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Aug 22, 2005

Why Did the Film Industry Settle in Hollywood?

... Movies and Los Angeles have been synonymous for a long time - the first production company began shooting in the area over the winter in 1907. D .W. Griffith took out a production crew in the winter of 1909-1910, and the first studio was built in Hollywood (a name invented in 1886 by the wife of a real estate developer) in 1911. That same year, 15 more movie "manufacturers," as producing companies were called, arrived.

"There were a number of reasons the movie business moved to Southern California," said Charles Musser, a professor of film history at Yale. "Weather was certainly one of them. They didn't have the terrible winter weather of the East. There was no rain and it was much warmer so you could work outside all year."

This wasn't merely a matter of comfort; even the brightest electric lights of the time were too dim to expose film properly, so a run of cloudy days could halt production at, say, the Edison studios in East Orange, N.J.

Another advantage, writes the cultural historian Robert Sklar in "Movie-Made America," was that within "an hour or two of downtown Los Angeles one could find a location resembling almost any conceivable scene one might want to use - factory or farm, jungle or snowy peak."

Then, too, everything was cheaper out West. Studio land cost much less than back East, and wages in Los Angeles, a non-union city, were as little as half those of New York. "As the studios moved into feature production and built more elaborate and authentic sets," writes Mr. Sklar, "they needed skilled crafts workers - carpenters, electricians, dressmakers and many other specialists - and lower costs became an increasingly important factor."

Los Angeles's distance from New York was also comforting to independent film producers, making it easier for them to avoid being harassed or sued by the Motion Picture Patents Company, a k a the Trust, which Thomas Edison helped create in 1909. The Trust, which included the dominant producers, distributor and film stock manufacturer, was intended to monopolize the entire industry.

The westward migration was an astonishing success. By 1924, The Wall Street Journal reported that the movies had become the nation's seventh-largest industry, employing 15,000 people in Hollywood alone, with customers spending more than $500 million a year on tickets. ...

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