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Sound and the Studio System

Film Lecture 4
by

Drew Hamilton

on 16 August 2013

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Transcript of Sound and the Studio System

Sound on Film
and
The Studio System
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
-H.M. Warner, Warner Brother studio, 1927
Film Sound
Trying to add sound to film was nothing new
Experiments were made using phonograph records to play audio along with films being shown visually
But, it never worked
WHY?
Basically it was impossible to properly synch audio and video
For it to work, you had to find a way to combine both
Breakthrough
Sound-on Film
Process in which sound waves are transformed into light waves and photographically recorded and added to the side of the film strip
If it was properly synched when recorded, it would properly synched when played back
Process was invented in 1907, but not perfected until the 1920s
Outer view of
35mm film
SDDS soundtrack
(digital)
Dolby Digital
soundtrack
Analog Left
Analog Right
Inner View
of 35mm film
So, now that sound-on film works
the studio would be all for it, right?
Content Standard 6.0: Cinematic Presentation

Students will compare and integrate art forms by analyzing traditional cinema forms.

You will be able to understand the elements of sound in film and how the early studio system operated in Hollywood.
WRONG!
Why Studios Were Against Sound
They weren’t sure public would accept it (people were used to silent films)
Some stars had accents (foreign or regional) that audiences didn’t know about
Studios spent tons of money promoting silent stars who would struggle with move to “talkies”
Sound stages would need to be built $$$$$
Sound-on film more expensive than regular $$$$
15,000 theaters in U.S. Not equipped for sound
Directors couldn’t coach actors while filming
Studios were already making lots of money
First "Talkie"
While most studios resisted sound-on film, one felt the need to take a risk
Warner Brothers was smaller than most studios, and wanted a boost
In 1927, the studio made "The Jazz Singer" the first talkie.
Other films had been made with sound-on music, but "The Jazz Singer" was the first movie made to air with sound-on music and dialogue
1st line of dialogue in a movie ever..."You ain't heard nothing yet!
"The Jazz Singer" was a SMASH hit!
People lined up around the block for tickets
Talkies: The New Way
After the success of "The Jazz Singer," the other studios HAD to follow WB's lead
The reason is because the Hollywood studios form an OLIGARCHY
An oligarchy is when so few businesses control one industry that the actions of one affects all the others
Consequences of the Move to Sound-On Film
Actors with bad voices or accents were fired
THOUSANDS of theater musicians were fired
Film techniques suffered (headaches with microphones, cameras had to be soundproofed = less movable)
This along with all the money spent for sound stages, speakers, etc.
But, we had sound in movies!!!
The good outweighed the bad...the future was here.
The Studio System
The Film Industry has 3 Basic Economic Divisions
Production - making the movies
Distribution - copying/transporting movies to theaters
Exhibition - the actual screening of films to audiences
The Studio Years (1930-1950)
After the MPPC broke up, the power shifted to the Hollywood studios
The studios bought up hundreds of acres of cheap land to build sound stages and sets
Turned Hollywood into a factory for cranking out films
The most successful studios were called The Big Five
The Big Five
Founded in 1923
Major Studio Head: Jack Warner
30s specialized in gangster films
40s introduced Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes as animated shorts
Biggest early star: Rin Tin Tin
WARNER BROTHERS
Founded in 1924
Major Studio Head: L.B. Mayer
Specialized in lavish, big budget films
Released "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" in the same year (1939)
MGM (Metro Goldwyn Mayer)
Founded in 1927
Major Studio Head: Adolph Zucker
Big Stars: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks
Signed famous director Cecil B. DeMille
Paramount Pictures
Founded in 1935
Major Studio Head: Darryl Zanuck
Betty Grable musicals
Shirley Temple
Studio founded with a merger between Fox Pictures and 20th Century Pictures

20th Century Fox
Founded in 1928
Major Studio Head: David O. Selznick
Smallest of the Big Five
Only one not around anymore
Major hits: "King Kong" (1933) and "Citizen Kane" (1941)

RKO Pictures (Radio-Keith-Orpheum)
Acting Stables
In the studio system, studios hired a stable of actors and crew to do as many films as assigned in their contract -for example, Shirley Temple had a 7 picture deal with 20th Century Fox
Actors were under contract and couldn’t work with any other studios (unless given permission)
It was almost like the studio OWNED each of its actors
Changing Theaters
Small nickelodeons were going out of style
Movie Palaces became the rage
movie palaces were huge, lavish theaters with grand decorations
going to the movies became a huge event
prices rose as well (avg. 65 cents a movie, 35 cents for a matinee)
Pushing Theaters Around
Studios have ALWAYS exerted pressure on theater owners
One strategy studios used to employ was BLOCK BOOKING
Block booking required theaters to take tons of inexpensive 2nd-rate films with unknown stars in order to show the few GOOD movies
For example, to get "Gone With the Wind" you had to show 6 other crummy films
Sometimes studios required theater owners to buy 100 movies without having seen them first
Full transcript