chapter  9
13 Pages

Conglomerate Hollywood and American independent film

ByThomas Schatz

The American film industry has been driven throughout its history by the dual impulses of consolidation and independence. Ever since the formation of the industry more than a century ago, shaped by an epochal conflict between the Edison Trust and a passel of renegade companies that eventually consolidated their own interests to create the Hollywood studio system, the American film industry has been characterized by an essential tension between oligopoly and autonomy. The latest turn in this symbiotic cycle began in the late 1980s with two concurrent developments. One was a merger-and-acquisition (M&A) wave that gave a cadre of global media giants – Time Warner, News Corp., Sony, et al. – control of the U.S. film and television industries. The other was the unprecedented success of independent companies such as Miramax and New Line, which sparked an indie film movement that paralleled the M&A surge and also had a transformative impact on Hollywood. Although these phenomena appeared to be quite distinct and were gauged by many to be counterdevelopments, they actually were interrelated and crucially interdependent from the outset. Indeed, the indie movement coalesced as a result of the investment of mainstream Hollywood – i.e., the studios and their new parent companies – in the independent market. Thus the rise of Conglomerate Hollywood involved not only the acquisition of the major studios but also the annexation of key factions of the indie movement by a new breed of media giants, which meant of course that the indie film movement was scarcely independent.