film studios includes:

  1. Warner Bros.
  2. The Walt Disney Company
  3. 20th Century Fox
  4. Sony
  5. Universal
  6. Viacom
  7. Lionsgate Entertainment
  8. The Weinstein Company
  9. MGM
  10. DreamWorks

Time Warner's film division, Warner Bros. Studio has their corporate offices in New York. Their catalog of television and film includes those of HBO and Turner Broadcasting. Warner Bros. produced The Hobbit movies, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Batman movies, and the Harry Potter movies.

The mission statement of the Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Disney is one of the few studios to have its corporate headquarters in Burbank, California. They own the Disney movie studio, music group, animation studio, Pixar Animation, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and Disney Theatrical. Their television and theme park holdings are also extensive. The Disney Company's animations are well known, but their franchises also include Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Marvel movies like Black Panther.

The studio 20th Century Fox is owned by multinational mass media corporation 21st Century Fox, based in Manhattan. Fox assets include the 20th Century Fox film studio, Fox television network, Fox News, as well as Asian and European television channels. Some of their greatest hits include Avatar and the X-Men movies.

Sony Pictures Entertainment is an American company owned by the Japanese Sony Corporation. They distribute and exhibit their own product along with owning the catalogs of Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Screen Gems, and Sony Pictures Classics. Their television and international holdings are as extensive as their U.S. enterprises. Some of Sony's highest grossing films have been the Spider-man movies.

Based out of New York's Rockefeller Center, NBC Universal has holdings that include NBC Broadcasting, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, Working Title Films, Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks, and more. Universal's Jurassic Park films, Despicable Me and Meet the Fockers head their roster of films.

Viacom International is the ninth largest broadcasting, cable, and media company in the world. It boasts a catalog including the assets of Paramount Studios, Viacom and 27 television networks including BET, MTV, Nickelodeon, and VH1. Among their most successful films are the Transformer, Mission Impossible and Star Trek movies.

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