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In the earliest days of cinema, before the dominance of the narrative mode, movies were made almost wholly by cameramen. Le Repas de bébé (Feeding the Baby or Baby's Dinner, 1895) by Auguste (1862–1954) and Louis Lumière (1864–1948) is a stunning example of composition with movement. As early as the second shot of The Great Train Robbery (1903), filmed for Edison by Edwin S. Porter (1869–1941), one can see, in the depiction of the train moving past a water tower where the desperadoes are hiding, the influence of the finely trained cameraman's eye, sensitive to subtle modulations of light and shadow and adept at composing a well-balanced and beautiful cinematographic frame. This is an exquisite example of black-and-white photography of motion, with a sumptuous range of mid-tone grays, a rich and textured black, and pearly highlights in the sunny spots. Later, Porter was teamed with director J. Searle Dawley (1877–1949) at the Edison studio, and at the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, Billy Bitzer (1872–1944) was teamed with D. W. Griffith (1875–1948), who began directing around 1908. Both Porter and Bitzer claimed that they had alone been responsible for all of the camera work, negative processing, site selection, and actor directing.

After the age of the director had begun, the cinematographer (in the United Kingdom, the "lighting cameraman" and often, in the United States, the "director of photography" or "D.O.P.") came to have exclusive responsibility for the representation of narrative scenes on film. Beyond the actual powering of first the hand-cranked and later the electric camera, this responsibility included designing lighting for each shot; selecting the film stock and camera equipment; operating and maintaining this equipment (later in conjunction with the camera department of the studio), selecting exposure settings and camera movements, and printing the exposed film. When the division of labor at Hollywood studios increased during the 1930s, cinematographers were working with loaders and camera operators, grips and gaffers, juicers, spotmen, and focus pullers. The teaming of cinematographers and directors evident during this era continues to this day, as evinced in such longtime pairings as: cinematographer Bert Glennon (1893–1967) with director John Ford (1894–1973), Joseph Walker (1892–1985) with Frank Capra (1897–1991), Russell Metty (1906–1978) with Douglas Sirk (1900–1987), Robert Burks (1910–1968) with Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980), Sven Nykvist (b. 1922) with Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918), Allen Daviau (b. 1942) and then Janusz Kaminski (b. 1959) with Steven Spielberg (b. 1946), and Ernest Dickerson (b. 1951) with Spike Lee (b. 1957). Such teaming provides opportunities for directors to involve themselves intensively with the cinematographer's style and craft; and many directors, including Hitchcock and Jerry Lewis (b. 1926), operated on the set with a thorough knowledge of lenses, filters, camera movements, and lighting. Some directors were themselves once cinematographers, including Josef von Sternberg (1894–1969), Nicholas Roeg (b. 1928), Haskell Wexler (b. 1926), Robert Rodriguez (b. 1968), Ernest Dickerson, and Jan de Bont (b. 1943), for example.

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC, the three letters that have followed the cinematographer's name in screen credits since Mary Pickford [1893–1979] had them inscribed after Charles Rosher's [1885–1974] name in her films) was formed in 1919 through a union of the Cinema Camera Club (from New York) and the Static Club (from Los Angeles). The British Society of Cinematographers (BSC) was formed in 1949 by Bert Easey and fifty-four colleagues, and the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (CSC) was founded in 1957.


It is often difficult for technically naive viewers to grasp that although in everyday situations the eye typically adapts to variations in light and produces a credible "image" of reality under most lighting conditions, the camera—even an extremely expensive and elaborate one such as the Mitchell BNC 35mm or the Éclair, Arriflex, or Aaton 16mm—can "see" only what the film stock with which it is loaded is sensitive enough to record within a field that has been adequately lit. Onscreen, even darkness, shadow, gloom, and mist need to be properly lit in order to show up visually as such. Simply withholding light from part of a scene will produce a completely underexposed patch in the negative, not an area that will seem to be rich with the characteristic texture of darkness. The dark sequence in Touch of Evil (1958), for example, wherein Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) is tortured and killed by Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), shows exemplary achievement in cinematography, since even in the gloom of the seedy hotel room where the action is set, cinematographer Russell Metty produces a full and rounded range of mid-tone grays and a gritty, textured objectivity.

Also often taken for granted are the delicate screen compositions with light that can move the eye systematically through the editing. To sit back with the sound off and watch Allen Daviau's bicycle chase sequence in Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), for instance, is to be astonished by the exquisitely framed screen compositions and the use of highlighting and camera movement to move the eye seamlessly from shot to shot. Very often in a more casually photographed film, the soundtrack is utilized to smooth cuts between poorly matched shots. Since the earliest days of narrative film in a rudimentary way, and since the 1930s with more sophistication, one of the functions of film lighting has been to guide viewers in pinpointing the narratively central material and details in a scene. From a uniformly accessible visual field, particular material is selected in this way for dramatic emphasis. For example, in the conclusion of Orson Welles's (1915–1985) celebrated Citizen Kane (1941), a child's sled is picked up from a pile of objects and thrown into a blast furnace. Gregg Toland's (1904–1948) camera zooms into the furnace door to pick up the sled being consumed by the flames. Because of the overall darkness of the surrounding area, and the intensity of the light produced by the flames, special key lighting had to be used on the sled in order for the viewer's eye to discover it as a special object in the already bright visual field.

In addition to planning with the director and the designer of a film before shooting, cinematographers work collaboratively during the principal photography stage. Sets must be built or locations selected with the cinematographer's needs at least partially in mind. For example, a "wild" wall is a part of a set that can be removed easily so that a shot can be taken from that point of view; for Hitchcock's Rope (1948) virtually all the walls of the single penthouse set were wild, since the film was to be shot (by Joseph Valentine [1900–1949] and William V. Skall [1897–1976]) in eleven-minute masters, with continuous camera movement and no discernible cuts. Conversely, Clint Eastwood (b. 1930) prefers to eliminate wild walls, so that the cinematographer is always placed—like the characters—inside the situation where he will have to find a "natural" point of view. Cinematographers do not always work with sets fixed inside buildings or locations; for Spike Lee's Get on the Bus (1996), for example, Elliot Davis had a specially rigged bus, with light boxes fixed behind the seats and a camera track mounted on the luggage racks.

As well as set architecture, the colors of sets and costumes will affect lighting and film stock selection. Since the concluding ballet sequence of An American in Paris (1951) required bizarre and theatrical transitions with extreme, colored light, and since no work was going to be done optically in the lab, all the transitions had to be effected through set lighting. To get stark and saturated color effects, John Alton (1901–1996) used color film stock with lighting typical of black-and-white movies. In addition, the cinematographer's team requires time to set up for shots. Both the director and assistant director, one of whose tasks it is to plan shooting schedules efficiently, must collaborate closely to ensure that complicated setups are practical from the budgetary point of view.

A team of grips is under the cinematographer's direction, in order to unload pieces of the camera and dolly, set up the photography equipment, and move the camera and dolly during shots: the chief member of this team is called the "key grip" and has principal responsibility for camera movement. A particularly spectacular case of prodigious grip technique is to be found in the party scene of Hitchcock's Marnie (1964), in which Robert Burks shoots from a vantage point on the balcony overlooking the spacious foyer of an estate house, where dozens of well-dressed socialites are mingling. As the doorbell repeatedly sounds and a uniformed butler opens the door to various guests, the camera moves, in one fluid crane shot with perfectly modulated focus, twenty feet down to floor level and forty feet forward to swoop into the face of Sidney Strutt (Martin Gabel), the very last person anyone wants to see appearing at this soiree, as he stands stiffly on the doorstep.

Another team, the gaffers, of whom the chief is given the special title, "best boy," handles unpacking, wiring, setting up, filtering, adjusting, and moving all of the lights. A particularly fascinating challenge for gaffers was the "wake-up" scene of Jerry Lewis's The Ladies Man (1961). In it Wallace Kelley's camera shows coeds waking up bedroom by bedroom in a huge boardinghouse; then it pulls back to observe them marching out of their rooms, down the hallways to the stairs, and downstairs to the breakfast room; then it pulls farther back to show this happening on many floors simultaneously, then farther back to show the entire structure like a giant dollhouse, then even farther back to show the entire sound stage. All of the areas, from the stage to the individual rooms, had to be lit for optical coherence. The rooms had to have lighting for Technicolor unaffected by the very high lights that would ultimately show the entire set.

The camera operator works under the cinematographer to operate the camera during shots. He or she is assisted by one or more focus pullers, who must measure the lens-to-performer distances the shot will require, establish a schedule of focuses for the shot, and achieve consistent focus as the scene continues. It is solely within the province of the cinematographer and his team to peer through the viewfinder of the camera, although in the United States union regulations forbid cinematographers from actually operating cameras.


Collaborating with the director in terms of the vision sought for a given scene, the cinematographer will direct the lighting, select from a variety of film stocks, and choose a lens. Lenses range between the very short focus wide-angle type (for instance, 8mm through 30mm) through the mid-range "normal" (50mm), to the very long focus telephoto. The longer the lens, the more the focused image is collapsed into a single plane. In the climactic scene of The Graduate (1967), Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) runs down a suburban sidewalk toward the camera, turning at the last moment to race off-camera into a church to stop a wedding. Shot here with a very long lens, Benjamin seems to float in the frame. Although we see his legs pumping and his face picking up an expression of agonized exhaustion, he does not seem to approach us, as he would if photographed with a normal lens. The aesthetic effect is that, race as he

b. Charleston, Illinois, 29 May 1904, d. 26 September 1948

Although he shot more than sixty films, including Kidnapped (1938) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) for Darryl F. Zanuck, Wuthering Heights (1939, for which he won an Academy Award®), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and The Bishop's Wife (1947) for Samuel Goldwyn, The Outlaw (1943) for Howard Hughes, and Intermezzo (1939) for David O. Selznick, it is for a single effort, in collaboration with a newcomer to Hollywood, that Gregg Toland's name is most frequently associated with extraordinary achievement in cinematography: Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941). Toland asked Welles to use him on the picture, since he wanted to learn by working with a man who did not know anything about cinematography.

With deep-focus, high-keyed illumination technique specially adapted for this project, Toland provided Welles with stunningly sharp images. Especially notable are the election speech scene (with its exceptionally high contrast and provocative shooting angles), Kane stumbling past the mirrors at Xanadu (with tautly controlled lighting that produces explosive mirror effects), and the warehouse finale (reprised by Steven Spielberg in Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981), shot with great depth of field and a moving camera. With its simultaneous dramatic action in front, middle, and rear planes of focus, Citizen Kane became a landmark of cinematographic vision in Hollywood film. Welles also wanted "lateral depth of focus" and so Toland used wide-angle lenses with very small apertures; all of this required very intense illumination and led to high-contrast images.

Toland entered the motion picture industry as an office boy and became a lighting cameraman before he was twenty. He worked intensively with William Cameron Menzies but avoided being trapped in a studio contract; then he became invaluable to Goldwyn, who because he wanted Toland free for The Bishop's Wife refused to loan him to Howard Hawks for Red River (1949). The extraordinary intensity of Toland's collaborations with John Ford on The Long Voyage Home (1940) and The Grapes of Wrath stemmed from the men's shared alcoholism and Ford's admiration for Toland's ability to work with great decisiveness. On Citizen Kane, Toland was continually offering Welles what he had learned with Ford—unnecessary editing could be avoided by playing scenes, wherever possible, in a single shot.

Just before his death, Toland had perfected an f.64 lens that could provide depth of field to infinity with "perfect" focus. He is memorialized in the American Film Institute's documentary, Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1992).


The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Long Voyage Home (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)


Bazin, André. Orson Welles: A Critical View. Foreword by François Truffaut. Los Angeles: Acrobat Books, 1991.

Bogdanovich, Peter. "The Kane Mutiny." In Focus on Citizen Kane, edited by Ronald Gottesman, 28–53. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Callow, Simon. Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.

Eyman, Scott. Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Kael, Pauline. The Citizen Kane Book. New York: Limelight, 1984.

Murray Pomerance

might, his chance of coming closer (to us, and to the church) seems slight. When suddenly he turns to run off screen, the viewer is surprised (pleasantly) to discover in the pan that follows him that he made it, after all. Since a few moments later he will in fact succeed in thwarting the wedding of his beloved to another man, this telephoto shot has the effect of sharing with the viewer the agonizing frustration Benjamin feels at this moment, while also preparing the viewer to be relieved of that anxiety.

Short lenses have three effects on motion picture photography. First, shots taken in wide angle require more light than shots taken with a 50mm lens, and the wider the angle (the smaller the focal range) the more additional light is required. Second, in wide-angle photography, the actual camera apparatus must be relatively close to its subject, since space appears to expand outward from the center of the frame. Third, the wide angle produces distortion from the center to the periphery of the frame. A face photographed in wide angle seems plumper, the nose more prominent, the eyes slightly farther apart than one shot in 50mm. Much of Stanley Kubrick's (1928–1999) A Clockwork Orange (1971) is done in wide angle, with the effect that the characters seem caricatured and the action bizarre and circus-like.

A choice of film stock is yet another means whereby a cinematographer can create a filmic effect. Motion picture film is a strip of cellulose acetate coated with an emulsion of halides that are sensitive to light. The light-sensitive emulsion rests on the acetate base in particles relatively small or large: that is, in finer or larger "grain." The finer the grain of the film, the more sensitive it is to light—for color work, this sensitivity registers light in various ranges of the visible spectrum, specifically magenta, yellow, and cyan light (which ultimately produce green, blue, and red in the final picture). The magenta registration is most sensitive to contrast, and through the use of filtration, this color layer can be manipulated separately in printing (through a technique called "color timing") to affect the contrast and, to some degree, the darkness of the image. Fine grain black-and-white film, which came into use for the first time with the French New Wave in the early 1960s, permitted street photography at night and under restricted lighting conditions. For Barry Lyndon (1975), Stanley Kubrick wanted cinematographer John Alcott (1931–1986) to simulate seventeenth-century candlelight, so no electric lighting was used on the shoot at all. Thousands of candles were used for indoor scenes, and maximal use was made of available light for exteriors, all in conjunction with very sensitive color film stock.

The finer the grain of the film, the more light that registers upon it (or the more swiftly light registers), and therefore the greater the available depth of field in the image. Still another mechanism exists for increasing the depth of field—a vital component of cinematic realism, lending to the viewer the belief that a three-dimensional world is being reproduced onscreen. This is the camera's aperture, which can be stopped up or down to permit more or less light, respectively, to enter the camera and strike the surface of the film. Depth perception is aided by stopping the aperture down, and with a very high aperture number (a tiny aperture) the apparent extension of the picture away from the front plane of focus is profound. For David Brisbin's long "face at the end of the road" shots in Gus Van Sant's (b. 1952) My Own Private Idaho (1991), for example, shot during mid-day in unclouded light on an empty highway in the American West, the lens is closed down to a very high f-stop and the viewer can see all the way from the front of the shot to the point where the road meets the horizon in clear, sharp focus. Much of Wait Until Dark (1967), on the other hand—a film depicting the perils of a blind woman trapped in her apartment with malevolent thieves—was shot by Charles Lang (1902–1998) in the f-4 to f-8 range, with little depth of field yet with enough aperture to allow as much light as possible to enter the camera since the scenes are relatively dark. When a film shot is made at f-2 or lower, only the foremost plane of the shot will appear in crisp focus, and everything behind that will be blurry—for example, the pistol that dominates the frame in the finale of Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945).

Cinematographers must have a broad knowledge of film stocks and development processes. Color stock can be balanced for (blue) daylight or (yellow) tungsten (incandescent) illumination. Further, film stock of any sensitivity can be processed by the laboratory either normally or overexposed at the cinematographer's order. Overexposure, called "pushing," makes the shot look grainier and in higher contrast, as well as saturating the colors, and is especially useful when light is at a minimum. A technique widely used until extremely sensitive film stocks were developed and computer animation took the place of much in-camera special effects was the day-for-night shot, in which a scene meant to take place at night was shot in broad daylight using a combination of pushed exposure, tungsten-based (indoor) color film without compensating filtration (so that the color would shift toward moonlight blue), avoidance of sky in composition, and short focus (since the ability to see depth of field is related to the natural response of squinting in bright daylight). When the cinematographer must shoot in shadows with insufficient light to compensate, he can order the film to be post-flashed, that is, exposed very briefly to light at the laboratory to add exposure to the shot.

Two other factors complicate matters in cinematographic work, action speed (motion) and camera speed. First, objects move in cinema, and the camera can itself move (in dollies, pans, tracks, and tilts). The more motion there is, the less light from any particular source will reach the film. This is especially true in pan shots, in flash pans or whip pans (when the visual field swoops laterally with great speed), or in zoom outs, when peripheral material must be realized optically for the viewer under conditions where very little time is given for seeing it. For moving camera shots, or shots including considerable movement onscreen, cinematographers will aim for a wider aperture and for a film stock that is especially sensitive, as well as for the opportunity to use as much light as possible. Whenever considerable lighting is required, shooting can become both unpleasant and demanding for actors, since the focal requirements in a moving shot require that individuals place themselves in the visual field with great precision, often repeatedly for take after take.

A second matter is the camera speed (not to be confused with the "film speed," which is an index of the film's sensitivity to light, as discussed above). The conventional 24 frames-per-second (fps) speed at which film passes in front of the aperture is susceptible to adjustment by the cameraman. When the film is moved through the camera faster than 24 fps but the resulting footage is projected at a normal 24 fps, the result for the viewer is what is usually termed "slow motion." By contrast, winding the camera down produces in projection a jerky mechanical feeling. In the case of contemporary projection of silent films, such as Mack Sennett's (1884–1960) Keystone Cops chases, the "jerkiness" we often see does not result from the original filmmaker's intentionally winding down the camera but has a different origin. Silent film was shot, typically, at 18 fps (although with hand-cranked cameras, this speed was not absolutely consistent). When sound was introduced in the late 1920s, it became necessary, in order to avoid problems in synchronization, to standardize film projection speed and 24 fps came to be the accepted rate. When we see film shot at 18 fps projected at 24 fps, it seems to be in fast motion and jerky.

In using lighting on the set, the cinematographer moves among many possible choices. Ambient light gives general diffuse illumination to an entire scene. Scrims with gauze or other semitransparent material and colored filters can be attached to the front of lights. Lighting can be carbon based (arc lighting), producing an intense blue daylight quality (through the use of lamps called brutes and molarcs [or moles]); or incandescent, producing a yellow indoor-quality lighting (through the use of various-sized Fresnel lamps). Very tiny key-lights can be used to give extra illumination to very small portions of an image—for instance, the cheekbones or eyes of the star, as with Bela Lugosi (1882–1956) in Dracula (1931). Greta Garbo (1905–1990) insisted on working with William Daniels (1901–1970), who was especially adept at modulating key lighting to accentuate her cheekbones and sculpt the tonalities of her face. Backlighting gives a sense of roundness to objects and people. Clothes lights fill in the bodies of actors whose faces are keylit. "Kickers" give an angled backlit fill. Robert Burks, working for Hitchcock, softened the focus on female stars by stretching a gauze or nylon stocking over the lens (a technique that had been introduced by Hendrik Sartov [1885–1970] around 1919, when he photographed Lillian Gish [1893–1993]) and then piercing a tiny hole in it with a lit cigarette (or by coating the lens with Vaseline). Fill light is used from beneath the star, typically on the side of the head or face, to round out the head and body and lift the star's level of illumination slightly higher than anyone else in the scene—thus directing attention specifically in that person's direction. In more modern photography, fill lighting is most frequently accomplished by reflection with mylar.

The cinematographers of the New Wave, such as Henri Decaë (1915–1987), Sacha Vierny (1919–2001), Raoul Coutard (1924–1993), and Néstor Almendros (1930–1992), frequently used reflection techniques, sometimes even lighting by bouncing light with mirrors. When direct studio lighting is reflected off a brilliant surface back onto a subject, the reflected light is softer than the direct light, produces no shadows, and is ideal for giving a gentle filling effect to the scene. The reflector is held by a gaffer under the camera and below the object or person to be lit. The films of Eric Rohmer (b. 1920) are especially noteworthy for the softness, suppleness, and sweetness of the lighting. His Pauline à la plage (Pauline at the Beach, 1983) is a remarkable example of intensive reflected (or bounced) light being used to fill in the available light of the natural exteriors. With reflected light, the skins of the characters, virtually always in bathing suits in this film, take on a soft fruity color.

b. Barcelona, Spain, 30 October 1930, d. New York, New York, 4 March 1992

Eventually to become the cinematographer of more than sixty films, including works by Barbet Schroeder, Jean Eustache, Jean-Claude Brialy, Maurice Pialat, Monte Hellman, Marguerite Duras, Alan J. Pakula, and Moshe Mizrahi, Néstor Almendros moved to Cuba after World War II, attending Havana University for a brief time. He traveled to Rome, enrolling in the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, a school he found too academic for his tastes, then taught Spanish at Vassar College before returning to Cuba after Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. He was drawn to Paris by the French New Wave and began work there on La Collectionneuse (The Collector, Eric Rohmer, 1967).

He worked repeatedly with two directors, shooting Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud's, 1969), Le genou de Claire (Claire's Knee, 1970), L'Amour l'après-midi (Chloe in the Afternoon, 1972), The Marquise of O (1976), Perceval le Gallois (1978), and Pauline à la plage (Pauline at the Beach, 1983) with Rohmer; and Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board, 1970), Les Deux anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls and the Continent, 1971), L'Histoire d'Adèle H. (The Story of Adèle H., 1975), L'Homme qui aimait les femmes (The Man Who Loved Women, 1977), La Chambre verte (The Green Room, 1978), L'Amour en fuite (Love on the Run, 1979), Le Dernier métro (The Last Metro, 1980), and Confidentially Yours (1982) with François Truffaut. For Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1976), he won an Academy Award®; and he was nominated for Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979) and The Blue Lagoon (Randal Kleiser, 1980). Thanks to his color images, frequently shot at night with actors wearing black-and-white costumes and lit so as to produce artificial moonlight, Still of the Night (Benton, 1982) remains one of the most chilling thrillers since Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), and Almendros's sensual imagery in Martin Scorsese's "Life Lessons" segment of New York Stories (1989) makes it a masterpiece.

Convinced that the use of technical devices could adversely affect cinematography, Almendros became an early pioneer of impressionistic reflected light as an antidote to the harsh effects of cinema noir. Using reflective cards or foam sheets, linen, and mirroring material (for example, the plastic fabric Gryflon), he achieved startling, soft painterly color. For example, in sequences of Days of Heaven, he used firelight without additional illumination. Painters' works often inspired his approach to a film: Paul Gauguin for Claire's Knee, Frederic Remington for Goin' South (Jack Nicholson, 1978), and Piero della Francesca for Kramer vs. Kramer.

His autobiography, A Man with a Camera, is not only a witty study of contemporary cinema rich with intriguing comments (such as his reflection that the western is a kind of American commedia dell'arte), but also a treasure trove of insights about the cinematographer's art and condition.


Le genou (Claire's Knee, 1970), The Marquise of O (1976),Days of Heaven (1976), La Chambre verte (The Green Room, 1978), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The Blue Lagoon (1980), Still of the Night (1982), Pauline à la plage (Pauline at the Beach, 1983), "Life Lessons" segment in New York Stories (1989)


Almendros, Néstor. A Man with a Camera. Translated by Rachel Phillips Belash. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.

Murray Pomerance

In film noir and other cinema of the 1940s, cinematographers very frequently used cookies—pieces of plywood or cardboard cut into specific shapes and held

up by stagehands or mounted onto stands between the key-lights and the scene being filmed. The cookies would create very specifically shaped shadows (for example, tree branches, newel posts, heads, animals, and so on) that could be magnified upon a wall at will depending on the distance between the off-camera cookie and the light striking it. Very fine examples are provided by the west wing bedroom scene in Rebecca (1940), Christopher Cross's attempted hotel-room suicide in Scarlet Street (1945) and Jeff Bailey's (Robert Mitchum) nocturnal visit to Leonard Eels's apartment in Out of the Past (1947). Also used for specific focus and shadowing of light are "goboes" (wooden screens that block light), flags (tiny goboes), teasers (black cloth or wooden flags for blocking backlight), plain and scrim dots and argets (round pieces of card or wood, or gauze), scrims (translucent flags), blades (flags for cutting light into sharp lines), and clips (tiny flags that can be attached to cameras or lights). In film noir, along with shaped lighting, the cinematographer normally shot with a slightly wide-angle lens in order to distort the scene (in all dimensions) and often used a slightly grainy stock and a low-placed camera tilting upward so that the narrative world would seem to loom precariously above the theater audience.


While an intrinsic part of the viewer's evaluation of a film is often an assessment of the cinematography—"Good cinematography!"—it is actually very difficult to tell when a cinematographer has made an astounding accomplishment in his or her work. This is so largely because cinematographic results generally look wonderful to the untrained eye. In most situations, the professional cinematographer and gaffers, using a full range of lighting equipment, dollies and cranes, and camera mounts, can make a beautiful image with ease. In short, a pretty shot is not necessarily "good cinematography" in and of itself. Furthermore, film actors are trained to model nicely before a lens—and with precise repetition—and the wide range of available stunt persons, dancers, and movement specialists of all kinds makes it possible with relative ease to execute a fluid, focused, well-composed, harmonious, and professionally efficient picture that shows off exciting, dramatically engaging subject matter.

A full appreciation of cinematography requires some knowledge of the circumstances in which a difficult shot is made. One of many celebrated sequences in the history of film practice—all of them certainly handsome on the screen but also remarkable for their very existence—is the redwood forest visit in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). Here, shooting on location in the Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County and Big Basin Redwood State Park near Santa Cruz, California, a second unit team including William N. Williams, Wallace Kelley, and Irmin Roberts was faced with the stunning problem of redwood trees so old, and therefore so tall, that their massed upper branches literally blocked the sky. Available light was therefore out of the question. A large generator unit had to be brought in, and the blue-colored carbon arc lighting that would simulate daylight had to come from this portable power source, with the lights being hidden behind some of the trees. However, in order to realize the modulated greens and browns, as well as the subtle penetrating shadows of the sequence, immense quantities of light were needed. Also produced by arc light were the long diagonal shafts of "sunlight," shining down through the trees. In order to protect the trees, the lights could not be turned on for exceedingly long periods of time.

Sometimes a shot is an achievement because of the extraordinary concentration of material or ingenuity required to make it. For the lengthy highway chase sequences of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, 1991) and Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996), entire stretches of closed-off highway had to be illuminated with hidden arc lamps. Suspicion (Hitchcock, 1941) required a glowing glass of milk, which had to be lit from within with a battery-operated mini-lamp. For scenes near the Seine in An American in Paris, John Alton put lights inside a water tank to create the "reflections from other lights suspended above." For the exceptionally difficult Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), John A. Alonzo (1934–2001) had to shoot "real"-scene cinematography that could perfectly match the special effects material, so that a unified visual field could contain a fluid story involving material unrealizable under everyday circumstances. For an example of extremely obtrusive matching, where footage from one location fails to blend believably with footage from another in a shot/countershot edit, see the "wild animal" inserts in W. S. Van Dyke's (1889–1943) Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), where blurry and relatively old wild animal footage is matched against crisply focused shots of Tarzan, apparently watching those animals, taken in the studio.

Cinematographic problems are virtually always idiosyncratic to a particular film and director's intent. Sometimes what is required in cinematography is a harsh sense of realism, a lack of poise and control, and even an occasional out-of-focus moment. For Body and Soul (1947) cinematographer James Wong Howe (1899–1976) donned a pair of roller skates and took a hand-held camera into a boxing ring, his grip grasping him by the waist from behind and guiding him around while he swerved into and out of the boxing action. Michael Chapman's (b. 1935) photography for Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980) makes reference to this, as does Salvatore Totino's (b. 1964) for Cinderella Man (Ron Howard, 2005). For Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) William A. Fraker (b. 1923) had to photograph empty space with supple, eerie light, so that viewers would believe they were staring at an invisible Chevy Chase. In The Day of the Locust (1975), Conrad Hall (1926–2003) used diffusion filtering to give a hazy, unreal effect to the sound stages and locations in Los Angeles where the film's unreal Hollywood is set. In Fahrenheit 451 (1966) by François Truffaut's (1932–1984), Nicholas Roeg used harsh lighting to bleach the environment and intensify the coloration of the firemen sequences, then contrasting diffused light and grainier stock in the concluding utopian sequence with the book people in the forest while the first snows of winter fall. László Kovács (b. 1933) shot numerous films in the 1970s (including Five Easy Pieces [1970] and New York, New York [1977]), the later with its trademark jazzy, large-grain, poetic, softly lit style.

Similarly accomplished yet insufficiently heralded is the work of, among many others, John Alcott in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971), Lucien Ballard (1908–1988) in Prince Valiant (1954) and The Wild Bunch (1969), Michael Ballhaus (b. 1935) in GoodFellas (1990) and What About Bob? (1991), Andrzej Bartkowiak (b. 1950) in Prince of the City (1981) with its super-macro-close-up of Carmine Caridi committing suicide and Q&A (1990), Stanley Cortez (1908–1997) in The Night of the Hunter (1955), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Gabriel Figueroa (1907–1997) in Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned, 1950), and The Night of the Iguana, Lee Garmes (1898–1978) in Shanghai Express (1932), Haskell Wexler (b. 1926) in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and Gordon Willis (b. 1931) in The Godfather (1972) and Zelig (1983). Similarly great figures of European and Asian cinema include such masters as Henri Alekan (b. 1909) in L'Atalante (1934), Yuharu Atsuta (1905–1993) in Tokyo monogatari (Tokyo Story, 1953), Coutard in Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963), Decaë in The Strange Ones (Les Enfants terribles, 1950]), Pasqualino De Santis (1927–1996) in Lancelot du Lac (Lancelot of the Lake, 1974), Freddie Francis (b. 1917) in Room at the Top (1959) and Cape Fear (1991), Karl Freund (1890–1969) in Metropolis (1927), Robert Krasker (1913–1981) in The Third Man (1949), Asaichi Nakai (1901–1988) in Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai, 1954), Nykvist in Le Locataire (The Tenant, 1976), Carlo Di Palma (1925–2004) in Blowup, 1966), Gianni Di Venanzo (1920–1966) in (1963), and Fritz Arno Wagner (1891–1958) in Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, 1933).

Of notable importance in cinematographic history are Ray Rennahan (1896–1980), who shot the first simultaneously exposed three-strip Technicolor production, Becky Sharp (1935); Leon Shamroy (1901–1974) for The Robe (1953), the first film shot in CinemaScope; Loyal Griggs (1906–1978) for White Christmas (1954), the first film shot in VistaVision; Harry Squire for the celebrated This Is Cinerama (1952); Tony Palmer for Frank Zappa's 200 Motels (1971), an early experiment with video transfer blown up to 16mm for theatrical projection; and Garrett Brown, for the Steadicam system first used on Rocky (1976).

Photographing the classic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and 1950s was a particularly demanding task, since big production numbers were the most complicated stagings ever filmed by a camera in Hollywood. Demanding extravagant investments of energy from the singers and dancers, these shots could not be repeated over and over if they did not work. Almost always, the big dance number required considerable rehearsal, complicated camera moves, brilliant lighting, and very high fidelity color reproduction (therefore, stable relations between aperture, film stock, and lighting). The cameraman had to frame interesting shots while adhering to the stipulation of stars' contracts: Fred Astaire (1899–1987), for example, required that his entire body be visible throughout any dance routine: that body was always in motion and had to be perfectly lit as well. In the "Dancing in the Dark" routine from The Band Wagon (1953), Harry Jackson (1896–1953) manages a lighting design that lifts Astaire and Cyd Charisse (b. 1921) out of the everyday, while the never obtrusive camera dances with them, and at the same time the scene, a nook in Central Park, lingers in a perfectly balanced ambiguous, real-yet-not-real state. The color timing of a musical, affected in the printing stage, could easily ruin a very expensive sequence, if the color values fell off; and the light could very easily prove to be insufficient when a number of dancers were moving quickly before the lens, or obtrusive if not perfectly placed to catch all of the moves. In On the Town (1949) Harold Rosson (1895–1988) had to achieve color balance and sufficient lighting in location shots made where both lighting and shooting were challenged by tight space, for example, at the top of the Empire State Building.

The camera itself, and therefore the cinematographer's pivotal position on the movie set, has radically changed since the invention of sound in 1927. At that time, to minimize camera noise, the camera and the cameraman were enclosed in a soundproof booth on the sound stage (the "bungalow"), and later the camera was "blimped" using an envelope of sound-absorbing material. After 1939, with the full development of the three-strip Technicolor process, the camera was enormous and cumbersome, carrying three large film packs and shooting a trio of black-and-white "records" simultaneously through a single lens (under tiring and exhausting high illumination). With the French New Wave, inroads were made not only into higher speed film, but also toward the handheld 16mm cameras, which could make possible an exodus from the studio. By the late 1970s, the Steadicam system was in place. This camera was strapped to a complex, gyroscopically equipped harness worn by an athletic cameraman who could race through a scene, obtaining images of great stability and focus from, as it were, inside the action. A magnificent example of Steadicam usage is Pierre-William Glenn's (b. 1943) work in the market chase sequence of La Mort en direct (Death Watch, Bertrand Tavernier, 1980). Similarly, Panavision's competing system, the Panaglide, was used to great effect by Almendros in Days of Heaven (1978).


Few problems confront cinematography more vexingly than the rear-projection plate. The plate, a strip of film projected onto a screen behind actors in a soundstage (alternately called a stereo when it contains nothing but a landscape), is shot by a special effects team, almost always in advance of principal cinematography. During the 1950s at Paramount, where the rear-projection process was worked out most intensively by Farciot Edouart (1895–1980), special cinematographic techniques were developed for making the plates. In more modern film-making, companies that specialize in plate photography are hired to accomplish specific shots or sequences for a production. All motion in the final narrative scene where the plate is to be used has to be replicated backwards and inverted in the plate for in the actual process of studio composite photography, the projection screen remains rigidly fixed in a position perpendicular to the sound-stage camera. Because neither the plate nor the screen onto which it is projected can be moved in relation to this perpendicularity, all the "motion" and "angle" in the rear-projected image has to be shot into the plate by the rear-projection photography team. This work is often done months in advance of the studio shot into which the plate is to be integrated. The lighting has to replicate the desired "outside" scene, yet match perfectly with the soundstage lighting that will fill in the front portion of the image, and actors in the plate have to be in proper focus for the background positions they will ultimately occupy in the finished shot.

Yet more problematic in the early days of rear projection was producing a projection of sufficient brilliance that it could be believably projected in a soundstage as a "real" background. Early rear-projection plates are noticeably dark and disconnected from the front action. Rear-projection screens had to be developed with maximal translucence and minimal fall-off of illumination from the hot spot created by the projection. In addition, distortion in the plate projection had to be reduced, the screen and projection system had to provide for very sharp focus, and the soundstage camera had to be aligned in perfect synchronization with the projecting device. Both the soundstage camera and the rear-projecting device had to operate in perfect synchrony at 24 fps, so that no fringing or haloing occurred in the background plate (as would occur if one of the apertures was open while the other was closed). In order to make the plates sufficiently bright, Edouart invented in 1933 a triple-head projector, in which three perfectly registered identical background plates were projected simultaneously using a gold mirror system in a water-cooled machine with an intense beam—all of this synchronized with the front camera through an interlocking electrical motor system that ran camera and projector together as one unit. The results are visible in the Marrakech marketplace sequences of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), where 123 degree Fahrenheit midday Moroccan sunlight is faithfully replicated behind James Stewart and Doris Day as they perform on a Paramount soundstage. To further accentuate the realism of Paramount's background plates in the 1950s, they were typically shot in the VistaVision process, which made special use of 35mm film in order to capture an image almost twice the normal size, yet with exceptionally fine grain. The cinematography of this film, by Robert Burks, elegantly matching Edouart's background plates throughout, is "good cinematography" indeed.

In the twenty-first century, composite shots can be handled on the soundstage through front projection background images, frequently on slides. This process is enabled by highly reflective 3M Scotchlite screens and a mirror system of projection that allows the projected image to be aligned with the camera's focal angle.

Beginning in the 1970s, with the advent of new, smaller cameras and lighting units, as well as more flexible camera mounts and cranes, it became possible for cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond (b. 1930) to produce in American film artistic visual effects that would effectively simulate the European art film that had been capturing attention in American theaters since the 1950s. Zsigmond found a way to produce a simultaneous zoom and pan, which, marking his work in such films as McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Deliverance (1972), The Long Goodbye (1973), The Sugarland Express (1974), The Last Waltz (1978), The Deer Hunter (1978), and Blow Out (1981) played a significant role in establishing the reputations of a cohort of Hollywood auteurs including, respectively, Robert Altman (b. 1925), John Boorman (b. 1933), Mark Rydell (b. 1934), Steven Spielberg (b. 1946), Martin Scorsese (b. 1942), Michael Cimino (b. 1943), and Brian De Palma (b. 1940).

It is often necessary for cinematographers to devise unique methods for making narratively crucial shots that are unrepeatable for technical reasons. For Professione: Reporter (The Passenger, 1975) by Michelangelo Antonioni (b. 1912), it was required that the film end with a lengthy sequence shot involving extraordinary camera movement: through the length of a hotel room in which a man is sleeping, through the grating at his window, out into the plaza outside—where numerous activities are taking place—then around the plaza in a pan of more than 180 degrees (now revealing that the grating at the window is still in position), back to the window, through which we can now see that the sleeping man is dead. Luciano Tovoli's (b. 1936) camera was placed on a specially constructed ceiling-mounted track, moved forward by grips toward the window; a team outside slowly pulled the two halves of the window grille apart as the camera remained stationary (thus creating the illusion that it was approaching the window). Then the grips continued to move it forward until the outside team hooked it to a cable hung from a construction crane hidden off-camera. From there it could be manipulated around the plaza. But during the shooting a severe storm wind was blowing, so that maintaining fluid motion and clear focus was immensely challenging.

For the same director's Zabriskie Point (1970), a lavish mountaintop house in the California desert was to explode in one character's imagination. To produce the explosion, the director had a second residence built identical to the house that was being used for the location. Seventeen 35mm cameras were set up, many of them overcranked, so that at the moment of the detonation seventeen different angles could be covered, many in slow motion. The cinematographer, Alfio Contini (b. 1927), used a walkie-talkie system to direct the work of his seventeen camera operators. In the screen sequence, the house is seen to blow up again and again and again and again, from every imaginable angle, from a distance and in closeup.

Contemporary cinema is making new cinematographic demands. Very fast film stocks are used with computer-controlled camera mounts and remote-control focus systems, making it possible for the cinematographer to be at a greater distance from the camera. Shooting Francis Ford Coppola's (b. 1939) One from the Heart (1982) from a trailer off-set, for example, Vittorio Storaro (b. 1940) could make use of an offshoot of the video assist system invented in the early 1960s by Jerry Lewis in order to obtain excellent control of lighting and camera movement while at the same time intensively economizing on printing expense (since it was not necessary to wait until the screening of dailies in order to determine the best shots). Also, with more lightweight, more mobile, and more intensive lighting systems, it was possible to systematically produce the effect of being inside the action of a fast-paced dramatic event: this is typified in the large-grain contraband-video-style opening sequence by Matthew F. Leonetti (b. 1941) for Strange Days (1995).

To shoot live-action footage so that it will blend with computer-animated effects is often a challenge in itself. For Minority Report (2002) Spielberg's cinematographer Janusz Kaminski managed the problem by over-exposing the live footage so that when projected onscreen it is overly bright and hazy. The special effects seem to float out of a dream reality. The early requirement of cinema for restricted space in which the actors and camera crew could gain precise control of behavior and lighting is virtually obviated by the technical development of small and lightweight camera units, high-powered but portable lighting, and high-speed film stocks. Increasingly, cinematographers are experimenting with high-definition video, a format which is so light sensitive that it is possible to pick up richly colored details of wallpaper from twenty-five or thirty feet away with no direct lighting at all.

SEE ALSO Camera;Camera Movement;Collaboration;Color;Crew;Film Stock;Lighting;Production Process;Technology


Almendros, Néstor. A Man with a Camera. Translated by Rachel Phillipo Belash. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.

Alton, John. Painting with Light. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Fielding, Raymond. The Technique of Special Effects Cinematography, 4th ed. New York: Hastings House, 1985.

Gunning, Tom. D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Higham, Charles. Hollywood Cameramen: Sources of Light. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

Malkiewicz, Kris. Cinematography: A Guide for Film Makers and Film Teachers, 3rd ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Maltin, Leonard. Behind the Camera: The Cinematographer's Art. New York: Signet, 1971.

Thompson, Andrew O. "Magic Bus." American Cinematographer (November 1996): 56–66.

Turner, George. "Hitchcock's Acrophobic Vision." American Cinematographer (November 1996): 86–91.

Murray Pomerance

Film Industry

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The film industry defines the United States and the American people as does no other medium. The movies demonstrate to global audiences all the strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions of the nation—art versus commerce, economic opulence versus squalor, and heroes versus villains. Even the variety of words that are used to describe the product of the industry—"movies," "motion pictures," "film," and "cinema"—illustrates the contradictions and strengths. Indeed, the entire history of motion pictures is a series of seeming contradictions, from the development of a mass entertainment industry by a small group of mainly Eastern European, Jewish immigrants, to the early failure to come to terms with television (a natural ally), to the fluid transition this old-line industry appears to be making in a new era of on-demand home-based media and entertainment.

The simple fact is that for most people, the motion picture business is a television business. Television—through VCRs, pay-per-view, pay cable, DVDs, basic cable, and broadcast—is the place where most movies are seen and where most revenue is generated by a business that is still defined by many as "going to the movies" (an outof-home social group experience).

In another contradiction, this highly American industry derives an increasing percentage of its revenue and much of its profits from international distribution. One can travel to almost any inhabited part of the world and see U.S.-made or distributed films typically dominating theater marquees and video sales and rentals. In terms of both revenue and cultural influence, motion pictures are one of the most important exports of the United States.

A New Industry

An important distinction between the motion picture industry and other media industries is that motion pictures have rarely, if ever, been a medium for the elite. The print media have, of course, always been limited to the literate, and until the 1830s, they were limited to people who had relatively substantial disposable incomes and positions of influence in policy, commerce, or the arts. While the elite period of radio and television was relatively brief and related more to technical limitations and geography, the motion picture industry was designed almost from the beginning as a popular mass medium.

The motion picture industry was primarily developed by inventor-entrepreneurs (e.g., Thomas Edison and his associates) and "show business" entrepreneurs who brought the culture and distribution patterns of vaudeville to the emerging industry. The result was an industry that, because it was disdained by many cultural elitists and "legitimate" business interests, was left alone to develop in the "netherworld" of patent infringement, the empty and difficult-to-locate lands of southern California, and the world of "lowbrow" and sometimes salacious entertainment. Not until the development of opulent theaters in the 1910s and the rise of studio system (with its strong control of production, distribution, and exhibition) in the 1920s were the eccentricities of the industry reigned in and made to conform to a more structured pattern of business operation.

The "development years" that lasted from roughly the mid-1890s to the early 1920s are important today because many of the tensions, contradictions, and operational parameters of the industry were established during that period. For example, the Edison-designed Kinetoscope, a device that allowed individuals to view films on a one-at-a-time basis, was quickly superseded by the image projection system that was pioneered by the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière and made moviegoing a group communication and social experience. This period also saw the development of production techniques that were vital to and, in many cases, unique to film narrative—such as parallel-action editing, camera movement, and lighting techniques. Motion pictures, beginning with the first Nickelodeon theater in Pittsburgh in 1904, developed as a separate form of mass entertainment rather than as "filler" for the live acts of vaudeville. Of course, the mass popularity of the movies were a proximate cause of the eventual demise of vaudeville.

The development years also saw the establishment of the Los Angeles basin as the center of the creative side of American mass entertainment. Because it provided an environment where filming could take place all during the year and because it offered an escape from the stifling business, legal, and cultural environment of New York, "Holly-wood" quickly became globally synonymous with the motion picture industry. The immigrants who became known as the motion picture "moguls" (e.g., Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Adolph Zukor) on the West Coast would have had great difficulty gaining such power if they had remained on the East Coast.

The Studio Years

The motion picture industry reached its apex as the mass entertainment medium in the years between 1920 and 1950. At the structural level, major studios, among them such still-famous names as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Columbia, built virtual empires in which they controlled the careers and, in some cases, the lives of actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, and other talent. The major studios had near-total control of what type of movies and how many movies would be made (production), how many prints would be made and to whom they would be delivered (distribution), and what theaters would be allowed to show them (exhibition). Even independently owned theaters and smaller chains or groups were forced to take products from the major studios through such practices as "blind bidding" (i.e., bidding on products or product packages before they were completed) and "block booking" (i.e., licensing a package of products to a chain for all of its theaters, which forced the chain to take inferior products connected to quality products).

The success of this vertically integrated business pattern can be demonstrated by comparing the average annual attendance of 4.68 billion people for the 1945-1948 period to the annual attendance of 1.47 billion people in 1999. The studio structure was also responsible for the "elevation" of the social stature of moviegoing. Opulent theaters were built in many urban areas with the amenities that were previously reserved for the fine arts of the symphony, opera, or dance. Indeed, theaters of this style that survive have in several cities been refurbished for the "fine arts." With the money almost literally rolling in, the major studios spared little expense in producing films that had a more "sophisticated" air and "fine arts" aspirations or pretensions (e.g., the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) to go along with the more popular forms, such as gangster movies and westerns. An important element of the genius of the developing film industry was its ability to cater to audiences at virtually every socioeconomic level. The introduction of sound and, later, color technology was, of course, essential to these efforts.

The rapidly developing studio system of the 1920s clearly demonstrated the ability of the industry to fashion itself as a mass and mainstream entity with the establishment of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) in 1922. More popularly known as the "Hays Office" (after the organization's first president, former U.S. Postmaster General Will Hays), the MPPDA was a response to the various state boards of censorship and threats of U.S. government regulation. The MPPDA, which was eventually renamed the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), not only lobbied for the industry on a national level but adopted a stringent Production Code that banned virtually all "morally objectionable" content from U.S. motion pictures for more than thirty years.

The Television Years

What many have called the "golden age" of Hollywood came crashing down in a remarkably short period of time. In the four-year period 1948-1951, for example, there was a 50 percent decline in weekly attendance, a trend that continued until 1971, when weekly attendance bottomed out at 15.8 million—less than one-fifth the number of the 1945-1948 peak (Robertson, 1994). This occurred even as the U.S. population grew at a rapid rate in the "baby boom" years that lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.

Although television is without question the major reason for the decline in the relative importance of the motion picture industry as a mass medium, other factors should not be overlooked. The move of people to the suburbs left fewer people to patronize the downtown theaters. The high birthrate also made it more difficult for people to go to theaters due to the need and cost of babysitting.

In addition to demography, the entire structure and accompanying patterns of conduct of the motion picture industry were radically altered by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1948 decision in United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. The Court ruled that the vertical structure of production-distribution-exhibition (PDE) was illegal under federal antitrust law. This led to the separation of exhibition from the studios and the eventual dissolution of the studio system, as studios began to concentrate more on the distribution side of the business.

No media technology has diffused as rapidly as television. Offering "free" home entertainment and information at a time of rapid suburbanization and high birthrates, television combined the appeal and ubiquitousness of motion pictures and radio. How to adapt to the new mass medium was the major challenge that faced the motion picture industry from the 1950s to the 1980s

The response of the industry to the rise of television was seriously complicated by the Paramount decision. Without the threat of the impending decision, the motion picture industry might have developed its own stations and networks. After Paramount, there was no powerful, near-monolithic industry to speak and act in unison, although old ties were difficult to break. For example, the exhibitors strongly opposed, and allied with the broadcasters to stop, the early development of pay television, which has since become a very lucrative market for production and distribution. Rather than quickly embracing this new medium with a voracious appetite for product, Hollywood stood aloof or in opposition until United Paramount Studios purchased ABC in the mid-1950s and began to use its film connections to acquire made-for-television product from Disney, Warner Brothers, and other studios. However, in deference to the theater owners, the studios did not release major theatrical films to television until the 1960s.

While new distribution outlets were finally starting to be exploited by the late 1950s, the production and exhibition industry segments had different reactions to the rise of television. The production side found itself somewhat in the middle as it naturally "fed" its distribution side with more of the television product that replaced the B-movie, while devoting much attention to producing the type of product for theaters that television could not replicate. Examples include the production of films in such new widescreen processes as Cinema Scope, the increasing shift to color, huge budget costume epics, and special effects (including 3D). In addition, the content of motion pictures became more specialized and, in the minds of many, more controversial and adult to draw customers away from television. By 1968, the now basically ignored Production Code was replaced by the MPAA ratings system.

Beginning in the 1950s and accelerating in the 1960s, the production component of the industry dismantled much of the old studio system. Talent contracts became rare as the studios preferred to deal with most talent as independent contractors. Real estate and sets were sold or auctioned, although the major studios continued to make considerable income from leasing studio facilities and selling technical expertise. Although film production continued at the studios, the production side became increasingly involved with the financing and packaging and distribution of products that were made by quasi-independent filmmakers, boutique "studios," and investor groups. Perhaps

U.S. Motion Picture Industry Data for 1990 and 1999
Statistics19901999% Change
Number of Films Rated and Released410461+12.4
New Features Released (including non-MPAA)385442+14.8
Domestic Screen Count23,68937,185+57.0
Admissions1.19 billion1.47 billion+23.3
Average Admission Price$4.23$5.08+20.3
Domestic Gross Box Office$5.02 billion$7.45 billion+48.3
MPAA Member Average Negative Costs (including studio overhead and capitalized interest)$26.8 million$51.5 million+92.1
MPAA Member Average Marketing Costs (including film print and advertising)$11.97 million$24.53 million+104.9
Number of VCR Households65.4 million85.8 million+31.2
Sales of Prerecorded Videocassettes to Dealers241.8 million742.4 million+207
Addressable Cable Households(i.e., pay-per-view ready)22.0 million35.2 million+60.0
Basic Cable Households54.9 million68.5 million+24.8
Pay Cable Subscribers26.6 million33.2 million+24.5
Homes with Internet Accessn/a45.2 million+381.2
(from a 1995 totalof 9.4 million)
SOURCE : Motion Picture Association of America (1999b).

more illustrative of the changes in Hollywood was the sale or absorption of the major studios to other business conglomerates, a trend that continues.

Once it realized that television was not a "fad," the exhibition segment of the industry reacted by equipping theaters with larger screens, better sound, and special effects. In addition, the drive-in theater became common in rural and suburban areas. Of course, in order to enhance revenues, ticket and concession prices were raised. By the 1960s and early 1970s, the multiscreen theater started to become the industry standard. By offering films for different audience segments, the "multiplex" could ensure itself of a relatively steady flow of customers while maximizing the sale of concessions.

The Media and Entertainment Age

After struggling for more than twenty years to come to terms with its new economic structure and the rise of television, the film industry is regarded by many analysts as now being one of the most lucrative and powerful industries. Douglas Gomery argues that "the economics of the Hollywood motion picture studios prospered as never before" (1998, p. 201), and that "the 1980s and 1990s stand as the era when Hollywood achieved an international influence and mass entertainment superiority unparalleled in its history" (1993, p. 267).

Table 1 demonstrates the growth of the industry in the 1990s. Although box office attendance is extremely unlikely to ever reach the levels of the golden age of the 1940s, box office is but one component of the industry. The growth in videotape sales and rentals, cable penetration, and the Internet are important statistics for interpreting the health of the industry. DVD technology has proven to be an important area as well. In 1999, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, DVD had a consumer base of 5.4 million people and more than five thousand titles were already available in that format.

Table 2 demonstrates that 53 percent of the theater-going audience is under thirty years of age and 70 percent is under forty. Table 3 shows that while around 60 percent of those people who are more than eighteen years of age consider themselves to be "frequent" or "occasional" moviegoers, approximately 90 percent of teenagers consider themselves to be "frequent" or "occasional" moviegoers. These young people increasingly go to see (and re-see) mainly high-budget "blockbuster" action films in large entertainment multiplexes that have digital sound, stadium-style (i.e., platform) seating with cup holders, a lot of legroom, and a wide variety of concession options. Many of these theaters also have large areas that are devoted to party rooms, "VIP" seating, video games, and other options. As with sports venues,

The Motion Picture Audience
AgePercentage of the Total Admissions, 1995Percentage of Total Admissions, 1999Percentage of Population, January 1999
SOURCE : Motion Picture Association of America (1999a).

movie theaters have become entertainment complexes. Of course, most movie viewers now watch movies on television. This is a trend that is certain to accelerate with the rapid diffusion of digital widescreen receivers, DVDs, home theater systems, and broadband Internet.

As previously discussed, there are several reasons for the revival of the motion picture industry from the doldrums that it experienced in the mid-twentieth century. The primary reason, however, was its ability to leverage its powerful brand identity as a cultural purveyor into becoming a major power in the rapidly growing global entertainment and media industry. This leverage was made possible, in large part, by giving up its independence as a medium.

Each of the six major studios is connected with and/or co-owned by other major corporations that are involved with various forms of media and entertainment. Warner Brothers is a part of the

Public Perception of Personal Moviegoing Behavior
Age 12-17 in 1995Age 18+ in 1995Age 12-17 in 1999Age 18+ in 1999
SOURCE: Motion Picture Association of America (1999a).

AOL/Time Warner empire. Twentieth Century Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Paramount is one of the key elements in the Viacom/CBS entity. Disney owns ABC and ESPN, among other properties. Columbia is owned by the Sony consumer electronics giant. Universal is controlled by the Seagrams Company, which also owns distilled liquor and recording business interests. These six, along with the smaller New Line, MGM/UA, Polygram, and Mira-max companies, control in excess of 90 percent of the worldwide and domestic film grosses. The films that are distributed by these companies are typically made for a worldwide audience with the type of action and big-budget special effects that are easily transferable between cultures.

In addition to their enormous economic and cultural power as a gatekeeper for what product is able to reach a mass audience, the six major studios are all heavily invested in many other media and entertainment businesses or "platforms." Television (Fox, UPN), publishing (Warner Books), toys (Disney), clothing (Warner Brothers Studio Store), theme parks (Disney, Universal), video games (Pokémon), theater ownership (in a revival of pre-Paramount vertical integration), casinos (MGM), cruise ships (Disney), and the Internet, along with many other businesses, are all increasingly connected with the motion picture business through ownership, co-ventures, or licensing. The brand names of the major studios and their products (Fox, "James Bond," and so on) are so well-established on a domestic and global level that there is little doubt as to the ability of most of them to continue to prosper and expand.

Perhaps the ultimate contradiction of the U.S. motion picture industry is that it thrives because it is no longer the motion picture business. Or, more accurately, the industry is a global phenomenon that has used its strong brand identities to become a leader in the multimedia, multinational media and entertainment industry.

Better than most other industries, the studio conglomerate owners have exploited the twin trends of economic and technological convergence that are again changing the nature of media and the patterns of media usage. The result is an industry that is both faithful to its theatrical roots, as evidenced by the enormous attention that is still paid to the Academy Awards, and agile and fluid enough to maximize new opportunities in production, distribution, and exhibition whatever or wherever they may be.

See also:Edison, Thomas Alva; Film Industry, Careers in; Film Industry, History of; Film Industry, Production Process of; Film Industry, Technology of; LumiÈre, Auguste/LumiÈre, Louis; Ratings for Movies; Television Industry.


Gomery, Douglas. (1993). "The Contemporary American Movie Business." In Media Economics: Theory and Practice, eds. Alison Alexander, James Owers, and Rod Carveth. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Gomery, Douglas. (1998). "Economics of Motion Pictures." In History of the Mass Media in the United States, ed. Margaret A. Blanchard. Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn.

Heil, Scott, and Peck, Terrance W., eds. (1998). Encyclopedia of American Industries, Vol. 2: Service & Non-Manufacturing Industries, 2nd edition. Detroit, MI: Gale.

Litman, Barry R. (1997). The Motion Picture Mega-Industry. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

McNary, Dave. (1999). "Bond Remains a Hero for the World." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 20, p. E-20.

Motion Picture Association of America. (1999a). "Motion Picture Attendance Study." <>.

Motion Picture Association of America. (1999b). "U.S.Economic Review." <>.

Prindle, David F. (1993). Risky Business: The Political Economy of Hollywood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Robertson, Patrick. (1994). The Guinness Book of Movie Facts & Feats. New York: Abbeville Press.

Robert V. Bellamy Jr.

Film Industry

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Film Industry


Since the last years of the nineteenth century, filmmaking, distribution, and exhibition have been a major cultural activity around the world. The usual disciplines associated with the social sciencesincluding political science, geography, history, law, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology have been used to study the influence of the film industry. But at its core, any film industry consists of economic institutions that seek to maximize profits. These corporations produce the first copy of a film, make copies in various forms for distribution, and then rent (as in theaters) or sell copies (as in home videos). There is a small film community independent of Hollywood in the United States, as well as large and small industries in nations around the world.

Yet, since the early 1920s Hollywood has dominated the worlds film industry. In 1915 Adolph Zukor combined his production company (Famous Players Lasky) with Paramount distribution, and after World War II he began to acquire a chain of theaters, mostly in major U.S. cities, some outside the United States. Adroit competitors quickly followed: Loews/MGM, Fox, Warner Bros., and the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO). All owned production, worldwide distribution, and vast chains of theaters. The so-called Big Five permitted minor companies to survive, hoping the U.S. government would not sue them for antitrust violations, but in May 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court forced the production-distribution divisions to sell theater divisions.

From 1965 to 1975, led by agent-turned-mogul Lew Wassermann, the Hollywood industrial system reinvented itself as a series of media conglomerates. Today television production provides a steady base of revenues, and the cinema blockbusterthe first being Wassermans Jaws in 1975can pay off in billions. Other media business divisions synergizemeaning they cross-promote films with other productsas with Disneys theme parks. Although film revenues from cinema attendance plunged, Hollywood companies prospered by selling videos in the 1980s and DVDs since the late 1990s. By 2000, theatrical revenues in the United States had fallen to an average of only 15 percent of the profits of an average Hollywood film; the bulk came from revenues associated with watching films on TV (including VHS, DVD, via cable, satellite, and broadcast).

The Hollywood industry still dominates world film revenues while making fewer films than India or Hong Kong. The Hollywood firms of Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. represent an exceptional oligopoly; although these six corporations are competitors, they also cooperate on many things, including issuing ratings to inform viewers on the appropriateness of film content for children and keeping open international distribution by working closely with the U.S. Department of State. Indeed, the agency they have fashioned for cooperationthe Motion Picture Association of America ranks as one of the top lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

By the late twentieth century, although still called a film industry, Hollywood knew it was in the television business. In the United States each of the major studios (except Sony) is allied with a major television network: Disney-ABC, News Corporations Fox TV network, Viacoms [Paramount] CBS, Warners CW, and General Electrics Universal-NBC. They thus make television stories and series for their networks on the same lots where they make feature films. Indeed, some films, called made-for-TV films, premiere on television.

The Hollywood film industry has spanned the globe since the 1920s. Only Paramount has a Hollywood address, and it and its rivals distribute their films over the entire world, so although India and Hong Kong produce more movies, more Hollywood films are seen in more places than is any typical film from Asia. Indeed, all developed nations have film industries of their own, but all are limited in their globalization.

In addition, although Hollywood is the center of instudio production and the final creative steps in film production, feature films are regularly shot away from Hollywood, on location. All states in the United States and most nations around the world are willing to subsidize production in their territories. For example, many Hollywood movies are filmed in Canada, which has fought to draw film production north of the United States. More often than not, a film set in New York City is really shot in Toronto or Vancouver, where it is cheaper to make. And although films are typically finally cut in studios in and around Los Angeles, the final decisions about which films will be made, which will be distributed, and in what forms they will be seen are made inside offices located in and around New York City.

Hollywood is also the most unionized industry in the United States today, because with a six-member oligopoly, unions face a common foe. Their membersfrom directors to the men and women who push sets and equipmentall are represented by guilds, or unions. Regularly, Hollywoods six members sign a basic agreement with each union, and occasionally a guild will go on strike. This most often happens with the Writers Guild of America. These Hollywood-based unions are growing, bucking a trend of falling union membership in the United States.

Hollywood certainly has the most far reaching and profitable film industry in the world, but two other centers need to be singled out. Indias film industry is mostly concentrated in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and is commonly referred to as Bollywood, an amalgamation of Bombay and Hollywood. The Indian film industry is multilingual and the largest in the world, producing more than 1,000 films per year as compared to Hollywoods 200. The industry is supported mainly by a vast film-going Indian public (the largest in the world in terms of annual ticket sales), and Indian films have been gaining increasing popularity in the rest of the worldparticularly in countries with large numbers of expatriate Indians.

Hong Kong is a filmmaking hub for the Chinese-speaking world (including the worldwide diaspora) and East Asia in general. For decades it was the third-largest motion picture industry in the world (after India and Hollywood) and the second-largest exporter (after Hollywood), principally with kung-fu action films dubbed into English and other languages. Despite an industry crisis starting in the mid-1990s, and Hong Kongs return to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997, Hong Kong film has retained much of its distinctive identity and continues to play a prominent part on the world cinema stage. Unlike many other film industries, Hong Kong has enjoyed little to no direct government support, through either subsidies or import quotas. It has always been a thoroughly commercial cinema, concentrating on crowd-pleasing genres such as comedy and action, and heavily reliant on formulas, sequels, and remakes. As is typical of commercial cinemas, its heart is a highly developed star system, which in this case also features substantial overlap with the pop music industry.

The dominance of the industries in Hollywood, Bollywood, and Hong Kong has made it hard for the film industry to include independent filmmaking and documentaries. Yet these genrestruly independent filmmaking and filmed documentariesturned to video in the late twentieth century; they were not shot on film, but on Beta video, then were premiered on TV networks, both privately owned and state-owned. Indeed, in most small nations of the world the few films made are subsidized by the government, and more and more often shot on video to lower costs. This is where the TV industry meets the film industry.

The much-anticipated coming of high-definition television (HDTV) at the beginning of the twenty-first century seemed to signal the end of the film industry. Yet, as HDTV standards develop, so does the quality of film. Thus, film remains easily the highest resolution of all movie making. HDTV may look like film, but engineers agree that the film image offers more information than any as yet developed or standardized high-definition image. As the twenty-first century began, if one wanted to see the highest definition, one still should attend a wellrun cinema.

SEE ALSO Bamboozled; Birth of a Nation; Entertainment Industry ; Gone with the Wind; Stepford Wives; Wizard of Oz


Bordwell, David. 2000. Planet Hong Kong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ganti, Tejaswini. 2004. Bollywood. New York: Routledge.

Gomery, Douglas. 1992. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Gomery, Douglas. 2006. The Hollywood Studio System: A History. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jackel, Anne. 2004. European Film Industries. London: British Film Industry.

Variety Web site.

Douglas Gomery

Film Industry

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FILM INDUSTRY In the years leading up to the 1990s, Bollywood was a glamorous cottage industry, churning out hundreds of films annually for a domestic market whose population was poised to edge over the one billion mark by the end of the millennium. Because the films were in Hindustani, a variant of the Hindi language, approximately 40 percent of the population, especially in the northern regions, became cinema fans. Whether they crowded the new multiplex theaters in the cities or huddled in the rural villages in front of makeshift screens fashioned from little more than a sheet stretched between two trees, they alone determined which film became a hit, not through a single viewing but by revisiting the same film dozens of times. The industry knew how to play to its audience and rarely strayed from convention. The films were structurally the same, the formula aptly described, somewhat tongue in cheek, by novelist Ashok Banker: "What else can you expect from a genre that requires every film to have a young good-looking romantic lead couple, half a dozen or more lengthy songs lip-synced by actors to playback singers, costume changes every five minutes and an utter disregard for most film narrative conventions?"

Nevertheless, in terms of production, the industry thrived. In 1991 Bollywood released a record 215 films. The market, however, remained relatively insular, with exports shipped mainly to the Gulf states. That changed in 1995 with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, a huge hit in the United Kingdom and the United States that launched a trend. Producers suddenly realized that scattered around the world was a vast nonresident Indian audience, estimated at 20 million in more than a dozen countries, all hungry to see the latest Bollywood films. To satisfy demand, and to attract an even wider audience, producers began releasing both contemporary and classic Hindi, and a few Tamil, films on DVD, with subtitles in English and wide-screen presentation. As a result, in 1995 the steadily increasing popularity of Bollywood films in emerging markets sparked an annual growth rate of 15 percent, three times that of India's 5 percent gross domestic product growth. In a good year, a Bollywood hit could earn revenues of 25 percent or more, and by 2000 Bollywood's global annual revenues were estimated at $1.3 billion.

Overall, film revenues increased sixfold between 1991 and 1999. Whereas Saudagar, released in 1991, generated total revenues of a reported 43.6 million rupees, Subhash Ghai's Taal, released nine years later, raked in 266.9 million rupees. As revenues rose substantially during that period, so did the cost of filmmaking. By the end of the decade, the cost of a major Bollywood production featuring the top stars was budgeted at between 150 and 200 million rupees. The leading actors commanded a lion's share of the film's budget, their fees ranging between 15 million and 30 million rupees, depending on their star status. In 1993, for example, Sanjay Dutt demanded and got 4 million rupees for a film, when only two years earlier he had signed up to make an R. K. Nayyar film for a mere 50,000 rupees. Similarly, a screen heroine like Madhuri Dixit in 1993 was getting 2 million rupees a film. By 2000 a superstar like Shah Rukh Khan was charging up to 30 million rupees per film, while a costar of Dixit's stature could expect between 10 million and 12.5 million rupees.

The top Bollywood stars signed contracts to act in three to four films simultaneously, which considerably slowed production on individual films, sometimes by up to six months. Once the films were released, the producers of course expected a payday. Domestic rights sold to the various distributors made up the bulk of a film's revenue, which hovered around 80 percent, while overseas rights drew close to 12 percent. Music rights, which brought in between 4 to 5 percent of a film's earnings, were also a major revenue generator. Music companies like Saregama, TIPS, Sony Music, and Venus competed fiercely to acquire the music rights of the latest films, since film music accounted for 70 percent and new film music for 48 percent of India's total music sales. Yet, even with a stellar cast, only 20 percent of the 160-odd Hindi films released in a year were commercially successful, and approximately eight of them were viable hits.

With the steady rise of revenues, the film industry attracted parallel criminal enterprises. As early as 1991, the same year the industry released its record number of films, Bollywood estimated it was losing as much as 10 million rupees a day to video piracy. By 2001 India estimated its trade losses due to piracy at $70 million. Throughout that ten-year span, pirated films were available in India's major cities well before the film's local theatrical release. Although India had its own copyright laws, enforcement was lax and haphazard. Raiding small-scale pirates was commonplace, but the larger pirates remained elusive, either because of official protection, or because they set up smaller "fall guy" operations to avoid capture. If arrested, their prosecutions were hampered. Such was the case of two factories in the state of Haryana and the state of Rajasthan known to be manufacturing a significant number of the pirated VCDs. The facilities were raided, but because of slow, cumbersome, and costly criminal procedures weighted against the legitimate copyright owners at every step, they soon reopened and were back in operation.

By the end of 2001, the Bollywood film industry had 608 criminal cases pending in the courts, only four of which resulted in conviction. The first conviction was in January 1997, when a Bangalore court sentenced a video pirate to three years hard labor in a case that dated from 1993. The second conviction came in May 1997, when a New Delhi magistrate sentenced a cable operator (the first to be convicted for cable piracy) to six months hard labor and ordered him to pay a fine of 5,000 rupees, which at the time amounted to approximately $103. In early 1999, the third conviction, following a raid conducted in 1986, resulted in a sentence of one year in prison and a fine of approximately $118. The fourth case, the first of its kind brought against a video pirate under the new 1995 Indian Copyright Act, was decided in December 1998. Some of these cases, however, were reversed on appeal.

If piracy had been financially damaging to the film industry, the infiltration of the Indian mafia was insidious. Yet the symbiosis between Bollywood and the Indian criminal underworld was nothing new. More than thirty years ago, crime boss Haji Mastan was so enraptured with an aspiring Bollywood actress that he began producing films with her in the starring roles. Decades later, Abu Salem, one of the more prominent gangland figures, even named his sons after his favorite on-screen heroes. Suketu Mehta, who wrote the critically acclaimed Mission Kashmir, explained the connection for this romance between film and crime: "The Hindi filmmakers are fascinated by the lives of the gangsters, and draw upon them for material. The gangsters, from the shooter on the ground to the don-in-exile at the top, watch Hindi movies keenly, and model themselves—their dialogue, the way they carry themselves—on their screen equivalents."

The romance ended there. Evading the jurisdiction of the Indian police by operating from Karachi in neighboring Pakistan, as well as from Nairobi, Dubai, and even New Jersey, and conducting their criminal activities by cell phone, the crime bosses lured financially strapped filmmakers into loan-sharking schemes, where the payoffs were exorbitant regardless of the film's box-office performance. They also used overseas concerts as money-laundering fronts, with the stars agreeing to appear as headliners in order to avoid starring in mafia-funded films.

An insight into just how deeply the crime bosses had insinuated themselves into the Bollywood film industry came to light when Sanjay Dutt was arrested on charges of dealing with the mafia following the Mumbai communal riots of 1993. During his trial, a taped phone conversation surfaced that allegedly featured Dutt ingratiating himself with mafia crime boss Chhota Shakeel. The tape was later introduced as evidence in a separate trial when film producer Bharat Shah was facing charges of conspiring with underworld figures to murder Bollywood superstars Hrithik Roshan, Aamir Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan.

Stars were not the only ones targeted. Producer Mukesh Duggal was shot and killed in Mumbai in June 1997. Two months later, allegedly on orders from Abu Salem, producer Gulsham Kumar was shot dead outside a Mumbai temple. In December of that year, producer Manmohan Shetty survived an attempt on his life. In 2000 director Rajiv Rai also escaped a kidnapping/murder attempt and moved to London. A year later, director Rakesh Roshan survived an assassination attempt outside his Mumbai office because he reportedly refused to sell the overseas rights of his Kaho Na. . .Pyaar Hai to gangsters. And in late 2001 the Indian police revealed a mafia plot to kill actor Aamir Khan and director Ashutosh Gowariker after they had spurned extortion attempts following the success of Lagaan.

Toward the close of the decade, an estimated 40 percent of the film industry's finances came from organized crime. To loosen the underworld's grip on the film community and to stem the wave of attacks on its celebrities, the Indian government in 1998 granted Bollywood industry status. Two years later the official mechanisms were in place, which allowed filmmakers to obtain loans and other forms of aid from financial institutions as well as to secure insurance for delays and losses. Still, some remained skeptical. "The industry is often guilty of tax evasion, and big people in it lead a lifestyle far beyond their declared incomes," the Hindu newspaper declared in its editorial pages. "Unless these cobwebs are cleared, the cinema here will continue to be plagued by failure and unsurmountable hardship."

But Bollywood made efforts to clean up its act. By 2002 there were at least half a dozen public offerings for film-related companies, although they all traded at less than half their opening price. Meanwhile, such Indian corporate titans as the $8 billion Tata Group and the $13 billion Reliance Industries were seriously considering venturing into film production. Bankers, too, saw Bollywood in a different light. In 2001 the Industrial Development Bank of India became the first to lend $13.5 million to fourteen Bollywood productions. Similarly, Insight Productions and iDream Productions, each an offshoot of local investment banks, were confident they could turn a profit by imposing hard-nosed business methods on what had long been a chaotic industry. Consequently, police authorities estimated that by 2002 only 10 percent of Bollywood's films were backed by mob financing.

Official governmental recognition also conferred cultural legitimacy. Ever since the premiere screening of the first Hindi, albeit silent, full-length feature film Raja Harishchandra in 1913 at Mumbai Coronation Cinematograph theater, Bollywood had been India's orphan industry. According to writer Vijay Mishra, "The Cinematograph Acts of 1918 and 1919 and the establishment of the Indian Cinematograph Committee of Inquiry in 1927 were informed by an emphatic definition of cinema as pure entertainment without any social (and even artistic) significance. These assumptions about cinema made their way into postcolonial India's Cinematograph (Amendment) Act of 1973, too." Only recently has Mumbai cinema begun to receive attention as an object of serious critical scholarship from Mishra and others.

Meanwhile, the debate over how Bollywood acquired its name raged on. Theories abounded, but Madhava Prasad believed she may have settled the issue. In a 1932 issue of American Cinematographer, she found an article by Wilford E. Deming, an American engineer who claims that "under my supervision was produced India's first sound and talking picture." In the article, he mentions a telegram he received as he was leaving India following his assignment: "Tollywood sends best wishes happy new year to Lubill film doing wonderfully records broken." He went on to explain that "our Calcutta studio was located in the suburb of Tollygunge ..Tolly being a proper name and Gunge meaning locality. After studying the advantages of Hollygunge we decided on Tollywood. There being two studios at present in that locality, and several more projected, the name seems appropriate." Thus, Prasad concluded, "it was Hollywood itself, in a manner of speaking, that, with the confidence that comes from global supremacy, renamed a concentration of production facilities to make it look like its own baby."

Nowadays, Americans are familiar with Bollywood, more by its influence than by its product. Director Baz Luhrmann candidly admitted his Moulin Rouge! was inspired by Bollywood's cinematic extravaganzas. Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Bombay Dreams, replete with Bollywood overtones, headed for Broadway following a successful run in London's West End. In 2002 Hyperion Pictures announced it was going into production on the musical comedy Marigold, which represented the first full-fledged joint venture between Hollywood and Bollywood. That Western artists were borrowing from Bollywood remains significant. The last decade of the twentieth century marked the milestone when Bollywood came into its own as a vibrant industry, accorded respect and globally appreciated as a cultural phenomenon in its own right.

Michel W. Potts


Banker, Ashok. Bollywood. London: Pocket Essentials Film, 2001.

"Married to the Mob: Bollywood's Mafia Underbelly." Available at <>

"Misty Frames." Hindu 1 November 2000.

Mishra, Vijay. Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire. New York: Routledge, 2002.

cinematography and the body

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cinematography and the body It is difficult today to imagine a world in which we could not record the human image in movement. Yet this was a goal which frustrated many inventors, until in the early 1890s Thomas Edison and others succeeded in devising a practical form of serial photography using strips of celluloid, which could then be viewed and reproduced. The result seemed little short of a miracle. Early reviews of moving picture shows in 1895 spoke of ‘bringing the dead back to life’, while the experiments that preceded this success solved long-standing questions about, for instance, how horses' legs moved while galloping ( Eadweard Muybridge) or how athletes performed intricate actions ( Etienne-Jules Marey). By the end of the century, what had started as mainly a scientific quest was already becoming a familiar entertainment, sandwiched between live acts in variety programmes. Soon it became the dominant leisure activity of the twentieth century — watching images of remote humans and animals perform while sitting in a darkened room.

But if lifelike reproduction of movement was the first aim, this was soon overtaken by the realization that cinematography could make the impossible seem credible. Georges Méliès was a French magician turned film-maker who specialized in fantasy from 1898 to 1912, creating images such as his own head appearing to expand like a balloon and explode, and of every kind of grotesque transformation or mutilation of the body. Several basic techniques pioneered by Méliès have remained standard: stop-action permits remarkable transformations; reverse action negates normal causality; overprinted or ‘matted’ images place the familiar in unrelated settings. The result of these techniques, later reinforced by computer generated images (CGI), has been to create a screen world in which almost any action, however impossible or bizarre, appears convincingly real.

Alongside this largely unforeseen by-product of cinematography, its use as a recording medium contributed to both scientific research and popularization of science from an early stage. The French surgeon Etienne-Louis Doyen had his pioneering operations filmed in 1898, proposing to colleagues that this would teach students more efficiently, but discovered the pitfalls of cinema in 1902 when his film of the separation of Siamese twins was pirated and sold to fairground freak shows. Such occasional scandals did not impede the steady growth of scientific uses of film, which spread to the social sciences as ethnographers became enthusiastic recorders of tribal customs and vanishing ways of life. Explorers also soon realized that film of their exotic adventures could help fund expeditions, as was the case with Captain Scott's tragic Antarctic expedition of 1911–12. Herbert Ponting's record of Scott before he left base camp was actually being shown in London after its subject had died — an eerie reminder of film's ‘resurrectionary’ quality. Ten years later, Robert Flaherty's portrait of an Inuit hunter and his family, Nanook of the North, enjoyed a world-wide success and helped launch the new genre of ‘documentary’ film.

Much controversy has since arisen from the claim that documentary is or should be truthful. Flaherty did not scruple to teach his subjects how to perform their own forgotten ‘traditional’ customs, but many other documentarists believe that the camera can either reveal what the unaided human observer would not see (Vertov), or what is provoked by its presence (the Maysles brothers; Rouch). Both of these amount to a claim that film offers a privileged view of human behaviour, although whether this can be regarded as ‘objective’, given the manipulation of editing, remains highly controversial. What is certain is that much of our information about how ‘real’ people appear and behave is channelled through the conventions of television news and documentary.

From its beginnings, cinema has also been a powerful source of fictionalized images, of performances intended to entertain, amuse, seduce, and inspire. Erotic display, whether in the form of exotic dances, or a prolonged close-up kiss (which formed the entire action of a 1900 Edison film), or frankly pornographic scenes, were an early source of voyeuristic appeal. This trend arguably helped to shape twentieth-century personal behaviour patterns, replacing national customs with a new international etiquette learned from the screen. Early film stars, such as Asta Nielsen in Europe or Mary Pickford in America, created new ideals of female appearance — essentially slimmer and more athletic — which quickly became global as cinema-going became a universal pastime by the eve of World War I. The male body was also transformed by such popular stars as the dapper Max Linder and Charlie Chaplin's Tramp, both of whom shaped the growth of a balletic slapstick as the main genre of film comedy until the coming of sound in the 1930s.

This period saw the emergence of a genre in fiction cinema that has since become vitally important in popularizing the idea of ‘bionic’, or mechanically modified, bodies. Although there had been many previous gothic and technological fantasies, the series of ‘horror’ films produced by Universal in the 1930s launched a new vogue; and in particular the make-up devised for Boris Karloff as the monster in Frankenstein (1931) set a pattern which, while often played for laughs, also leads to such conceptually more sophisticated composites as the humanoid ‘replicants’ of Blade Runner (1982), or the eponymous RoboCop (1987), or the self-repairing ‘cyborgs’ of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). Through increasingly elaborate special effects, the image of the human body in contemporary cinema can now routinely appear super-human, and can apparently withstand devastating injury. What effect this near-universal entertainment idiom has on our idea of actual bodies, and on attitudes to medical treatment and research, is surely an important, yet under-researched topic. More common is a recurring undercurrent of moral concern about the likelihood of imitative behaviour, often expressed in relation to the portrayal of violence or drug-taking, or the dangerous appeal of extreme thinness, fashionable among film stars, as a role model for young women susceptible to anorexia.

There is, however, renewed research interest in how we perceive and interpret moving images. Historically, four main paradigms in this field can be distinguished. The first, dating from the 1910s, conceived moving pictures broadly as a new form of pictorial language, potentially related to hieroglyphic or ideogrammatic languages, or to primitive sign systems. A second wave of theory challenged this view in the 1920s, inspired by the kinetic editing of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and other exponents of Soviet Russian ‘montage’ cinema. Two important influences on this were Ivan Pavlov's study of reflexes and Lev Vygotsky's investigation of ‘inner speech’: the spectator's response to a film was conceived in terms of conditioned reflexes to visual stimuli, or as a process of linking seemingly unconnected images by means of pre-cognitive associations such as those involved in metaphor. During the early decades of synchronized-sound cinema, such theories were largely forgotten and most theoretical reflection was based on either the principles of mimesis or generic convention. Thus, it was claimed, we understand film images because they ‘model’ the world as we ordinarily perceive it; and we grasp the conventions of film narrative because these follow other forms of visual and verbal narrative.

During the 1970s, a new wave of film theory emerged which drew upon semiotics, or the study of sign-systems, and a revisionist psychoanalysis identified with French analyst Jacques Lacan. This identified mainstream cinema as an ‘apparatus’, which effectively conditions its spectators to believe that they are privileged witnesses of a seamless reality and idealized characters on the screen. But there is also a ‘mirroring’ effect, similar to that which, according to Lacan, marks a crucial stage in the formation of the individual's sense of self. So, in the cinema we ‘recognize’ the process of acquiring subjectivity — which is also a misrecognition, an illusion. Through such reasoning, 1970s film theory radically revised traditional theories of ‘identification’, introducing a sophisticated view of gender relations between viewer and actor, but also encouraging the view that the film ‘text’ produces its spectator's orientation towards it.

Psychoanalytic spectatorship theory has always been as controversial as psychoanalysis itself, and yet it became something of an orthodoxy in academic film studies during the 1980s and 1990s, and began to influence critical approaches in other media, such as literature and the visual arts. But an opposing paradigm emerged during the 1990s which seems to be gathering strength. Often known loosely as ‘cognitivism’, this attempts to return to a ‘realist’ view of what happens when we watch a film. Thus, for example, the philosopher Greg Currie claims that films are actually moving pictures, rather than illusions, that they are realistic, and that they encourage us to imagine the events portrayed taking place — all common sense views, but ones that raise issues of definition. This in turn has led to a considerable amount of philosophical interest in explaining what we mean by such claims and descriptions. It has also prompted some film scholars to turn to experimental physiology and psychology to gain a better understanding of what ‘really’ happens when we watch and understand films. In this latest, and equally controversial, stage of film theory, the moving image has perhaps returned to its origins, as a by-product of mid-nineteenth-century enthusiasm to explore perceptual phenomena and of technology's ability to exploit them. Meanwhile, the total manipulation of digital image and sound and their use in the simulation of ‘virtual reality’ promises a new era in which cinema may become a purely historical term.

Ian Christie


Clover, C. (1992). Men, woman and chain saws: gender in the modern horror film. Princeton, Princeton NJ.
Hill, J. and Gibson, P. C. (ed.) (1998). The Oxford guide to film studies. Oxford University Press. Especially section on ‘The film text: theoretical frameworks’.
Williams, L. (ed.) (1995). Viewing positions: ways of seeing film. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.

See also photography; spectator.

film industry

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film industry. Cinematography, on which many experiments were made in various countries, became feasible after the advent of celluloid film in 1889 and subsequent innovations in the motion film camera and the projector during the early 1890s. Following rapidly on the first public film show in Paris in 1895, the first commercial showing in Britain in 1896 caught public imagination to such an extent that films were soon being shown in halls, music-halls, and theatres. Later many of these buildings were converted into cinemas and by the early 1900s cinematography was becoming widespread. The first major custom-built picture house, the Alpha, opened in St Albans in 1908. A tremendous boom in cinema building and conversion took place during the next few years and continued unabated until the First World War, by which time there were about 3,500. The Cinematograph Act, 1909, sought among other requirements the safety of the audience.

There was a corresponding growth in film-making and for the first decade British producers were very successful, establishing an important export market, particularly to the USA. Nevertheless only 15 per cent of films released in Britain were of British origin, with France and the USA accounting for 36 and 28 per cent respectively in 1910.

The main characteristic of the British film industry in the decade following the war was the dominance of American companies. This had reached such a degree of saturation that by 1926 British films occupied less than 5 per cent of British screen-time. The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 attempted to counter this situation by setting quotas to combat the ‘Hollywood invasion’. The Films Act became the cornerstone of Board of Trade film policy, recognizing the propaganda value of film and its increasing economic importance, and going some way to assisting British film production. A golden era for the film industry began with the arrival of the talkies in 1927–8, and, despite the depression, cinema building accelerated, no fewer than 715 new cinemas being built 1927–32. There was a boom in British production 1933–6, but in attempting to emulate Hollywood's lavish output, costs of film-making escalated dramatically. The international success of Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) was exceptional.

The Moyne Committee, reporting in 1936, suggested major reforms, including a Films Commission and a quality test, but the Films Act of 1938, rather than addressing the financial and production problems of the industry, mainly reiterated the quotas of 1927. However, the Films Council was established in 1938. By 1939 the post-war structure of the industry was evolving and the aims and limitations of state intervention were clear. The propaganda value of the medium can readily be appreciated by viewing documentary and feature films of the war years.

After 1945 there were belated efforts to assist the British film industry, mainly through the National Film Finance Corporation, but such success as this brought in the 1950s and early 1960s was consistently overshadowed by American imports. As television became more widely available there was a steady decline in cinema attendances and British film production suffered. After a period of painful rationalization, when even more production and acting talent was lost to the USA, increased government support assisted revival. Despite the overwhelming American challenge many British productions achieved international acclaim and cinema-going recovered dramatically during the 1980s.

The development of film has been promoted by the British Film Institute, founded in 1933, and in Scotland by the Scottish Film Council. The National Film Archive has an extensive international collection of books, periodicals, scripts, stills, posters, and over 200,000 films and television programmes, many of considerable historical interest. The Museum of the Moving Image at the South Bank traces the history of film and television. The Scottish Film Council, based in Glasgow, administers the Scottish Film Archive.

See also cinema.

Ian Donnachie


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cin·e·ma·tog·ra·phy / ˌsinəməˈtägrəfē/ • n. the art of making motion pictures.DERIVATIVES: cin·e·ma·tog·ra·pher / -fər/ n.cin·e·mat·o·graph·ic / -ˌmatəˈgrafik/ adj.cin·e·mat·o·graph·i·cal·ly / -ˌmatəˈgrafik(ə)lē/ adv.


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cinematography Technique of taking and projecting cine film, the basis of the cinema industry. Based on the experiments and inventions pioneered during the 1880s and 1890s by Thomas Edison in the United States and the Lumière brothers in France, cinematography was applied professionally to the taking and showing of films soon after the turn of the century.


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cinematograph XIX. — F. cinématographe, f. Gr. kī́nēma, -mat- movement, f. kī́neīn move; see -GRAPH. Abbrev. cinema XX (after F. cinéma). Comb. form cine- XIX; cf. F. ciné.

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