Posts tagged ‘film’

Movies are Corporations (Hollywood Accounting)

By Chad Upton | Editor

One of the most interesting classes I took in College was taught by a film producer. He only taught that one class, for two hours, once a week. He shared learnings from the entire film making process, from writing a script and getting funding to shooting and distribution.

From this class, I learned is that each film is incorporated as its own corporation and there are a number of reasons why they do this.

For one, it offers limited liability. If someone sues the production, the people who financed and produced the film have some legal separation between the film and their personal assets and other businesses.

It also offers financial abstraction from the people and companies who financed the film. Here’s a little math test to help explain this concept: if it costs $300 million to make a product and then you sold $1 billion worth of it, how much was your profit? $700 million right? Yes. Unless, your product was a film or TV show.

This is almost exactly what happened with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). The studio invested just over $300 million to make the film and it grossed almost $1 billion from the box office and other distribution deals. But, instead of making $700 million, it actually lost $167 million (on paper). So, what happened to all of that money? (more…)

May 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm 4 comments

The HOLLYWOOD Sign Originally Said HOLLYWOODLAND

By Chad Upton | Editor

The HOLLYWOOD sign in Los Angeles, California needs little introduction.

Although it is often associated with movies and television it was originally erected in 1923 as an advertisement for a new housing development named Hollywoodland. It originally cost $21,000 to build the 50-foot high letters on Mount Lee, including the four thousand 20 watt bulbs that illuminated them.

The letters quickly became a symbol of the movie industry. Ironically, actress Peg Entwistle became famous when she climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and allegedly jumped to her death in 1932. She was apparently unhappy about her failure as an actress. It’s true, she was not well known — it took two days for police to identify who she was, and only then because her uncle contacted them to see if it could be her.

In 1944, the housing developers transferred ownership of some land, including the Hollywoodland sign, to the City of Los Angeles. By 1949, the sign was in grave disrepair. As the city was demolishing it, public outcry turned the demolition into a refurbishing project, during which time it was shortened to HOLLYWOOD. The letters were shortened too, now standing 45 feet tall, instead of the original 50. More residents could identify with HOLLYWOOD since that was the name of the city from 1903 to 1910 and remains the name of the district today.

The 1949 sign was built from sheet metal and wood, which fared well considering its materials, but was falling apart by 1978. At this time, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a campaign to replace the sign with a more permanent version. Nine generous donors including, Hugh Hefner; Warner Brothers Records and Alice Cooper, each paid $27,700 to reconstruct a letter. In 2009, Hugh Hefner saved the sign again when he donated $1 million to The Trust for Public Land, an organization formed to protect the area from further real estate development.

Decades of temporary alterations to the sign began in 1976, some authorized and some not. A few of the more famous modifications include: HOLLYWEED, HOLYWOOD, GO NAVY, CALTECH, OLLYWOOD, OIL WAR, PEROTWOOD, GO UCLA, SAVE THE PEAK, JOLLYGOOD. To prevent further unauthorized modifications, the LAPD installed a motion detector alarm system in 2000.

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Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia (Hollywood Sign, Peg Entwistle), Film Bug, Beachwood Canyon

December 20, 2011 at 2:00 am 6 comments

How Hollywood Became the Center of the Film Industry

By Chad Upton | Editor

The thirty mile zone (aka “TMZ” or “studio zone”) is the approximately thirty mile area in Southern California where America’s movie industry is based. However, New Jersey was the center of film in America before Hollywood.

Thomas Edison owned a majority of the patents on motion picture cameras and through these patents, he tightly controlled who could make films. In 1908, he formed the Motion Picture Patents Company, a licensing trust that included other important motion picture patent holders, including Eastman Kodak, who sold the only film stock that film makers could legally purchase.

The patents allowed the group to use law enforcement to prevent unauthorized use of their cameras, film, projectors or any variation of this equipment that included features that infringed on their patents. In some cases they hired thugs to do the enforcement.

Understandably, these tight restrictions stifled inovation and crippled the film industry.

Independent filmmakers fled to Hollywood. The physical distance from the Edison Trust made it easy to work on their films without the tight control and patent enforcement.

The reliable sunshine and temperature also made Hollywood a more suitable place to make films year-round.

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Sources: filmbug, wikipedia (motion picture patents company)

Photo: Heather Culligan (cc)

November 24, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Story and Plot are Not the Same Thing

By Chad Upton | Editor

Movies are extremely captivating because of their complex combination of: music, characters, dialogue, lighting, story, plot and everything else. Yes, story and plot.

These two words are often used interchangeably. I don’t have a problem with that, but I do find this little known fact interesting and heck, that’s what this site is all about.

Whether you’re talking about books, films or campfire tales, the differentiation between story and plot applies. I’ll start by oversimplifying the difference:

Story is what happens; plot is how those events are presented.

To be more specific: the story is a chronological arrangement of the events, including everything you’re presented with and also the implied or assumed events that you are not explicitly given. On the other hand, the plot includes everything that contributes to how you experience the story, including everything you see and hear, but not including the story events that are implied or assumed.

These two words are confusing because the elements they describe have some overlap — the parts of the story that you see are also part of the plot. While they do have this overlap, it is important to note that both plot and story include elements that do not overlap. Lets look at a popular film for example.

By now, I think most people have seen The Hangover (2009). If you haven’t, that’s ok, there are no spoilers beyond this point, but there is a basic description of the story and plot.

At a high level, it’s a comedy about four guys who go to Las Vegas and lose their friend, then retrace their steps to find him.

At the start of the film, the main characters are already friends; the film doesn’t show you how the core group of people met or became friends. Because we don’t see when they originally met, the formation of their friendship is part of the story, but not the plot.

The second act begins with the characters waking up from a blackout. Their hotelroom is a mess, but they can’t remember what happened the night before. The plot jumps from the night before to the morning after and skips everything in between. Because we did not see what happened, the events the plot skipped are just part of the story at this point.

The story ends by revealing something that happened the night before. Because the events in the story are rearranged (the plot), the viewer is part of the adventure, they know just as much as the characters. The plot makes the story more captivating because we want to know what happened, just as bad as the characters.

In movies, the plot also includes the music and credits because these are not generally part of the story — they’re not things the characters experience, but they do affect how viewers experience the story. This is where The Hangover does something really interesting; during the credits they show some still “pictures” from parts of the story that were skipped in the plot, bringing those elements that were once only part of the story into the plot too.

Bonus fact: music can be part of the story if, for example, there is a person/band/radio in the scene that is playing music.

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Sources: Film Art (ISBN 0073386162)

August 7, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

What is the Thirty Mile Zone?

By Chad Upton | Editor

Thirty Mile Zone or The Studio Zone, these terms refer to the area within 30 miles (48.3 km) of downtown Los Angeles, specifically the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and North La Cienega Boulevard.

That intersection is significant because it was the home of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was originally formed to mediate labor disputes between studios and workers.

The Academy is no longer stationed there, but it remains the center point of The Studio Zone. And yes, this is the same Academy that Oscar winners always thank in their acceptance speeches.

The Studio Zone is important to the entertainment industry in Southern California. It was created to establish a reasonable distance that union workers should be expected to travel to and from the production location without additional compensation.

Productions outside of this area require higher wages to union workers and therefore many productions remain in the Studio Zone. Productions outside the zone are often referred to as runaway productions.

The Studio Zone is responsible for a land-rush during the early part of the 20th century when studios acquired ranches and other large parcels of land within the zone. In the 1920s, Westerns movies were popular, and the ranches were great locations for these pictures. Because they were in the zone, “Studio rates” were paid to the workers, which helped keep the costs down. When a picture is shot outside of the zone, the studio may pay “distant location rates” in addition to travel time and mileage, depending on the agreement.

There is one exception, MGM’s Conejo movie ranch. It was a few miles outside of the Thirty Mile Zone, but the Academy considered it part of the zone for labor purposes. Why? It’s hard to say, but it’s probably worth mentioning that the Academy was started by Louis B. Mayer, the second “M” in MGM. The MGM ranch is now a nature preserve and a housing development.

Although Western movies are no longer popular, movie ranches still are. Because many of them are in the zone, they help keep costs low. Productions are bigger than ever, even TV shows use movie ranches for large elaborate sets. Click the embedded image to visit the google maps location of the Wipeout set (under construction at time of picture).

The celebrity news show TMZ stands for “Thirty Mile Zone” — that’s where they capture most of their footage.

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Sources: California Film Commission, Wikipedia (The Studio Zone, AMPAS, Movie Ranch, Wipeout), Shapell Homes,

Photos: ezioman (cc), Film LA, Google – Imagery GeoEye, US Geological Survey, DigitalBloge, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data

August 18, 2010 at 5:00 am 5 comments


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