THE LIFESPAN OF A FILM How exactly does a movie go from an idea to the big screen? While no two film production processes are the same, below is a basic outline of how present-day movies progress through the pipeline at major studios. Today, there are six major film production studios in Hollywood (known as the “Big Six”): Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and 21st Century Fox.


Filmmakers pitch their idea to film studio executives. If the studio is interested in the project, they greenlight it, thereby agreeing to fund and manage the production of the film.

2. PUTTING TOGETHER A TEAM Producers at the film studio hire a creative team for the film—a director, screenwriter, cast, cinematographer, etc. 3. MAKING THE MOVIE

Blockbuster franchise Star Wars has become a cultural icon, spawning exhibits, memorabilia, parades, and re-enactments. Photo: jmm

blockbusters (and, increasingly, blockbuster franchises) create massive profits for Hollywood studios. Though Hollywood’s investment in blockbusters only seems to be growing, the cash generated by these films allows studios to fund their less-lucrative projects.

As True West takes place during the rise of the “New New Hollywood,” characters Austin and Lee unwittingly find themselves playing out this larger debate over the integrity of filmmaking: can the artistic and the commercial ever be one in the same? In approaching this question, it is important to remember that what constitutes a “good” film is always subjective. It would be an oversimplification to say that the most financially successful movies are always the “worst” ones—a box office success is, after all, a film that many people want to see. “Quality,” as True West explores, means something different to everybody.•

The film is written, then shot, then edited into a final product. While the director serves as the leader of the project during this creative process, they must often balance the desires of the studio with their own artistic goals for the movie. 4. FINDING A DISTRIBUTOR The film studio makes a licensing agreement with a distribution company, which is responsible for marketing and distributing a film to the public. The “Big Six” production companies serve as their own distributors.

5. DISTRIBUTING THE FILM The distribution company sets a release date for the film and books it into movie theatres, creating and sending out the prints (film copies) of the movie. The distributor also prepares for the eventual release of the film on DVD and/or to streaming services like Netflix.


Audience members see the movie in theatres and later at home. Their dollars go back to the film studio and distribution company, making future projects possible.

A screenplay page. Photo: Joe Flood TRUE WEST UPSTAGE GUIDE 15

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