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06/22/2001 - Studio Backlots

How to Produce Movies for Television

"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said."

-- Peter Ferdinand Drucker

Studio Backlots

In the glory days of Hollywood, the studio backlots were the place to shoot almost everything worth shooting. The backlots took on the persona of the world recreating the sidewalks of Old New York, wild and wooly western towns, the Chicago of the 1930s, and ancient Sparta, just to name a few. It was the place where movies were made.

At its zenith, MGM was making magical movie musicals and shooting was booked far ahead at all three backlots. In those days, studios often made around 100 pictures in a single year.

Today, it's a different story. Real estate has escalated to sky high proportions. As a result, MGM's backlots in Culver City have been converted into condominiums. 20th Century Fox in West Los Angeles has also been affected by the real estate boom. Their backlots have shrinked as well. And Universal studios uses much of their backlots today as part of their theme park, which is one of their biggest moneymakers.

Today, more than ever, television production of series occupy the studio sound stages and adjoining areas. Less films are shot at the studios in favor of runaway production locations. Toronto, Vancouver, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh are among the favorite places where more and more films are being shot.

The advantage to a studio shoot is that there is almost total access to important production departments. Wardrobe and makeup, props, and construction department are at the ready. There's also equipment readily available.

Other advantages of using a studio backlot include keeping the production under control. A studio backlot offers a more enclosed environment. This means working without any interference from city traffic or other annoying disturbances.

Directors who live in the Hollywood area often prefer to shoot on backlots even though they don't look as good as real life locations. The reason is because they can come home at night and be with their families instead of staying in a hotel.

How to Produce Movies for Television

There is, however, a familiarity about seeing the same backlot streets over and over again passing for the streets of New York. Another problem is that directors find the few streets that are left are too small and confining.. Real estate values have eroded a way of life that was once backlot heaven.

Conversely, there is a problem when it comes to shooting Toronto for New York. After a while, the audience sees the same stores. They all too easily recognize that it's not New York after all.

Other pluses for backlot shoots include easy accessibility to setups. For example, rain on demand is no problem. The power is self-contained for lights to lead the way during difficult productions which rely on night shoots.

The downside at backlots is that the limited space is confining for the director and cinematographer. The shots are more limiting and as a result it becomes more and more repetitious because there isn't much room for innovation.

Two of the best backlot studios in Los Angeles are the the Warner Bros. and Universal lots. They still have the best New York Streets and Western Streets.

The episodic directors still prefer the Hollywood film crews because according to many veterans they're the best in the world. But the truth is that it's very difficult to find substitute locations for the real places. With all its attendant problems, shooting New York for New York is far more real than the most authentic looking backlot.

The business of the business is rapidly changing. Computer generated images and digital shoots are the way of the world. In time, the face of the industry and technological advances will change the way films are made forever.

Those who are adaptable to change will survive and thrive. And those who don't, won't. In today's world, employing creative strategies is what counts.

"Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy, it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things."

-- Miyamoto Musashi, Japanese warrior and strategist


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