Just when you thought filmmaking was migrating to the seemingly greener grass of independent film studios, a peculiar thing occurs: 3 major Hollywood studios, Disney, NBCUniversal, and Paramount are reported to have massive, long-term studio expansions in the works. In light of lower film counts and production going elsewhere, why are these studios initiating the "most aggressive growth spurt in recent Hollywood memory" and what, if anything, does this mean for independent film?
The expansion plans of all 3 studios is pretty impressive. According to a recent New York Times article:
-- the Los Angeles Business Journal noted that Disney, NBCUniversal and Paramount were planning three of the largest commercial developments in Los Angeles County, with a combined cost in the billions of dollars, serving as the blueprint for substantial growth in movie and television facilities at all three.
So -- why again? Obviously, each studio has its own reasons to build and expand, but each one has a similar goal in mind: "to remain a force here [in Hollywood] by planning enough physical expansion to contain operations well into the future."
And boy -- what an expansion. Disney will build up to 3.2 million additional square feet at its Grand Central Creative Campus in Glendale through 2032. Disney hopes to build a television-oriented building and 12 sound stages, almost doubling the amount of stages they have now.
Over the next 25 years, Paramount is looking at a $700 million expansion in the studio's Hollywood district. Paramount hopes to increase office and production space, but their main reason for the overhaul is to integrate their 87-year-old fragmented properties, which were acquired and pieced together over time.
NBCUniversal's expansion/upgrade plan truly dwarfs those of Disney and Paramount in comparison. With a $1.6 billion investment, their plans include: 2 500-room hotels, a Harry Potter theme park, a 1-acre trailhead park, community design, as well as over $100 million invested in transportation improvements. NBCUniversal has an entire website dedicated to informing you about what's to expect with the expansion. They also have a FAQs section complete with a bunch of videos that spell out their overall plan in detail.
All 3 studios, especially NBCUniversal share the sentiment that expanding will help them keep production in-house, which they think is better for the industry. Universal Studios President and COO Ronald Meyer explains:
The evolution plan -- it's not only great for Universal Studios, but I think it's great for Southern California. The healthier our studio is, the more opportunities for employment. We'd like to keep production in the Los Angeles area, and growth here gives us that opportunity.
President and General Manager of NBCUniversal Studio Operations Michael Moore (No, not that Michael Moore) says:
Almost 10,000 people a day come to just the studio property alone. A typical television show can have anywhere from 200 - 250 people working on it. A feature film can go up as many as 4 or 500 people. So, a lot of the evolution plan is about having the facilities to host those productions. The more of our own productions we can have here on the lot, the better it is for the industry -- the better it is for the job climate.
With shrinking production costs, rising international box office sales, and an "apparent end to the declines in home entertainment revenue", it's no wonder why major studios would expand their operations since Hollywood is finding its balance. Still, production has been finding luck in states and countries that offer better breaks and subsidies than Hollywood.
So, what does this mean for independent film? Are we about to enter into the next golden age of Hollywood cinema? It's still unclear, and based on the available information one could only speculate. I will say this, though -- I never saw this coming. I always thought the Hollywood studio system was on its way out, but perhaps the giant box office smashes, which in the last several years have soared above the $1 billion mark, give the major studios enough --inspiration to keep moving forward.
What do you think about these Hollywood studio expansion plans? Are these plans really for the good of the entire film industry? In what ways, if any, will independent film be affected by this?