Much has been made of recent comments made by acclaimed directors who derided the type of big budget movies that have become a staple of modern cinema. Bizarrely enough, the media has highlighted these statements as though they were anything other than a few older talents bemoaning the fact that these young people dared trampling on their lawns. The rise of big budget movies has happened because of changing audience expectations and competition. Adapting to change is nothing new and something that both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola took advantage of themselves in the 1970’s when an even older group of legends bemoaned their lawn trampling. This week we’ll look at past changes and how Hollywood dealt with them. As we’ll see, the only constant in Hollywood is change.
Our story begins not in Hollywood, but in New Jersey. The burgeoning motion picture industry got its start in New Jersey, centered around Thomas Edison’s company. Edison had the earliest patents for motion picture equipment which originally consisted of a kinetoscope and a kinetoscope viewer. His early equipment would take numerous, quick pictures that when flipped would appear to depict moving scenes. Customers could view these vignettes at arcades where they would peer inside a machine to see them.
While some of the machines would feature risqué film of women in bloomers, mainstream machines would have short, captivating vignettes. The technology behind these “motion pictures” would advance quickly. Eventually, filmmakers could make short films that could then be projected on a screen to large audiences. The public soon had an insatiable desire to watch these films and the young entertainment business would spring up in New Jersey.
While Thomas Edison would attract these businesses to New Jersey he would also be responsible for chasing them away. The young studios wanted to buy Thomas Edison’s equipment outright, but Edison only wanted to lease them out. Additionally, Thomas required a royalty from every picture filmed with his cameras. These startups could barely afford to make their pictures to begin with. Having to pay an additional royalty to Edison on top of the camera rental threatened to kill the industry before it began. Enterprising “entrepreneurs” swooped in to build and sell their very own cameras, which probably violated a few of Edison’s patents. These grey market cameras were irresistible to the studios up until Thomas Edison sent in his goons to bust up studios he suspected were using equipment that violated his patents.
Yes, Thomas Edison had “goons”. These violent altercations proved to be bad for business, but instead of encouraging the studios to use his cameras, Edison encouraged the movie industry to make its first big change. The studios decided to move as far away as they could to escape Edison’s wrath- to Los Angeles, California.