They Are The Titans

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“When the major studios’ tentpole releases are factored into the equation, the imbalance is even more pronounced — and the studios’ blockbuster-driven “economies of scale” are even more evident. In 2005, the top five major studio releases alone earned more domestically ($1.4 billion) than all of the 345 independent releases combined” (The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry, 31).

The new giants of media have learned much from their studio system predecessors. Although the new giants differ in term of management tactics, style, content production, distribution and marketing are concerned, but they do share the structures of diversification that create the structural inequalities originally meant to be regulated by the now defunct Paramount decree, as Tom Schatz and his colleagues inform us within their book, The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry.

Much of the authors’ descriptions of the workings of the industry carry both positive and negative implications when considering how the person we can call “the individual creative” may fit in. Understanding the effects and the structures of vertical integration is key to understanding an industry that often operates more as monopoly than free market. Tracing the money is how we begin to understand how these conglomerates are literally shaping the collective futures of creative workers through zealous expenditures and business tactics focused more on ensuring huge profit for major stockholders than attending to the needs of the individuals who make up much of the larger labor force responsible for the production, creation, distribution, manufacturing that those at the top of the ladder profit on. Paranormal_Activity_posterParanormal Activity stands out as one particularly good example, grossing $190 million when Paramount released the picture, while costing the studio only $350,000 to purchase the rights, making it (according to its wiki) “the most profitable film, based on return investment.” A profit measurement that the big studios often base product success on.

‘Key talent’ may be one avenue for an individual to excel within the conglomerate work economy, allowing exceptional creatives like George Klooney to overcome the prior limitations of old Hollywood “star status” in regard to how it managed ‘key talent’ through application of rigid individual contracts and creative management to ensure that the actor would be unable to work outside of the studio they were signed to.  However, star talent also functions in pseudo-vertical nature. Wasko notes that ‘key talent’ can often requite extremely high fractions of a film’s production budget, ignoring for a moment the likely additional costs of talent managers or agencies representing the ‘talent’ (ibid, 51). This means that major producers are much less likely to introduce new talent, desiring faces that have already been proven to sell; risk management is an important factor when considering star talent and may also indicate that un-conglomerated independent companies may have more difficulty procuring key talent that might fit a role perfectly or help a good, unknown script garner attention.

There is always a concern that giant media conglomerates further become more focused on profit than creative diligence, which often simply leads to uninteresting content that has been recycled over and over; although even this may not be anything to complain about:

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“They also showed how studios could use television production to promote upcoming theatrical releases, recycle stock footage, use genres and characters established in films, and try out inexperienced actors at low wages.” (ibid, 108)

Again, there are positives to cross-media creativity; Marvel has been creating an aggressive multi-modal approach to its universe building, creating numerous opportunities for creative individuals who love super heroes to engage in storytelling across mediums and within a much larger, ever expanding franchise. Comic books, super heroes, and anime connote a fandom that is eager to seize new opportunities to break into the creative workforce. Fan fiction is just the tip of the iceberg when considering the huge market that the individual creative turned ‘re-creative’ may be able to capture. Fifty Shades, anyone?

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Fifty Shades of Grey began as Twilight fan fiction.

There are, of course, the stated benefits of creating more avenues for inexperienced actors (and presumably other creative workers) but there still exist structural inequalities that favor those high up within the chain of vertical integration; we can look at cases like Bernie Madoff and Enron to locate some of the most flagrant cases of exploitation within vertically integrated economies of scale. We must be wary, and look to reinstall the safeguards that were taken away by de-Rea-gulation (hah!) but there seem to be more and more pathways for creatives to find footholds within the industry. Although, in my opinion, it would be nice to see the government taking a lot more money in taxes from the multi-billion dollar conglomerates and putting it toward programs as aggressive and thoroughly aimed at inspiring creativity and promoting individual art as the Federal Art Project.

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