Introduction to Mass Media/Film
Since the industry’s inception, films have become one of the most prominent forms of entertainment in history. Films have captured the imagination and interest of the entire planet with timeless classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Jurassic Park, The Godfather, Rocky and countless others to name. Over the last century, movies of all types have allowed audiences to witness, respect and enjoy the magic and creativity of film producers, directors and actors. Films, like much of society, have undergone a complete digital transformation and have become more advanced as new technologies have emerged. Even as technology has expanded and new forms of entertainment have emerged, the legacy of film has remained intact and this phenomenal element will go down in history as one of the most popular forms of entertainment ever created.
Table of Contents:
1 Film History: The Early Years through Contemporary Time
2 Film Genres and Movie Ratings
3 Minority Involvement in Film
4 Movie Moguls and Major Film Studios
5 Production/ Film Development
6 CGI and Technological Advances in Film
7 Home Entertainment: VCR, DVD and Netflix
8 Film Chapter Terms
Film History: The Early Years through Contemporary Time
Films and movies are commonly referred to as Motion Pictures, which are a compilation of moving images that are displayed on screen. However, before films reached the level of sophistication that has been established as the status quo in contemporary time, films started off in a primitive phase. Dating back to the 19th Century, there have been many devices and public figures that were instrumental in the early years of film. In the 1860’s, Peep Shows were made available to the public. Peep Shows were multiple pictures that were linked to a crank in a box that people individually operated which allowed the pictures to move as a form of entertainment. One of the most prominent figures in the development of the early stages of film was Thomas Edison. Although Edison is remembered as the individual who invented the light bulb, unbeknownst to many people, Edison was also responsible for the creation of the Kinetoscope. This creation was one of the early motion picture devices that allowed society to watch short films individually and person by person as opposed to watching them simultaneously as one whole group. Other notable figures included Auguste and Louis Lumiere who were French inventor brothers that are remembered as two of the earliest movie makers who presented films to the public for the first time. As the 20th Century was unfolding and new technologies were emerging, D.W. Griffith produced and directed the first ever major full-length film entitled, Birth of a Nation which was released in 1922. From the beginning of film history, various types of films have existed. Some of these types included Silent Films which were films that had no sound at all, including character voices and special effects. In contemporary time, Independent Films, which are films that are not produced by a major film studio and not as expensive or time consuming to make, are gaining more attention and obtaining more appeal with young actors and up-and-coming film directors. With the rise in new technologies such as Social Media and YouTube, many members of society, particularly those who are both younger and inexperienced, are taking on the title of Self-Proclaimed Independent Film Maker since, with a camera or an I-phone, these individuals can upload footage for the entire world to view in a matter of seconds. However, many experienced actors and producers create Independent Films as well. Tim Reid, who starred on the television shows WKRP in Cincinnati and Sister, Sister is regarded in contemporary time as an accomplished Independent Filmmaker. Reid operates and owns a film studio in Virginia and in late 2013 presented an International Film Festival at Norfolk State University, an HBCU located in Norfolk, Virginia. Hollywood was not always the way it is depicted in society today nor has it always been located in California. Back during the early part of the 20th Century, many of the nation's major film companies were located in New York, however this began to change. According to Biagi (2005), “In 1903, Harry Chandler owned the Los Angeles Times, but he also invested in Los Angeles real estate. Chandler and his friends courted the movie business, offering cheap land, moderate weather and inexpensive labor (p. 134)" . Within a short amount of time, Hollywood became what the world views it as in contemporary time.
Film Genres and Movie Ratings
Films have come a long way since the early days of their existence. Today, there are a vast amount of Film Genres, various types of films, which include Comedy, Horror, Mystery/Suspense, Fantasies, Drama/Musicals, Science Fiction, Westerns and Action/Adventure. When thinking about these various types of films and the amount of entertainment they have brought to audiences, many people often feel a sense of nostalgia. Many films come to mind when thinking of comedy in the 21st Century. Recent comedies like The Hangover and Tropic Thunder were popular hits with audiences because of the balanced mixture of creativity and originality. However, there were many great comedies that came long before these films were even conceptualized and offered up a substantial amount of comic relief. Films such as Blazing Saddles and National Lampoon’s Vacation were both critically acclaimed comedies that appealed greatly to the public and became classics that are still admired to this day. Horror films, as well as films in the Mystery and Suspense genre, have evolved significantly. When horror and suspense films were first released it was during an era of limited, and primitive, special effects. However, in contemporary time these types of films rely heavily on digital technology and graphic makeup for scares and thrills. Unlike with today’s films, notable films of these two genres of the 20th Century did not rely heavily on digital effects. Instead, what made films scary back during that time frame were the character’s emotions, dialogue, the occasional dark moments on screen and limited special effects. Some memorable horror and suspense films of the 20th Century were The Shining, Halloween, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and Stephen King’s It. Fantasy films, many of which start out as a novel series, have both established and expanded their creativity with imaginative story lines and compelling special effects, especially within the last two decades. As a result, many fantasy film franchises have dominated media headlines, garnered a strong following among fans and have amassed significant revenue globally. Some of these films include the Harry Potter franchise, the Twilight series and the newest, and ongoing addition, The Hunger Games. Films that fall into the Drama and Musical genre not only receive generally critical acclaim but they also resonate deeply with the viewer’s hearts and minds. Many dramas tell stories that can be historical or fictional. Often times, dramas can appeal to an individual’s personal life, ongoing issues in society and can also be viewed as coming-of-age films for many young people. Some outstanding drama films and musicals over the last few decades have included Lincoln, On Golden Pond, Stand By Me, Brokeback Mountain, Lean on Me, The Sound of Music and Dream Girls.
Science Fiction films have expanded their popularity in the last few years, especially with the rapid rise in advanced special effects and cutting edge technology. The newly rebooted Star Trek franchise starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana, when compared to the 20th Century version starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, offers a stark contrast in terms of the use of special effects and models. The older franchise had a heavier reliance on models and stage props whereas digital effects are heavily used with the new franchise. Although Western Films are a dying film genre and are no longer viewed, or even produced, as much in the 21st Century, this genre does still maintain its place in history. One actor in particular, according to West (1971), “Gilbert M. Anderson, is remembered by many as the first Western movie star with his famous role of ‘Broncho Billy’ a character that he portrayed in over 300 short films” . Action films have had a long and popular history with the public. When moviegoers think of action films they often think about prominent action stars of the last twenty to thirty years such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Bruce Willis and Jet Li. Often times in action films the typically seen plot is one involving one individual (the hero) against a group of villains. One of the earlier films that really set this standard for action films was 1988’s Die Hard starring Bruce Willis as a cop from New York up against a terrorist group led by Alan Rickman in an L.A. skyscraper.
Any movie that is created by a major film studio and then distributed to the public is subjected to a certain movie rating. The movie ratings are assigned based off the content that is viewed, the language used and any nudity that may occur in the film. The Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA, is known for creating the movie rating system which rates every major film as ‘G’, ‘PG’, ‘PG-13’, ‘R’, or ‘NC-17’. Many films that are rated ‘G’, ‘PG’ often times pertain to a younger audience. In particular, animated films tend to fall into one of these two movie ratings. In comparison, ‘PG-13’, ‘R’ and ‘NC-17’ rated movies generally pertain to a more mature audience and typically contain more adult themed situations and language. Unknown to many of the current generation of moviegoers, the ‘PG-13’ rating was not in the original movie rating system. According to Ratings-History (n.d.), “It was not added until 1984 and it broadened the movie rating system and serves as a method of cautioning parents about allowing their children to view these types of movies” .
Minority Involvement in Films
Similar to how African Americans and minorities were, at one point, segregated when it came to restrooms and schools, the same concept applied to movie theaters as well. African Americans were not granted admission into white theaters so therefore black theaters emerged around all black neighborhoods which featured all-black casts. NAACP History: Oscar Michaeux (n.d.) stated "Oscar Micheaux, known for producing, directing and distributing multiple race movies was one of the best known African American filmmakers of the time. He has gone down in history as the first African American to produce a black film and have it viewed in white theaters" . When thinking about prominent African American’s in film, most people in today's society would think about actors such as Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson and Eddie Murphy. Although these actors are popular and respected figures in the entertainment society, there were other important figures that came before them and paved the way for these stars as well as other minorities. Some of these early figures included Paul Robeson who was one of the first African American male actors in film during the early part of the 20th Century. Robeson was best known for leading roles in The Emperor Jones and Show Boat. Even outside of film, Paul Robeson-About the Actor (2006) found that, “he was one of the first black men to play serious roles in the primarily white American theater” . Other important figures included Sidney Poitier who, to the current generation of film watchers, is remembered as the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor and for the portrayal as the father in, A Raisin in the Sun. However, Poitier is also remembered, according to Rodman (2009) as, “one of the first mainstream black stars, in movies such as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and In the Heat of the Night (1967), which dealt with themes of racial intolerance (p. 186)” .
In contemporary time, Will Smith is regarded by many as one of the most successful African American blockbuster film stars. Building upon the success of the 1990’s popular sit com The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smith is idolized for box office hits such as Independence Day, Bad Boys, Men in Black and I am Legend. Morgan Freeman, being a critically acclaimed and highly respected actor with the unique ability to portray any character in a position of authority, such as ‘God’ in Bruce Almighty and ‘The President of the United States’ in Deep Impact, has become one of the few African American actors to be constantly sought out for national voice over work. Although there are many iconic African American film actors today, there are also many talented African American film makers such as John Singleton, who is known for directing the popular coming-of-age African American film, Boyz in the Hood and in recent years, Four Brothers. Unlike Singleton and other respected African American film makers like Spike Lee and Antoine Fuqua, Tyler Perry's work in the entertainment field has received an overall mixed reception from audiences. Perry is often criticized by some in the African American community, as well as by various film critics, for stereotyping the African American race in a negative way. However, Perry’s rise to fame is an example of a rags to riches story of a highly successful African American entertainer who came from absolutely nothing. Perry, who had minimum finances and struggled for years to obtain a career break, is currently one of the few African American film makers to independently operate a major film and television studio. Perry is also known to not only cast many African Americans in films, stage productions and television shows, but is also an individual who gives African Americans jobs behind the camera as well.
Movie Moguls and Major Film Studios
With every great film comes the great mind(s) who conceived the concept. George Lucas is one of the most world renowned film makers in history who is known for breaking down creative barriers and starting a new frontier in sci-fi films. Lucas is well known for the creation of the original Star Wars movies as well as the contemporary prequels. In the beginning, Lucas’ original Star Wars movies almost did not become reality. Orellana (2012) stated that, “When Lucas wrote the first movie back in the 1970’s and presented it to various studio executives they all rejected it” . Fortunately for Lucas, as history has shown, the movie did in fact come into production and soon morphed into a trilogy and then became a saga years later when Lucas concluded the story with three prequel films. The Walt Disney Company recently acquired the rights from Lucas’ film company, Lucasfilm, and is now on track to create three new Star Wars films over the next several years. Steven Spielberg is also an individual with many film credits under his belt. Some of these credits include E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Jaws, The Color Purple and teaming up with colleague and friend George Lucas to create The Indiana Jones franchise. Spielberg, like Lucas, is consistently praised by both movie critics and fans, for the unique ability to blend a creative story with powerful special effects. James Cameron is highly regarded by many as one of the most successful film makers of all time. Cameron, known for making movies with substantial length to them, is responsible for classic films such as Avatar, Titanic, Aliens, and the first two Terminator movies. Aside from the fact that Cameron is a creative genius when it comes to movies, Cameron is also very much involved in the creation of the films. According to Goodyear (2009), “Cameron inserts himself into every aspect of the film making process. With the virtual camera, he is both cinematographer and camera operator, working in his favorite style, handheld, for what he calls ‘an edgy, subjective quality’” .
Aside from the film directors, there are other major players and organizations when it comes to the creation and distribution of a film. The aforementioned MPAA is one of the most widely known organizations in film development due to the organization’s representation of the six major film studios in the United States. These six major film studios, as stated by About Us (n.d.) are, “Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLC; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.” . Pixar Animation Studios as well Dream Works Studio have been established individually as powerful forces in the movie making business over the last two decades, especially in light of the vast creation of animation films. Animation film hits, according to Baute (2013) like, “the Shrek franchise, Madagascar, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles and How to Train Your Dragon were all made by these two studios, even as these two corporations are both locked in a movie competition with one another” .
Similar to how numerous individuals are required in order to successfully operate a company, the same concept applies to the film industry. Aside from the actors, some of the key players behind the scenes who assist in the creation and navigation of a film include the producer, the director, the screenwriter and the cinematographer. A producer is an individual(s) who is responsible for organizing and supervising the creation of the film. Once the film has been completed it is sent off to a film distributor. The director is the leading figure who is responsible for the overall direction of the film and instructs and guides the cast and crew to create the picture that has been envisioned for the film. A screenwriter is also known as a scriptwriter for a film. These individuals are one of the figures who take an idea(s) and seek to have them made into a full movie. The cinematographer is a member of the production team on a film that is responsible for overseeing the lighting and camera work. The three key phases in the creation of a film are pre-production, production and post- production. Wild (2013) found that, "During the pre-production phase all of the key organizational factors are taken care of. The script for the movie is written, the shooting schedule is established and all of the necessary arrangements are taken care of. The production stage is when the film is shooting all of the scenes at the necessary locations and the director is ensuring that everything is clear and precise. Finally, in the post-production stage is the editing. In this phase all of the special effects such as the music and the computerized backgrounds are added in, the film shots are all molded together and the director puts all of the final touches on the film before it is considered complete" .
Many people do not realize that one reason why movies are so expensive to make is because there are so many individuals and external factors involved. Despite the fact that extensive labor and time is required to create a film, like with many other professions, individuals associated with a film who stand out, such as the actors or a member of the production crew, are recognized for hard work and achievements with prestigious awards entitled Academy Awards. An Academy Award, also referred to as an Oscar, is the highest award any figure involved in the creation of a film can receive. As it currently stands, as stated by Schurman (2013), “Katherine Hepburn, who was known for playing strong female leads, holds the record for most Academy Awards won by both male and female actors. However, Walt Disney holds the ultimate and thus far unbeatable record of 64 Academy Award nominations and 24 wins” .
CGI and Technological Advances in Film
As technology became more advanced with cellphones, televisions and computers, it was incorporated into films as well. In the early years of film, props and models were often used and with certain scenes involving a specific desired background, the timing of the film shoot had to be perfectly executed. This caused many problems and delays when creating a film. However, with the creation of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), an advanced form of computer technology that creates shapes and characters in a film, this not only eliminated many problems and allowed films to be created in a more time efficient manner, but it also created a new era in film making. An element of this new era has been 3-D Films which are movies that contain advanced features that are designed to make the audience feel like they are inside of the film. Although 3-D films have been around for decades, with the rise of new technology and cutting edge special effects, just in the last few years alone 3-D is viewed as far more realistic and engaging than ever before. An example of 3-D films at its finest is James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar. Aside from becoming the highest grossing film of all time, including surpassing Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, the film Avatar is well known for groundbreaking special effects. Thompson (2010) found that, “Unknown to many fans, the film was actually conceived by Cameron back during the mid-1990’s, however he didn’t believe that the technology at the time was advanced enough to complete his vision so he waited for more than ten more years until he felt that the time was right to move the project into production” . Back in 1995 Toy Story, one of the most successful animated film franchises ever created, became the first movie to be produced entirely on computers. Although this was not the first film to have animation features in it, it has gone down in history as one of the milestone movies that paved the way for CGI movies of today. With the creative and digital evolution that films, especially ones that are animated, are going through and with the way films are produced and viewed in contemporary time, Scott (2011) stated that “the machinery of production and distribution is in the midst of an epochal change, part of the rapid and convulsive digitization of everything under the sun” .
Home Entertainment: VCR, DVD and Netflix
Films move into the field of home entertainment systems once the cycle run at the movie theater is complete. Two of the most popular systems in home entertainment have been the VCR & DVD which stand for Video Cassette Recorder & Digital Versatile Disc, respectively. Although the VCR was a popular device dating back to the 1970’s, in contemporary time, the VCR is obsolete and for the most part no longer in production, with the exception of the joint VCR/DVD systems. Over the last ten plus years DVD’s have taken the role of the standard movie watching device in many homes, similar to the way VCR’s were for the last few decades. However, DVD’s are slowly becoming replaced by the new and popular advanced movie player Blu-Ray, which delivers an even sharper image as well as more enhanced audio features. With the eminent rise of YouTube, online video game rental sites and Netflix, digital technology has greatly diminished movie and video game renting industries such as Blockbuster. Long gone are the days of individuals going to Blockbuster and finding out that the movie or the game that was sought had been rented out and there were no more copies available. With YouTube and particularly Netflix, the digital era has now consumed the globe. Society now has the ability to stream movies right into a household at a reduced cost and in some cases for free. Although Netflix has not overtaken the movie theater industry, it does seem as though that idea may soon become a reality. Netflix now releases television shows on the company’s website. A similar idea is being floated around with the movie industry. Netflix is considering the idea of releasing new movies on the organization’s website the same day that the movie opens in theaters. According to Kakfa (2013) “Why not premiere movies on Netflix, the same day they’re opening in theaters? And not little movies…Why not big movies? Why not follow the consumers’ desire to watch things when they want” ?
Films have been widely regarded as a magical experience for many people. Although films have undergone significant transformations over the last one hundred plus years and will continue to do so as society progresses and technology becomes more advanced, one thing remains certain. That certainty is that films will go down in history as one of the most cherished and sought out forms of entertainment.
Film Chapter Terms
Motion Pictures: Commonly referred to as both a film and a movie. Motion Pictures are a compilation of moving images that are displayed on screen.
Peep Shows: Multiple pictures that were linked to a crank in a box that people individually operated which allowed the pictures to move as a form of entertainment.
Thomas Edison: An iconic inventor who created the kinetoscope, one of the early motion picture devices, which allowed society to watch short films individually as opposed to altogether.
Louis & Auguste Lumiere: French inventor brothers who have gone down in history as two of the earliest film makers and are both remembered for presenting films to the public for the first time.
D.W. Griffith: Produced and directed the first ever major full-length film entitled, Birth of a Nation which was released in 1922.
Silent Films: Early films in history that had no sound at all, including character voices and special effects.
Independent Films: Films that are not produced by a major film studio and are not as expensive or time consuming to create. Often times upcoming actors, producers and directors start out in short films.
Film Genres: The various types of films that are available for viewers. These film types are Comedy, Drama, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense, Musicals, Fantasies, Horror and Westerns.
MPAA: Motion Picture Association of America. This organization represents the six major film studios in the United States. This organization is also known for the creation of the movie rating system which rates every major film as either 'G', 'PG', 'PG-13', 'R' or 'NC-17'.
Paul Robeson: One of the early African American male actors in film during the early part of the 20th Century. Robeson was best known for his roles in The Emperor Jones and Show Boat.
George Lucas: One of the most prolific film makers in history who is known for breaking down creative barriers and starting a new frontier in sci-fi films. Responsible for the creation of the original Star Wars movies as well as the contemporary prequels.
Producer: The individual(s) who is responsible for organizing and supervising the creation of the film. They also present the completed film to a film distributor.
Director: The leading figure who is responsible for the overall direction of the film. They instruct and guide the cast and crew to create the picture that they have envisioned for the film.
Screenwriters: Also known as scriptwriters for a film. These individuals are one of the figures who take an idea(s) and seek to have them made into a full movie.
Cinematographer: A member of the production team on a film that is responsible for overseeing the lighting and camera work.
Academy Awards: Also referred to as an Oscar. This is the highest award that any figure involved in the creation of a film can receive.
Computer Generated Imagery (CGI): Computer Generated Imagery; an advanced form of computer technology that creates shapes and characters in a film.
3-D Movies: Films that contain advanced features that are designed to make the audience feel like they are inside of the film.
VCR/DVD: Video Cassette Recorder & Digital Versatile Disc.
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