Los Angeles is many things to many people, but it is Hollywood to everyone. Hollywood is the cult of celebrity, the promise of fame, and the realization of dreams. It is also futility, manipulation, and vice. For every starlet who crawls off a bus and strikes it big, dozens are tossed off the casting couch, used and forgotten. Hollywood is a massive and grotesque magnification of humanity's promise and peril; it's just the sort of place where someone like a vampire might feel at home.

No vampire in the city can be completely unaware of the influence of the media and the movie industry on Los Angeles. Movie shoots clog the streets, stars walk the promenades and sit in the restaurants, and movie advertisements adorn entire sides of buildings. The allure of the power and influence that mass media can give is too much for many vampires to resist, and those that have it guard it jealously.

Hollywood History


The earliest American films were made by Thomas Edison at the end of the 19th century and in the early 1900s. By 1910, the industry was divided between the "Edison Trust", film producers who paid royalties to Edison for their use of his patented cameras and projectors, and independents, which used royalty-free European equipment that they believed was not covered by Edison's patents. The continuing legal scuffle between the two camps forced many of the independents away from New York, then the center of the film industry. One independent, Nestor, migrated to Hollywood, Los Angeles. Hollywood offered cheap land, good weather, strong light year-round (important for the outdoor filming that was then standard), and a continent's distance from New York. Over time, more and more studios migrated to Hollywood. Actors were largely anonymous until Biograph Pictures' Florence Lawrence was lured to another studio with the promise of billing. Carefully leaked (false) rumors about her death then publicized her new studio's films. The star and studio systems would feed on each other for another fifty years.

Few movies from this period have survived to the present day.

A useful site for more details of this early period is http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/filmnotes/birthmovies.html.


"Movie palaces" were opening up throughout the country, and over twenty studios were producing films, including many of the great silent film comedies. The film star had become a sex symbol, with actors such as Rudolph Valentino and Clara Bow setting hearts aflutter nationwide. By the end of this decade, the "Big Five" major studios (Fox, MGM, Paramount, RKO, and Warner Brothers) produced ninety percent of America's movies. Each owned chains of movie theaters and manipulated the distribution process; actors who wanted to appear in studio films largely signed their careers over to studio control. Lesser studios that did not own theaters included Disney, United Artists, Universal, and Columbia. A number of even smaller studios churned out cheaper or more specialized films. Republic Pictures, for instance, focused on serial Westerns. In 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began awarding prizes (not yet called Oscars). The "talkies" arrived late in the decade, and a number of silent movie stars, including Bow, were unable to make a smooth transition to talking roles.


The movie industry survived the Depression handily. Genre films flourished. James Whale directed Boris Karloff in "Frankenstein"; Carol Lombard gave magnificent screwball comedy performances; Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, and Paul Muni defined the role of gangster. The studios began exhibiting ever more control over not just the artistic product they made but the lives of the people involved in making it; the lives of teenage stars like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were scripted by studio publicity men. The studios had reason to be concerned about their stars images; scandals had seriously damaged Hollywood's moral reputation, and pressured by declining attendance, the studios had agreed to the "Production Code" that defined what would and would not be allowed in film. (Profanity was banned, for instance, although special dispensation was given to "Gone With the Wind"'s most famous line.)


The early Forties saw the filming of two of the most iconic films in Hollywood's history, Michael Curtiz's "Casablanca" and Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane". Throughout the decade, a number of Hollywood's early great directors — Welles, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, John Ford — made what many consider to be their best work. The movies were soon turning their attention to the war, with a number of stars enlisting to fight the Axis powers and many more working to raise money or entertain the troops. The studios split their attention between patriotic entertainment and instructional films made for the military. In 1948, Howard Hughes, the aviation millionaire and independent filmmaker, acquired Big Five studio RKO. That same year, an antitrust verdict forced the studios to sell their theater chains. This would eventually lead to the demise of the studio system.


Television slowly strengthened throughout the 1950s, chipping away at film audiences. The studios responded in two ways. First, they turned to the baby boom youth market, churning out cheap, teen-oriented films. Independent producers such as Roger Corman sprung up to feed the drive-in movie theaters that appeared throughout most of the country. Second, the studios got involved in television in a big way. The film studios, which owned film lots and had unparalleled expertise, started producing television shows and selling the broadcast rights to their film libraries. "The Wizard of Oz" was the first film to debut on television in prime time (in 1956, the same year the studios lifted their ban on movie stars appearing on television).


By the 1960s, the studio system had broken down entirely. Unable to guarantee a return on investment through control of the theaters, studios were increasingly at financial risk when they made movies themselves. 20th Century Fox's 1963 epic "Cleopatra" was the largest money-loser in the history of Hollywood to date. The rise of the American suburbs was putting the movie palaces out of business. Some groundbreaking work was being done by a wave of talented young directors, including Roman Polanski ("Rosemary's Baby"), Stanley Kubrick ("Dr. Strangelove", "2001"), and Sam Peckinpah ("The Wild Bunch"). Peckinpah had originally been a director of television Westerns; television was beginning to polinate Hollywood. In 1966, the Production Code was radically loosened; in 1968 it was replaced entirely with the modern ratings system.


The 1970s were Hollywood's Silver Age. Film schools and refined film criticism (most famously that of Pauline Kael) helped contribute to a growing sense of the movies as an important American art form; many films were made independently and released by studios. "The Godfather", one of the first movies released in hundreds of theaters simultaneously, was a massive commercial success (and is widely regarded as one of the best American movies ever). "Jaws"'s television ad campaign helped make it the first huge summer blockbuster. And "Star Wars" set records, becoming the biggest money-maker in Hollywood history. Young directors were given much more license than in the past, often by young film executives committed to the directors' vision of the films. Sometimes this produced wonderful movies; sometimes it was a recipe for disaster.

1980s and 1990s

The widespread adoption of cable television, VCRs, and later DVDs radically changed the economics of Hollywood. Back libraries had become more valuable even as a shrinking proportion of films were actually made in Hollywood. More and more filming took place on location or overseas. Major studio films became more and more formula-driven. Buddy movies and action films became increasingly popular; the Western slowly vanished. Special effects technology (first miniatures, then computer-generated imagery) increased sharply in quality and was used more and more frequently. Small studios like Miramax and New Line appeared to do low-budget teenage movies and later more sophisticated "art house" movies. Few, if any, films were now made "in house" by the studios, which largely served to finance and distribute independently made films; fewer and fewer films were made in Hollywood itself, as production increasingly occured in on location or in cheaper locales overseas (or within Los Angeles; by the mid-Nineties, every studio but Paramount had moved to Burbank or Culver City).

(Much thanks to Screenplays for putting this together.)

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