The Reasons Behind The Success

United Artists' move to offer independent producers complete production financing, creative control, final cut and a share of the profits differentiated the distribution company from the other majors, for which it was not as easy to adapt to the post-studio era. One great advantage UA held over its competitors was that it did not have a studio backlot and therefore no stars or technical personnel under contract and no overhead costs at a time when studio production started declining and studio employees were turning freelance. Unlike the other majors that were recruiting independent production units to provide them with product but, equally importantly, to make use of the ex-studios' production facilities and empty soundstages for a fee (a practice that inflated budgets considerably), United Artists was happy for its producers to make their own arrangements for the use of studio space provided that their choice would not have any impact on the budget. For this reason, it did not attach overhead costs to the budgets of individual films (with the exception of 1 per cent of the final production budget),46 at a time when top-rank independent producers at Paramount (such as Hitchcock and De Mille) were forced to pay a large overhead charge to the studio in return for financing, technical support, distribution and publicity.47 Needless to say that these charges were among the first to be deducted from the gross receipts long before these filmmakers claimed any profits from the producer's net income.

Furthermore, and because it did not possess a studio lot, UA was the first financier/distributor to encourage production outside the US. Like the other distributors, UA had blocked or frozen capital in several European countries, a result of the protective measures these countries had taken to encourage domestic film production. Runaway productions (as American productions made outside the US came to be known) gave an opportunity to a financier/distributor to utilise those frozen funds by re-investing them in production in the same country, while partnerships with local entrepreneurs, use of local tax loopholes, and considerably cheaper (than Hollywood) labour costs could bring budgets down. Very soon the benefits of runaway production were recognised by the rest of the majors. By 1959 there were 32 US pictures being filmed in Italy, 28 in France and 20 in Britain, while in the following year 40 per cent of all films financed by the ex-studios were shot outside the US.48 It was clear that this type of production would become a mainstay of Hollywood cinema, especially when in the 1960s various countries' legislations offered subsidies to Hollywood majors to continue making films in their countries.

But, by far, the most important element in the United Artists' arsenal of advantages was the combination of creative control and profit participation, with little or no financial risk for the independent producer. To keep budgets down and potentially increase profit margins, United Artists invited its filmmakers to become co-venturers in their projects, primarily by asking them to defer their salaries. For instance, Stanley Kramer's salary of $75,000 for his role as a producer for each of the six films and of $125,000 if he acted as a producer-director for each of the three films he would decide to direct would be both deferred. Kramer would be paid only a weekly salary of $1,500 for the administration of Lomitas Productions, while he would have to wait his turn to receive either of his deferred salaries or profits from the producer's net income. This meant that for the duration of the three-year contract the filmmaker was guaranteed to receive approximately $225,000 in salary whether his films returned profits or not.49 Additionally the filmmaker and the distributor would convince the major stars to defer part of their own salaries or accept smaller salaries and make profit participation deals, keeping the budget at very low (compared to the rest of the industry) levels. In this way,

Kramer's films had the potential to return profits, if successful at the box office as, according to Balio, no film distributed by United Artists between 1951 and 1957 succeeded in returning profit to its producer and the distributor. All the profits UA made in those years were purely from the distribution fee.50

United Artists continued its impressive post-1951 march to success. In 1957, the company made a deal with the Mirisch Corporation (consisting of three brothers, Walter, Harold and Marvin), who were previously releasing films through Allied Artists. The Mirisch Corporation represented a new type of independent film company, one that specialised in providing a full range of services to filmmakers, including: negotiating contracts and financing; approaching actors for casting on behalf of the filmmaker; arranging pre-production logistics; and even supervising a film's marketing and merchandising worldwide.51 It was the company's objective to handle all matters pertaining to the organisation of a film production so that the filmmaker could concentrate on simply making the film. This type of company had become a necessity in the new environment of America cinema where a large number of independent filmmakers had to carry out extensive administration work on top of their production duties.

In many ways, the Mirisch Corporation represented the next step to another recent development, the rise of talent agencies into a central position in the American film industry. With the studios no longer generating production deals, talent agencies found an opportunity to expand their main line of work (representing talent in negotiations for film production deals), putting production deals together, preferably by utilising only their roster of clients. Although the Mirisch brothers were not agents, the services they offered covered several aspects of deal-making but significantly extended to cover other areas of production and management.

The foundation of their work was to place a number of commercial directors under contract, believing that they would be able to attract the stars. Through the Mirisch Corporation, United Artists distributed the work of filmmakers such as Billy Wilder, John Sturges, Robert Wise, William Wyler, Blake Edwards and Norman Jewison, responsible for a number of commercial and critical successes such as: Some Like it Hot (Wilder, 1959); The Magnificent Seven (Sturges, 1960); West Side Story (Wise and Robbins, 1961); The Children's Hour (Wyler, 1962); Pink Panther (Edwards, 1964); and In the Heat of the Night (Jewison, 1967). Between 1958

and 1974, the Mirisch Corporation delivered to United Artists sixty-seven films in total,52 making this one of the most successful agreements between a distributor and a film company in the history of American cinema.

In the 1960s United Artists launched another extremely successful deal, with British producers Harry Saltzman and Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli, who produced for the American distributor the James Bond series of films, starting with Dr No (T. Young) in 1962. Finally, United Artists was first among the majors to tap an increasingly large art-cinema market. Since the success of the French film And God Created Woman (Vadim, 1956) which grossed $3 million at the US box office, there was an exponential increase in theatres dedicated to non-US fare (from fewer than 50 in the pre-war era to more than 800 in 1958). Equally the number of films imported into the US had risen from 93 in 1948 to 532 in 1957, which of course signalled the existence of a distinct audience for art-films.53 To lay a claim to this market, UA acquired one of the foremost distributors in the field, Lopert Pictures. Through this subsidiary, UA released a number of films from 1959 onwards, including the very successful, critically and commercially, Never on Sunday (Dassin, 1960) as well as a number of other moderately commercial but critically applauded films such as La Notte (Antonioni, 1962) and Persona (Bergman, 1967). By 1967, the year this second period in the history of American independent cinema closes, United Artists (which had also become a public company in 1957) had transformed into the most successful company in the film industry, ahead of all its competitors.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment