Deadlands Noir: Sweet L.A.
The Movie Industry
The Movie Industry
The Roaring Twenties and the Age of Excess.
Moving pictures were in their infancy prior to the Great War. Rapid advances in technology made increasingly effective movie cameras, and the post-war boom saw a dramatic increase in the public appetite for entertainment. Several production companies went into the motion picture business Back East. Some very unpleasant patent disputes led to numerous lawsuits among Eastern producers, and to avoid having their cameras repossessed, they migrated west. Southern California seemed ideal, given its year-round good climate, varying terrain, and the peculiar political situation of Lost Angels. Here the studios hoped they could shoot without legal disruptions, interruptions from inclement conditions, and—most importantly— without paying taxes.
As the industry grew, it centered around a small suburb of the sprawling conurbation to the northeast of the walled city itself. The studios became extremely wealthy corporations, and it didn’t take long for the East Coast mob to find there was plenty of money to be made in the relatively lawless city. They used their muscle to take over the nascent gangs, organized labor, gambling, and prostitution.
The next few years were a time of great prosperity in and around Lost Angels. New studios sprang up constantly to join the film boom and supply North America’s seemingly insatiable appetite for movies. This nexus of creative talent drew in hundreds of hopeful actors and actresses looking to make the big time. Those who did lived as well as any in America, and given the accelerating standard of living across the continent, that meant the post-war period was one long party.
Wartime austerity is still the common lot of most people in 1946 Lost Angels. Despite the fact that the war is over, the conflict came hard on the heels of the Depression, and while industry recovered with the surge in military spending, domestic life has been slower to reap the benefits.
The movie industry, on the other hand, is a law unto itself. Insulated and isolated from the common experience by wealth and privilege, the bigwigs of the motion picture scene just make up the rules as they go along. For them, there was barely a recession, much less a Great Depression, and the war meant steady work. No wonder movie people sometimes seem a little… detached… from reality.
Throughout the deepest, darkest times of the Depression, people still found a desperate yearning to be entertained—anything to distract them from the dismal circumstances they endured daily. The radio and movies filled that need, with the cinema being the single most popular pastime on the continent. The heart of this burgeoning industry is a small town near Lost Angels, the city of dreams, the Star Factory: Movie Town, California.
Every week, countless hopeful starlets and would-be leading men arrive, looking for their big break. Movie stars are idols to the ordinary people, who are endlessly fascinated with the details of their private lives. Their fairy tale existence gives people something to aspire to—and some would risk it all, or do anything to be famous, glamorous, and rich! But success is fleeting, even for those who seem to have it all, and when a starlet’s looks fade or an actor falls on hard times, they are quickly replaced by the next bright young thing and forgotten by their once-adoring fickle fans. Young or old, the city is full of desperate souls who look longingly at the silver screen and not at the reality in front of them.
For those who make it in the industry, the rewards are beyond imagining. Salaries are high, contracts are long, and studios go to almost any lengths to keep their stars happy. Bad publicity is shunned, meaning a star’s indiscretions are frequently covered up, and studios employ countless guards, detectives, heavies, lawyers, and other “specialists,” to protect the good name of their stars and of the studio. The big stars typically reside in the foothills to the north of Movie Town, known as Star City: the higher up in the hills, the bigger the star and the higher the price tag on the house. Such individuals are typically coddled and spoiled, have more money than they know how to spend, and are prone to eccentricities or extravagant lifestyles.
Less well-known actors or those trying to break into the professions tend to live along the more southerly edge of the borough in rooming houses or apartments, taking whatever part-time work they can to keep their dream of stardom alive. Pretty much anyone in this part of Lost Angels, from the shoe-shine boy to the waitress pouring coffee in the diner, has a story about the break just around the corner, the chance meeting with David O’ Selznick, or the upcoming screentest for DeMille.
Of course, not everyone involved in the movie industry is an actor. Producers, directors, and even writers can make substantial salaries in the dream factory (though the latter are typically pretty poorly treated as a group). Those behind the cameras work hard for their money, and their careers tend to be more long-lived than the more glamorous, more highlystrungacting counterparts. Despite the many hard luck stories, there is a fantastic wealth of opportunity in Lost Angels for someone with drive and passion(and maybe a streak of ruthlessness) necessary to make success happen.
The Dream Factories
The major studios rapidly emerged as the dominant powers in the movie industry. The story of the explosive growth of Lost Angels in the 20th Century is the tale of the success of the movie industry and the major studios that made a home in Lost Angels. There are eight major studios, five of which are in their own league and are called “The Big Five.” The other “Little Three” are constantly striving to join that club. Countless small studios are birthed, wither, and die each year, but some manage to carve out a niche, or else merge with other studios to keep their heads above water. The Little Three are actually major studios but they just don’t have the money, clout, or consistent string of successes the Big Five have.
The Big Five
20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Paramount Pictures, RKO Pictures, Warner Brothers.
The Little Three
Columbia Pictures, United Artists, Universal.
The Studio System
The major studios achieve their phenomenal success through a process of controlling every phase of the production, post-production, and distribution of the movies they make. Most have an established stable of star actors they keep on contract and specialize in a particular genre or genres of picture, allowing them to tailor their talent pool for the kind of output they produce. By buying up production companies, distributors, and the cinema chains themselves, the studios have cornered the market on entertainment, and are not above a little nefarious dealing to ensure their pictures make bank.
Until recently, through a system called block booking, the studio would package together a movie featuring the big name stars that people want to watch along with several ‘B’ movies starring lesser-known talent, and shipped that package to the theater chains. The paying customer gets what the studio offers and certain chains only show certain pictures. The result is that the movie-going public has a limited choice of what to see, and even the most mediocre movie is guaranteed a theatrical release. When block booking was boycotted by theatres, some said it heralded the end of the Studio System. But the big names weren’t ready to give up their stranglehold on the industry yet. While they can no longer manipulate the theaters the way they used to, the big studios still own substantial chains of their own movie houses.
Stars in Their Eyes
Alongside radio, the movies are the number one form of entertainment in America, and people flock to see the latest releases by their favorite stars. The lives of these stars, too, are a source of endless fascination to ordinary people. To those who survived the Great Depression and World War II, the private life of a Movie Town starlet is a fairy tale. Their fabulous clothes and fantastic lifestyles are worlds apart from the lot of everyday folks, and the general public typically sees the intimate details of the personal business as fair game. As a result, there has sprung up a thriving trade in gossip and candid pictures (moving and otherwise), on almost any aspect of the lives of the rich and famous.