A Sociological Look inside a Film Reel

By Ryan Redilla

In Dr. Vaccaro’s Honors Core course, the students learned about art worlds. An art world contains many different characteristics and is very subjective. The class turned to sociologist Howard Becker to help figure out what an art world truly is. The class defined an art world as a realm that consists of all the people and activities involved in creating what is deemed by others as “art”. There is a myriad of art worlds and it’s hard to select just one to discuss. I decided to take a closer look into the art world of film.

Film is a very diverse and unique art world. It has millions of collaborators and conventions, uses many different resources, is distributed through various mediums, and judged by many viewers. Film is by far my favorite art form. I think the skill that it takes to act, direct, and produce a motion picture is extraordinary. Film is one of the most popular art forms and has been around since the late 1870s. It has evolved drastically over the last 100 years and has a very profound and interesting history.

What all goes into making a film? The answer is a lot. The film process consists of five main stages: development, pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution. The idea or main story of a film is created during the development stage and eventually written into a script. Then during pre-production, all the costumes, props, and film plans are developed and scheduled so that the film can reach the production stage and actually be filmed. Next is post-production where the film is edited and any last minute changes are made. And finally during distribution the filmmaker sells his/her film to a distributor, whether it be a streaming source or Hollywood movie distributor, to be seen by an audience.

Why is film considered an art world? According to sociologist Howard Becker for an object or product to be considered art it has to meet five criteria. It has to have collaborators, conventions, resources, distribution, and judgement. The film process is very demanding and consists of many jobs and workers. There are many jobs that go into making a film, ranging everywhere from extra to director. Films can have a credits list containing thousands of people before a film is finalized and ready for theaters. For example, the legendary 1998 World War II flick, Saving Private Ryan had over 200 collaborators in the art, costume, and makeup departments alone.

SavingPrivateRyan

The biggest or most well-known jobs that go into filmmaking are the directors, producers, writers, actors/actresses, and directors of photography. These jobs are very prestigious among the careers in film; they have many assistants and positions below them. They basically cover all of the leadership aspects that get films developed, produced, and distributed. Whether it’s a small independent movie or a blockbuster film there is always a hierarchy of roles on a film project.

Some famous collaborators include Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Deakins, Christopher Nolan, and the Coen Brothers. All of these artists are either directors, producers, or directors of photography. Their works include Jaws, Indiana Jones, The Dark Knight Trilogy, No Country for Old Men, Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction. These are just some of the most well-known directors and producers in the film industry. But like I stated earlier, when you look at a film’s credits you will see a list of hundreds of collaborators mentioned. That’s because art isn’t created individually; it’s a collaborative subject and takes a lot of work and cohesion to produce.


Read More: Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Four More Directors on the Decline of “Middle-Class Films,” Facing Retirement


But everything isn’t always so cohesive. Collaborators have different motives for producing films. While money drives everything in the film world, the directors are more focused on creating art and capturing the screenwriter’s story. The screenwriter wants to have his/her story told and the producers or technicians are mainly in it for the income. Collaborators often argue with one another and end up changing or adapting to find a middle ground where most, if not all of the crew, is happy. A perfect example of this is the movie Apocalypse Now. Director Francis Ford Coppola went so insane from the pressures and hardships of filming in the Philippines that he went way over budget, had to fund most of the film himself, took over a year longer to film than originally anticipated and pushed his actors to a breaking point. He bickered with Hollywood over funding and production time and even had to pay one of his main actors, Marlon Brando, more money to show up unprepared and overweight for his role.

The film industry has many different conventions.  Conventions are defined as the ways or methods of doing something. In this case it’s the techniques and methods used to create film. With the increase in technology over the last 60 years, film has drastically changed. The industry is constantly coming out with new types of cameras, different platforms, special effects, and ways to tell their story. Just take the different types of film and cameras for example. You have digital cameras, 360° cameras, film cameras, and various types of film. Film comes in 35mm, 120, 4×5, black and white, color, and infrared.

Not only are there technological conventions but there are also different techniques filmmakers use to produce movies. For instance, director Martin Scorsese uses a wide overhead camera angle in a lot of his films to portray a more omniscient or god-like point of view. Many editors have their own tips and tricks that they use in post-production to make a film have a certain look or to convey a certain theme. After filmmakers achieve a higher status they start collaborating with many of the same artists. This is to help facilitate the filmmaking process and help all parties make a film that they can all enjoy and agree on. Director Quentin Tarantino has casted actor, Samuel L. Jackson in a lot of his movies because they have a cohesive partnership and know what both want from the other.

There is a lot of opportunity in the world of conventions but at the same time a lot of problems. Like I stated earlier, how some artists choose to work together because they have a nice partnership, well it goes both ways. Some artists will never work together again because of their disagreements on conventions. When making the 1974 film Chinatown director Roman Polanski and actress Faye Dunaway had a falling out. Dunaway focused on the art of acting and asked Polanski many questions on what he wanted from her while Polanski told her to just read the lines and leave him alone.

To produce a successful movie you need tons of resources and support to assure that everything runs smoothly. Film resources include everything such as the support of family and friends, film locations, and equipment (cameras, cast/crew, and catering to feed the collaborators). All resources are crucial and important to producing a movie, but the most essential part of any film’s resources is the movie budget. The budget can range anywhere from thousands of dollars to hundreds of millions. For instance, director Christopher Nolan’s first feature film, Following, was made on a budget of $6,000 while Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End had a whopping budget of $300,000,000. Remember how Saving Private Ryan had a massive cast and crew for production, budgeting was what allowed everyone to get paid and everything to go according to plan. It is an extremely vital part of the film process.

After a film is created it has to be distributed. There is a myriad of distributors for filmmakers to choose from to get their product out there. Distribution occurs so filmmakers can reach an audience. The problem with this is, how to go about actually distributing the film. Distribution involves a ton of legal action and decisions regarding copyrights, trademarks, and of course, money. A director can contact a movie conglomerate like Paramount Studios, Warner Bros, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, or Universal Studios to promote their film and scatter their work throughout the film world; but many filmmakers like to self-distribute their film and advertise it on their own to avoid having to pay distributors big bucks and avoid giving up their rights to the film. With a new variety of distributors, many filmmakers have turned to streaming mediums like Netflix and Hulu to get their work to an audience. Whether the distribution is funded by a company or the filmmaker, with so much content out there today it is easier than ever before to advertise film.

Movies are available 24/7. Most citizens have the power to watch a film anytime and anywhere. And with so many viewers, film is able to have a world of critics.  Every single moviegoer is a critic and part of the judgment process. Even though every viewer is able to form his or her own opinion, there are professional critics and analysts of film. Movie critics are an important part of deciding what’s worth watching and what isn’t. Some famous movie critics include IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Rolling Stone Magazine, and Roger Ebert. There is also festivals like Sundance and Cannes that attract new filmmakers every year and judge films. But the ultimate film critic is the Academy Awards. The Academy Awards ceremony or Oscars, has been a huge promoter and critic of film and continues to go in popularity. The Academy Awards have been around for 89 years and have judged or assessed over 1,000 films since its existence.

Now the issue with the judgement of film is that, like many other art worlds, it’s very biased. While every viewer has his/her own opinions and preferences, it’s ultimately up to the critics and festivals/ceremonies to judge quality film. And the reason this is skewed or a poor judgement of film is that it excludes a lot of well-made movies and doesn’t give many artists a chance to promote their works and get their art properly assessed. But on the bright side with more film critics than ever before, filmmakers are more easily able to get their films evaluated. There are many online sites and critics willing to read and judge work available to collaborators today.

Since film contains all five of the essential elements that make up art, it is considered an art world. Now that I have discussed why film is deemed an art world, what should we do about it? There are a lot of opportunities in the film art world, but there is also just as many issues. Many talented and underrated filmmakers aren’t receiving a fair chance in the film industry. To solve this problem, I would create facilities dedicated to specifically reading over movie scripts and training interested individuals on proper camera etiquette and techniques. It would give many inexperienced artists a chance to develop their skills and produce art and original work, unlike all the franchises and remakes of today’s film industry. With a dedicated and professional crew, filmmakers could get hands on experience and learn from industry pros, who are important critics and resources in the film industry that can get the true artists the credit they deserve.

In conclusion, film is a vast and comprehensive art world. I described all that goes into the filmmaking process and how based off of the five categories: collaborators, conventions, resources, distribution, and judgement, film is deemed as art. I also discussed what, therefore, we should do about the film industry. The world of film is massive and contains millions of components. And with so many moving parts, the mechanism that is film isn’t always a well-oiled machine. There is a lot of opportunity as well as a lot of conflict. Overall, I think film is heading in a new and exciting direction and with so many new conventions and collaborators coming about, viewers are in for an enjoyable ride for years to come.

Works Cited

Barrance, Tom. “The Filmmaking Process.” Learn about Film <learnaboutfilm.com/making-a-film/organising-filmmaking-process>.

Becker, Howard Saul. Art Worlds. Berkeley; London: University of California Press, 1982.

Hale, Benjamin. “The History of the Hollywood Movie Industry.” History Cooperative, 12 Nov.  2014, <historycooperative.org/the-history-of-the-hollywood-movie-industry>.

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