I dream for a living.
       - Steven Spielberg

Art vs. Business


Filmmaking is an artistic expression.

But it is also a huge business. Across the country and around the world, cinema has thrived enormously. Production companies and film schools can be found in virtually any country these days. People make tons of money as vendors, retailers, writers, editors, actors, exhibitors…

The economics of the industry is quite complex. From the producer that earns millions of dollars per picture to the gaffer that could be fired tomorrow, the range of the business encompasses union and non-union professionals, contractors, freelancers, and more. It spreads around the nation and employs projectionists, ushers, and corn farmers.

Even though theatrical runs generate the greatest revenue to studios, selling and renting discs create a submarket that is responsible for the livelihood of many people. PayPerView and online streaming are increasing by the second. Netflix’s shares are sky-high. Nowadays, distribution contracts must go over online streaming in websites like Crackle and Hulu.

Ancillary revenue cannot be ignored. Franchises like Toy Store or Star Wars make huge revenue from the sales of figurines, shirts, caps, blankets, toilet seats, and any other product that features such iconic characters like Buzz Lightyear or Luke Skywalker.

Most of cinema’s profitability is due to the simple fact that movies reach a global audience. More often than not, the long-awaited summer blockbuster is scheduled for a simultaneous premier around the globe. Although a movie like The Dark Knight (2009) can easily open in tens of thousands of screens worldwide, no one can actually tally the amount of people that watch it because of the underworld market. Pirate DVDs and illegal downloads have become common.

When the media decide whether or not a movie is a hit or a bomb, the chief criterion they use is the box office gross. If a movie has made money back to the producers, it is labeled as a “success.” Concurrently, if a movie doesn’t pay itself, it is said to be a “failure,” in which case somebody gets fired.

Artistic excellence and technical proficiency are usually ignored. Awards are welcome, but, for the most part, the studio bosses don’t care if a movie becomes a cult classic or if it changes popular culture. They only care about the monetary gain. And when Monday comes, the reports available online, on TV, or in print only judge the movies based on the weekend’s revenue – enters the famous box office chart. That’s the biz. Make yourself home.

Film Scholar's Insight

Read and be amazed or astonished:

"We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. Our obligation is to make money."

                                                                                           - Don Simpson

Naturally, there are many people out there who agree and many who disagree with Mr. Simpson. The filmmakers in the world do not form a homogenou group; people have different purposes in the industry. Some people work for the art because science and math would "too boring." Others are seeking immortality, hoping to create at least one remarkable film that will withstand the test of time and cause an impact on history. Others are just craftsmen, artisans, and contractors who have been recruited by the industry.

But what you have to understand is that the film industry is a huge enterprise. The producers are the entrepreneurs. When they make a new film, they are gambling more than just money. They are gambling their reputation. In the long run, they could be gambling their houses, wives, or friends. It's more than a serious game, it's a serious business. Filmmaking is their livelihood and you must respect that.

If you're trying to break in, it helps to have a commercially viable film or script. That's what drives the industry. There will always be producers looking for art films, but while breaking in, think mainstream.


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