The idea that you have to live in NYC or LA in order to be a successful filmmaker is becoming a myth. Like many myths, this one comes from a place of historic reality. If you look back, you can see why there’s such a strong case for this idea.
Thomas Edison invented the first motion picture camera; or, if he didn’t, he was the first to patent technology leading to the design of his own version. Edison, it turns out, was as much an entrepreneur as he was an engineer, as much an investor as an inventor. His genius was in his business sense: he bought patent designs to be further innovated by a team of hungry scientific protégés.
In the early 20th Century, The Edison Manufacturing Company came to dominate the American motion picture industry, largely through patent litigation and lawsuit threats. Edison took every business even remotely suspicious of patent infringement to court and won just about as often as he lost. By 1908, all of the major American film companies came together to work out a licensing agreement with Edison, thereby forming the Edison Trust.
Also known as the Motion Picture Patent Company, the Edison Trust recruited both the top distribution company in the US, George Klein, and the top raw film stock supplier, Eastman Kodak. The trust effectively stonewalled any and every other film production company in America, trading lawsuits for licensing. Adding to this monopoly, another Edison company was established, General Film Company, to control both foreign and domestic distribution.
By 1910, all this big business movement effectively drove out the smaller film companies. So these rebel filmmakers packed up their unlicensed Edison technology and headed out west, where the MPPC couldn’t easily track them. Through word of mouth, they came to settle in Los Angeles and eventually Hollywood, where weather conditions were ideal year round and the landscape was fitting for a variety of settings.
Within two decades the U.S. Government would intervene with the Edison Trust monopoly, dismantling it for the good of the motion picture industry and the consuming country. By that time, though, Hollywood was beginning to flourish, notably by the force of five major film studios—Paramount, Warner Brothers, RKO, MGM and 20th Century Fox. It would only be a few more years before the dawn of the Golden Age of Cinema, where these studios, and a few smaller ones, would begin to perfect a system of producing and releasing an endless showcase of cinematic escapes.
Hollywood got so good at what it did, that they inevitably became the monopoly that their forefathers had fled. Their success in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, giving birth to the star system, also strangled them when eventually their movie stars were restricted to specific parts in specific kinds of movies, all trapped in a rosy faux-reality. Unlike the Ford Model T, the factory formula of making films ran its course by the 60’s and 70’s, so that a new flock of rebels were fleeing, this time back to the East Coast. These were the new independent filmmakers. This was the new Hollywood emerging. Rather than a studio being at the creative helm of a production, directors stepped up with authorial vision and demanded the controls. The new direction was one that was grounded in grit and gruff, while previous visions may have been romanticized, these directors wanted realism.
Today, the balance of power continues to shift between the production mega-centers of Los Angeles and New York. Without a doubt, these cities are the best entryways into the industry. But the times they are a changin’—again.
If technology is the key that opens the door to opportunity, then with today’s technology, artists virtually anywhere have access to create, communicate and share their ideas and visions, so long as they can organize and manage a team and find and navigate a market. It’s just a matter of time until that new business model launches from somewhere outside of NY and LA and lights up the sky. And then we’ll see those same fireworks replicated everywhere across the country. Except for New York and Los Angeles.
Brian Ackley is the Head of Development at One Way or Another Productions. His latest feature, Alienated, was picked for distribution by Gravitas Ventures and is now on VOD.