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Episode
291

The Rise of Hollywood

Aug 23, 2022
Arts & Culture
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26
minutes

Why did an area of Los Angeles become the world's filmmaking capital, and how did Hollywood become such a part of American culture?

In this episode, we'll explore how the film industry has changed over the years, and ask ourselves what happens next.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise of Hollywood.

[00:00:27] It is the district to the north-west of Los Angeles that has become the global home of filmmaking.

[00:00:33] But Hollywood is more than a patch of land.

[00:00:36] The word Hollywood has come to mean more than the place itself, it means big movies, American cinema, it evokes glitz and glamour, and show business.

[00:00:47] So in this episode we’re going to look at how Hollywood became, well, Hollywood.

[00:00:52] How did this small piece of land on America’s West Coast become the home of cinema, what phases did it go through, what challenges did it overcome, and what lies ahead for the future of the American movie industry.

[00:01:08] Let’s get right into it.

[00:01:10] Now, to begin our story, perhaps it’s useful to imagine a world without film, without moving images.

[00:01:19] The first photograph was taken in 1826, and it wasn’t until 1878, over 50 years later, that the first film was made.

[00:01:30] Now, perhaps we can’t really call it a film, but in 1878 the first moving images were created by the English photographer, Edward Muybridge.

[00:01:43] He placed 12 cameras along a horse racing track, and took photos of the galloping horse in quick succession.

[00:01:52] He then created a device to view twelve photo frames of the horse one after the other at high speed. The result was the moving image of a galloping horse.

[00:02:03] Now, although this might not seem like much to us now, you can imagine it must have been pretty amazing to someone back in 1878.

[00:02:13] Can you imagine how exciting it must have been to see that first image come flickering to life on the screen, as if by magic?

[00:02:23] Although he didn’t know it, it would be the tiny seed that would eventually lead to Hollywood and the multi-billion dollar film industry.

[00:02:33] Soon after, in 1885, Americans George Eastman and William H. Walker invented the first film for motion photography.

[00:02:43] At around the same time, the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere created a hand-cranked, a hand-operated machine called the cinematograph to capture and project still frames in quick succession.

[00:03:00] At the turn of the twentieth century, film technology made great advancements, allowing independent filmmakers to experiment creatively.

[00:03:10] One of the most famous movies of this time was The Great Train Robbery, a 12-minute silent Western produced in 1903 by Edwin S. Porter.

[00:03:21] ‘Nickelodeons’, or 5-cent movie theatres, started to offer cheap access to the general public to sit in the dark and be transported to the world of crackling black and white silent films.

[00:03:36] An appetite for film was already growing and by the end of World War I, the United States was on the brink of an economic boom and with it, a motion picture industry was on the rise in one particular neighbourhood of Los Angeles.

[00:03:52] That neighbourhood was, of course, called Hollywood.

[00:03:56] Now why, you might be asking yourself, why would this area become the mecca for, the global centre of, the film industry?

[00:04:06] Los Angeles is now the second largest city in the United States, but in 1900 it wasn’t even in the top ten.

[00:04:15] The reasons that the film industry grew in this area of the world are both legal and meteorological.

[00:04:24] Firstly, Thomas Edison, who you may remember from our episodes on The War of The Currents, Edison held important patents related to filmmaking.

[00:04:35] Edison had invented something called the kinetoscope, which was a device people could use to watch movies. He also teamed up with other companies that made things like the film for cameras, and he aggressively sued people who used any of his filmmaking technology without his patents, without his permission.

[00:04:58] This essentially made it impossible for anyone to make a film without paying Edison.

[00:05:05] Importantly, these patents were not applicable in Hollywood, so filmmakers could go there and be free from the clutches of this famously litigious inventor.

[00:05:17] And secondly, compared to the East Coast, which was where most films had been made before, Los Angeles is lovely and sunny, and California has wonderful nature.

[00:05:30] The long hours of natural sunlight meant longer days to film in daylight, and less reliance on artificial lighting.

[00:05:40] And the Californian terrain was great to make movies, especially if you were filming something like a Cowboys vs. Indians movie.

[00:05:49] Soon, the very first film studios in Hollywood started to be built.

[00:05:55] It was the beginning of a new era that would take the world by storm and introduce the public to the world of storytelling through moving pictures, albeit silent pictures to begin with.

[00:06:08] In 1912 Universal Pictures - the oldest movie studio in the US - was founded.

[00:06:15] Paramount followed the same year.

[00:06:17] And just a couple of years later, in 1914, the first “Hollywood” movie was made.

[00:06:24] According to industry legend, it was a Western called The Squaw Man, and was directed by a man called Cecil B. DeMille.

[00:06:33] The quintessentially American Western genre grew out of a well-established fictional tradition of “the Western”.

[00:06:41] It centred around a lead male cowboy protagonist who straddled the boundary between the wild west and civilisation.

[00:06:50] These were action stories set in the rugged deserts of the New World.

[00:06:55] Self-reliant characters were seen conquering the landscape under the hot sun, with plots often culminating in gunfights and galloping horses.

[00:07:06] It was a genre that would endure for decades.

[00:07:09] But it wasn’t all gunslinging cowboys.

[00:07:13] Around this time, the iconic Englishman, Charlie Chaplin was fast becoming the most famous actor.

[00:07:20] Chaplin’s distinctive appearance, unique charisma, and humour charmed audiences and he soon became the best known actor of the early 20th century and an enduring iconic cinematic figure even after his death in 1977.

[00:07:37] By the 1920s, even though the movies were still silent, there was no dialogue, everyday people were becoming enthralled and seduced by Hollywood.

[00:07:48] But there was even more was to come.

[00:07:50] The 1920s gave birth to two key roles behind and in front of the screen that were to draw even bigger crowds: the film director and the movie star.

[00:08:02] The creation of heroic and beautiful screen personas made audiences flock to the cinema to see their favourite film stars, such as the mysterious Greta Garbo, the beautiful Joan Crawford, heroic Buster Keaton and Hollywood’s original handsome Latin lover, Rudolph Valentino.

[00:08:22] The age of screen fame and celebrity culture was just beginning.

[00:08:28] Meanwhile, directors were starting to realise that they could create their own style of filmmaking and sell more cinema tickets with iconic actors that audiences loved, envied, and wanted to emulate, wanted to be like. 

[00:08:44] With hundreds of movies being made each year, Hollywood was starting to dominate American culture, and attracting socialites to its glamorous party scene.

[00:08:54] The 1920s was also the decade when it became clear that filmmaking could be big business.

[00:09:01] In 1923, four brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack incorporated their company, Warner Brothers Pictures.

[00:09:11] Later the same year, Disney was founded by brothers Walt and Roy O. Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.

[00:09:19] And in 1924 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was founded. You might not know the name  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but you might recognise its initials: MGM.

[00:09:31] And if you don’t recognise the initials MGM, you’ve probably seen a movie with a lion roaring at the start. That’s an MGM movie.

[00:09:42] To this day, Warner Brothers, Disney, and MGM, are still three of the largest and most powerful Hollywood studios.

[00:09:50] But Hollywood’s Golden Age, as it came to be known, reached its peak in the 1930s when sound came to the cinema.

[00:09:59] Silent movies quickly became a thing of the past as there is clearly a lot more you can do with a film if there’s dialogue.

[00:10:08] Having movies with sound allowed for new genres to emerge. Action films, action musicals, documentaries, comedies, horror movies, and, well, practically every genre we still enjoy today.

[00:10:22] It also allowed for a new type of actor to emerge, and stars such as Laurence Olivier and Shirley Temple became hugely famous overnight.

[00:10:33] Audiences couldn’t get enough of Hollywood’s magic and glamour, and going to the movies was practically a national pastime, an official American hobby.

[00:10:45] At this time, during the 1930s that is, approximately sixty-five percent of the US population went to the cinema on a weekly basis.

[00:10:55] To give you an idea of how things have changed, now only 8% of Americans go every month.

[00:11:03] Meanwhile, Los Angeles, or more specifically, Hollywood, was becoming a mecca for thousands of would-be actors looking for their big break, that one chance to become a star.

[00:11:16] Cinema had evolved from a simple series of photo frames to a full-blown industry of grand visual illusions.

[00:11:24] Cinemagoers could not only see moving stories in all kinds of genres, they could also watch and hear their favourite actors on the big screen.

[00:11:33] And the 1940s brought more technological advances such as special effects, improved sound quality, and widespread use of Technicolour, first used to the delight of audiences in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

[00:11:49] Gone were the black and white silent movies, in were coloured films with special effects, great dialogue, well-known actors and experienced directors.

[00:12:00] Although you might have thought that World War II damaged the fortunes of Hollywood, the attention was simply switched to a new type of film production: war movies and American propaganda.

[00:12:14] By 1946, a year after the end of the war, cinema attendances and profits were again at an all-time high.

[00:12:22] The post-war industrial and economic boom of the 1950s created greater affluence and the rise of popular culture.

[00:12:32] But it also created the biggest threat to the cinema since its creation: the television set!

[00:12:40] Sure, the screens might have been tiny and the audiovisual quality terrible compared to nowadays, but they were magic to their new owners.

[00:12:50] Why would you want to go out when mini cinemas have just arrived in your own home?

[00:12:56] Soon, millions of American families were focussed on building bigger and better homes with all the mod cons, and more than happy to spend time there, glued to their TV sets with their families.

[00:13:09] Plummeting film studio profits led to only one question for Hollywood: What should we do now?

[00:13:17] The industry needed a new marketing strategy.

[00:13:20] Its new target audience was American teenagers, a demographic that wanted to escape their parents at home and a demographic with increasing car ownership, so what better group of people to target with a new type of movie?

[00:13:36] The new films shifted the traditional, happy-ever-after storylines and idealised characters to incorporate darker plot lines, flawed, moody characters, and anti-heroes such as Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955.

[00:13:59] At the same time, iconic stars such as Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe were taking the screen and popular culture by storm.

[00:14:09] But it was not enough to save the failing fortunes of Hollywood and the 1950s marked the industry’s diversification into television filmmaking in an attempt to boost its profits.

[00:14:22] The shift would change how we watch films forever. 

[00:14:27] By the early 1960s, Hollywood film production was at its lowest level since the 1930s.

[00:14:34] Cinema tickets were reduced in price to try to get more people to go, while, in an effort to stay afloat, Hollywood started to make films and series specifically to be watched at home, not at the cinema.

[00:14:48] This is not to say that the 1960s were totally without their cinematic successes, though.

[00:14:54] The biggest film success of the 1960s was The Sound of Music, which was released in 1965 and grossed $163 million.

[00:15:04] The Hollywood hills might have been alive with the sound of music and yodelling, but it was not enough to save the industry.

[00:15:12] By 1970, some studios had already started to go bankrupt and the Golden Age of Hollywood was starting to look somewhat rusty, and considerably less golden.

[00:15:25] But a new era of filmmaking was quietly beginning, a ‘New Hollywood’.

[00:15:31] In the throes of the Vietnam war and political corruption, an American counterculture was emerging, taking a more critical view of the American Dream.

[00:15:42] The fall of the studio system and influence of television ushered in a new generation of directors, many inspired by the European filmmaking of the 1960s.

[00:15:53] Frances Ford Coppola epitomised the New Hollywood director and his influence and place in filmmaking history was cemented with The Godfather in 1972.

[00:16:04] This film, which I imagine you will have seen, was an exceptional commercial and critical success and revolutionised a new genre of crime and gangster films.

[00:16:16] Another New Hollywood film that changed the industry forever was Jaws, which was released in 1975.

[00:16:24] The disaster movie genre had landed and with the help of a massive advertising campaign it beat The Godfather at the box office to become the top grossing movie in Hollywood history, taking in $260 million.

[00:16:39] But two years later, the intergalactic science fiction movie Star Wars wowed audiences with its special effects, beating them all and taking in $775 million.

[00:16:53] Meanwhile, audiences were lured back to their TV sets with the advent of VHS video players in the 1970s.

[00:17:02] No longer did you have to wait for a film to be broadcast on your TV - you could now watch it whenever you wanted, simply by putting a video into a new special machine.

[00:17:14] Yet again, there was a big drop in people going to the cinema.

[00:17:18] But yet again, Hollywood fought back.

[00:17:21] If the audience would not go to the cinema, the cinema would go to the audience.

[00:17:26] The film industry decided to break into the VHS market and started making films for video.

[00:17:33] Back on the big screen, the 1980s saw the start of a slicker, more accessible, and highly marketable filmmaking.

[00:17:42] These films aimed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of interests to maximise audiences. Films became focussed on appealing to as many people as possible, not on creating beautiful works of cinematography.

[00:17:57] Scripts increasingly needed to conform to tighter and tighter formulaic plot structures and technological advancements took precedence over experimental or provocative storytelling.

[00:18:10] Financially, international big business started to buy some of the Hollywood studios, helping to secure their futures, and more films launched production in overseas locations in a bid to cut costs.

[00:18:24] Meanwhile, the budgets for actually making movies were soaring while ticket prices continued to drop.

[00:18:32] Of course, there were plenty of big successes in the 1980s.

[00:18:35] The Return of the Jedi in 1983 and Batman in 1989 were two of them, and the highest-grossing film of the 1980s was ET in 1982 which brought in $793 million.

[00:18:51] But moving into the 1990s, Hollywood had to battle a recession in the United States.

[00:18:57] Box office sales were hit hard as audiences opted to save their money and watch TV or rent videos.

[00:19:06] Despite this, American movie theatre audiences started to grow with the construction of bigger, more comfortable multiscreen Cineplex complexes, those massive, massive cinemas. 

[00:19:19] Ever increasing advancements in special effects drew large crowds for high budget films, involving car chases, gunfights and epic battlefield scenes, such as Braveheart in 1995.

[00:19:33] As the cost of production continued to increase, the way people watched films was about to change again.

[00:19:41] In 1997 the first DVD players became available, now offering a far superior video quality than videos.

[00:19:50] This provided yet another complication for Hollywood, and combined with the larger and more affordable TVs that were now on sale, the film industry needed to fight even harder to persuade people to pull out their wallets and opt for the original “big screen”.

[00:20:08] Hollywood became increasingly reliant on big hits, home runs of films that you simply couldn’t watch and experience in the same way at home.

[00:20:18] And one in particular stood out.

[00:20:22] Titanic.

[00:20:23] In 1997 the historical, romance disaster movie hit the screens, breaking all genres and creating a tidal wave at the box office!

[00:20:33] In 1998, it became the highest grossing film in world history and remained so until Avatar in 2009, which still holds the record at $2.8 billion.

[00:20:46] In fact, including revenue, including money from the 2012 and 2017 reissues, Titanic earned $660 million in America and $1.5 billion in other countries, totalling $2.2 billion globally.

[00:21:06] But if the 1990s was the decade of the DVD and advances in high definition and surround sound IMAX technologies, the 21st century would raise the curtain on a brand-new age of watching films.

[00:21:20] You can probably guess what we’re going to talk about now, but if you can’t, let me ask you a question.

[00:21:28] How and where did you watch your last film?

[00:21:32] The chances are that it was on a streaming service, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or something like that.

[00:21:39] The turn of the millennium brought revolutionary digital advances in technology with the roll-out of smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

[00:21:52] Video streaming transformed the way we watch films and streaming services have skyrocketed since 2010, with 85% of Americans now subscribed to some form of streaming service.

[00:22:05] Yet again, another complication for Hollywood.

[00:22:09] As part of the streaming “wars”, Hollywood is now increasingly offering its movies on its own streaming services.

[00:22:17] If only 8% of Americans go to the movies every month, well, what percentage of Americans could Hollywood persuade to pay it a monthly subscription in return for home-access to its movies?

[00:22:30] The studios were certainly keen to find out.

[00:22:33] In 2020, WarnerMedia, the parent company of Warner Brothers, announced that it would release all of its 2021 first-run movies to its streaming service, HBO Max, at the same time as it released them to cinemas.

[00:22:49] Disney's Plus streaming service announced similar plans.

[00:22:53] Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, going “straight to DVD” was an example of a film being a failure, but going “straight to streaming” in 2022 is, well, Hollywood seems to think it’s just good business.

[00:23:09] And this trend was, of course, accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

[00:23:15] As cinemas locked down, studios were forced to push films to digital platforms faster than ever.

[00:23:22] All of a sudden, day-one living room access to major films like Dune, Black Widow, Halloween Kills and The Matrix Resurrections was a reality.

[00:23:33] So, what was the result?

[00:23:35] Well, the US box office in 2021 was down sixty per cent from 2019. A Hollywood Reporter survey from December 2021 showed that cinemagoers aged 45 to 64 were still concerned about Covid safety, with 39% less likely to go to a movie as a result.

[00:23:57] Combined with cheaper and better “home cinemas”, some people believe all of this adds up to a poor prognosis for cinemas, but not for the film industry as a whole.

[00:24:08] Hollywood’s Golden Age may well be dead or, at least rusty, but the New Hollywood streaming model is alive and kicking.

[00:24:17] As long as people continue to love watching films, and Hollywood continues to make movies people want to watch, then it will surely find a way to turn that creativity into dollars.

[00:24:30] As the just over 100-year history of Hollywood shows us, if there is one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s changing and reinventing itself.

[00:24:39] And so long as there is an almost limitless supply of actors waiting to get their big break, directors and scriptwriters just waiting to get funding for their next film, and dozens of film studios eager to snag their next blockbuster, you can be sure that Hollywood isn’t going anywhere without a fight.

[00:25:01] Ok then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise of Hollywood.

[00:25:06] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned a bit about Hollywood over the years, and how it has battled to overcome the speed bumps in the road.

[00:25:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:25:18] Can you remember what the first film you saw at the cinema was?

[00:25:22] What do you think the future holds for Hollywood?

[00:25:24] Can you see a world without Hollywood?

[00:25:27] Do you think people will always want to go to the cinemas to watch films with others, as well as streaming on their devices?

[00:25:33] And which Hollywood era or film is your all-time favourite?

[00:25:37] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:41] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:50] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:55] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise of Hollywood.

[00:00:27] It is the district to the north-west of Los Angeles that has become the global home of filmmaking.

[00:00:33] But Hollywood is more than a patch of land.

[00:00:36] The word Hollywood has come to mean more than the place itself, it means big movies, American cinema, it evokes glitz and glamour, and show business.

[00:00:47] So in this episode we’re going to look at how Hollywood became, well, Hollywood.

[00:00:52] How did this small piece of land on America’s West Coast become the home of cinema, what phases did it go through, what challenges did it overcome, and what lies ahead for the future of the American movie industry.

[00:01:08] Let’s get right into it.

[00:01:10] Now, to begin our story, perhaps it’s useful to imagine a world without film, without moving images.

[00:01:19] The first photograph was taken in 1826, and it wasn’t until 1878, over 50 years later, that the first film was made.

[00:01:30] Now, perhaps we can’t really call it a film, but in 1878 the first moving images were created by the English photographer, Edward Muybridge.

[00:01:43] He placed 12 cameras along a horse racing track, and took photos of the galloping horse in quick succession.

[00:01:52] He then created a device to view twelve photo frames of the horse one after the other at high speed. The result was the moving image of a galloping horse.

[00:02:03] Now, although this might not seem like much to us now, you can imagine it must have been pretty amazing to someone back in 1878.

[00:02:13] Can you imagine how exciting it must have been to see that first image come flickering to life on the screen, as if by magic?

[00:02:23] Although he didn’t know it, it would be the tiny seed that would eventually lead to Hollywood and the multi-billion dollar film industry.

[00:02:33] Soon after, in 1885, Americans George Eastman and William H. Walker invented the first film for motion photography.

[00:02:43] At around the same time, the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere created a hand-cranked, a hand-operated machine called the cinematograph to capture and project still frames in quick succession.

[00:03:00] At the turn of the twentieth century, film technology made great advancements, allowing independent filmmakers to experiment creatively.

[00:03:10] One of the most famous movies of this time was The Great Train Robbery, a 12-minute silent Western produced in 1903 by Edwin S. Porter.

[00:03:21] ‘Nickelodeons’, or 5-cent movie theatres, started to offer cheap access to the general public to sit in the dark and be transported to the world of crackling black and white silent films.

[00:03:36] An appetite for film was already growing and by the end of World War I, the United States was on the brink of an economic boom and with it, a motion picture industry was on the rise in one particular neighbourhood of Los Angeles.

[00:03:52] That neighbourhood was, of course, called Hollywood.

[00:03:56] Now why, you might be asking yourself, why would this area become the mecca for, the global centre of, the film industry?

[00:04:06] Los Angeles is now the second largest city in the United States, but in 1900 it wasn’t even in the top ten.

[00:04:15] The reasons that the film industry grew in this area of the world are both legal and meteorological.

[00:04:24] Firstly, Thomas Edison, who you may remember from our episodes on The War of The Currents, Edison held important patents related to filmmaking.

[00:04:35] Edison had invented something called the kinetoscope, which was a device people could use to watch movies. He also teamed up with other companies that made things like the film for cameras, and he aggressively sued people who used any of his filmmaking technology without his patents, without his permission.

[00:04:58] This essentially made it impossible for anyone to make a film without paying Edison.

[00:05:05] Importantly, these patents were not applicable in Hollywood, so filmmakers could go there and be free from the clutches of this famously litigious inventor.

[00:05:17] And secondly, compared to the East Coast, which was where most films had been made before, Los Angeles is lovely and sunny, and California has wonderful nature.

[00:05:30] The long hours of natural sunlight meant longer days to film in daylight, and less reliance on artificial lighting.

[00:05:40] And the Californian terrain was great to make movies, especially if you were filming something like a Cowboys vs. Indians movie.

[00:05:49] Soon, the very first film studios in Hollywood started to be built.

[00:05:55] It was the beginning of a new era that would take the world by storm and introduce the public to the world of storytelling through moving pictures, albeit silent pictures to begin with.

[00:06:08] In 1912 Universal Pictures - the oldest movie studio in the US - was founded.

[00:06:15] Paramount followed the same year.

[00:06:17] And just a couple of years later, in 1914, the first “Hollywood” movie was made.

[00:06:24] According to industry legend, it was a Western called The Squaw Man, and was directed by a man called Cecil B. DeMille.

[00:06:33] The quintessentially American Western genre grew out of a well-established fictional tradition of “the Western”.

[00:06:41] It centred around a lead male cowboy protagonist who straddled the boundary between the wild west and civilisation.

[00:06:50] These were action stories set in the rugged deserts of the New World.

[00:06:55] Self-reliant characters were seen conquering the landscape under the hot sun, with plots often culminating in gunfights and galloping horses.

[00:07:06] It was a genre that would endure for decades.

[00:07:09] But it wasn’t all gunslinging cowboys.

[00:07:13] Around this time, the iconic Englishman, Charlie Chaplin was fast becoming the most famous actor.

[00:07:20] Chaplin’s distinctive appearance, unique charisma, and humour charmed audiences and he soon became the best known actor of the early 20th century and an enduring iconic cinematic figure even after his death in 1977.

[00:07:37] By the 1920s, even though the movies were still silent, there was no dialogue, everyday people were becoming enthralled and seduced by Hollywood.

[00:07:48] But there was even more was to come.

[00:07:50] The 1920s gave birth to two key roles behind and in front of the screen that were to draw even bigger crowds: the film director and the movie star.

[00:08:02] The creation of heroic and beautiful screen personas made audiences flock to the cinema to see their favourite film stars, such as the mysterious Greta Garbo, the beautiful Joan Crawford, heroic Buster Keaton and Hollywood’s original handsome Latin lover, Rudolph Valentino.

[00:08:22] The age of screen fame and celebrity culture was just beginning.

[00:08:28] Meanwhile, directors were starting to realise that they could create their own style of filmmaking and sell more cinema tickets with iconic actors that audiences loved, envied, and wanted to emulate, wanted to be like. 

[00:08:44] With hundreds of movies being made each year, Hollywood was starting to dominate American culture, and attracting socialites to its glamorous party scene.

[00:08:54] The 1920s was also the decade when it became clear that filmmaking could be big business.

[00:09:01] In 1923, four brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack incorporated their company, Warner Brothers Pictures.

[00:09:11] Later the same year, Disney was founded by brothers Walt and Roy O. Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.

[00:09:19] And in 1924 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was founded. You might not know the name  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but you might recognise its initials: MGM.

[00:09:31] And if you don’t recognise the initials MGM, you’ve probably seen a movie with a lion roaring at the start. That’s an MGM movie.

[00:09:42] To this day, Warner Brothers, Disney, and MGM, are still three of the largest and most powerful Hollywood studios.

[00:09:50] But Hollywood’s Golden Age, as it came to be known, reached its peak in the 1930s when sound came to the cinema.

[00:09:59] Silent movies quickly became a thing of the past as there is clearly a lot more you can do with a film if there’s dialogue.

[00:10:08] Having movies with sound allowed for new genres to emerge. Action films, action musicals, documentaries, comedies, horror movies, and, well, practically every genre we still enjoy today.

[00:10:22] It also allowed for a new type of actor to emerge, and stars such as Laurence Olivier and Shirley Temple became hugely famous overnight.

[00:10:33] Audiences couldn’t get enough of Hollywood’s magic and glamour, and going to the movies was practically a national pastime, an official American hobby.

[00:10:45] At this time, during the 1930s that is, approximately sixty-five percent of the US population went to the cinema on a weekly basis.

[00:10:55] To give you an idea of how things have changed, now only 8% of Americans go every month.

[00:11:03] Meanwhile, Los Angeles, or more specifically, Hollywood, was becoming a mecca for thousands of would-be actors looking for their big break, that one chance to become a star.

[00:11:16] Cinema had evolved from a simple series of photo frames to a full-blown industry of grand visual illusions.

[00:11:24] Cinemagoers could not only see moving stories in all kinds of genres, they could also watch and hear their favourite actors on the big screen.

[00:11:33] And the 1940s brought more technological advances such as special effects, improved sound quality, and widespread use of Technicolour, first used to the delight of audiences in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

[00:11:49] Gone were the black and white silent movies, in were coloured films with special effects, great dialogue, well-known actors and experienced directors.

[00:12:00] Although you might have thought that World War II damaged the fortunes of Hollywood, the attention was simply switched to a new type of film production: war movies and American propaganda.

[00:12:14] By 1946, a year after the end of the war, cinema attendances and profits were again at an all-time high.

[00:12:22] The post-war industrial and economic boom of the 1950s created greater affluence and the rise of popular culture.

[00:12:32] But it also created the biggest threat to the cinema since its creation: the television set!

[00:12:40] Sure, the screens might have been tiny and the audiovisual quality terrible compared to nowadays, but they were magic to their new owners.

[00:12:50] Why would you want to go out when mini cinemas have just arrived in your own home?

[00:12:56] Soon, millions of American families were focussed on building bigger and better homes with all the mod cons, and more than happy to spend time there, glued to their TV sets with their families.

[00:13:09] Plummeting film studio profits led to only one question for Hollywood: What should we do now?

[00:13:17] The industry needed a new marketing strategy.

[00:13:20] Its new target audience was American teenagers, a demographic that wanted to escape their parents at home and a demographic with increasing car ownership, so what better group of people to target with a new type of movie?

[00:13:36] The new films shifted the traditional, happy-ever-after storylines and idealised characters to incorporate darker plot lines, flawed, moody characters, and anti-heroes such as Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955.

[00:13:59] At the same time, iconic stars such as Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe were taking the screen and popular culture by storm.

[00:14:09] But it was not enough to save the failing fortunes of Hollywood and the 1950s marked the industry’s diversification into television filmmaking in an attempt to boost its profits.

[00:14:22] The shift would change how we watch films forever. 

[00:14:27] By the early 1960s, Hollywood film production was at its lowest level since the 1930s.

[00:14:34] Cinema tickets were reduced in price to try to get more people to go, while, in an effort to stay afloat, Hollywood started to make films and series specifically to be watched at home, not at the cinema.

[00:14:48] This is not to say that the 1960s were totally without their cinematic successes, though.

[00:14:54] The biggest film success of the 1960s was The Sound of Music, which was released in 1965 and grossed $163 million.

[00:15:04] The Hollywood hills might have been alive with the sound of music and yodelling, but it was not enough to save the industry.

[00:15:12] By 1970, some studios had already started to go bankrupt and the Golden Age of Hollywood was starting to look somewhat rusty, and considerably less golden.

[00:15:25] But a new era of filmmaking was quietly beginning, a ‘New Hollywood’.

[00:15:31] In the throes of the Vietnam war and political corruption, an American counterculture was emerging, taking a more critical view of the American Dream.

[00:15:42] The fall of the studio system and influence of television ushered in a new generation of directors, many inspired by the European filmmaking of the 1960s.

[00:15:53] Frances Ford Coppola epitomised the New Hollywood director and his influence and place in filmmaking history was cemented with The Godfather in 1972.

[00:16:04] This film, which I imagine you will have seen, was an exceptional commercial and critical success and revolutionised a new genre of crime and gangster films.

[00:16:16] Another New Hollywood film that changed the industry forever was Jaws, which was released in 1975.

[00:16:24] The disaster movie genre had landed and with the help of a massive advertising campaign it beat The Godfather at the box office to become the top grossing movie in Hollywood history, taking in $260 million.

[00:16:39] But two years later, the intergalactic science fiction movie Star Wars wowed audiences with its special effects, beating them all and taking in $775 million.

[00:16:53] Meanwhile, audiences were lured back to their TV sets with the advent of VHS video players in the 1970s.

[00:17:02] No longer did you have to wait for a film to be broadcast on your TV - you could now watch it whenever you wanted, simply by putting a video into a new special machine.

[00:17:14] Yet again, there was a big drop in people going to the cinema.

[00:17:18] But yet again, Hollywood fought back.

[00:17:21] If the audience would not go to the cinema, the cinema would go to the audience.

[00:17:26] The film industry decided to break into the VHS market and started making films for video.

[00:17:33] Back on the big screen, the 1980s saw the start of a slicker, more accessible, and highly marketable filmmaking.

[00:17:42] These films aimed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of interests to maximise audiences. Films became focussed on appealing to as many people as possible, not on creating beautiful works of cinematography.

[00:17:57] Scripts increasingly needed to conform to tighter and tighter formulaic plot structures and technological advancements took precedence over experimental or provocative storytelling.

[00:18:10] Financially, international big business started to buy some of the Hollywood studios, helping to secure their futures, and more films launched production in overseas locations in a bid to cut costs.

[00:18:24] Meanwhile, the budgets for actually making movies were soaring while ticket prices continued to drop.

[00:18:32] Of course, there were plenty of big successes in the 1980s.

[00:18:35] The Return of the Jedi in 1983 and Batman in 1989 were two of them, and the highest-grossing film of the 1980s was ET in 1982 which brought in $793 million.

[00:18:51] But moving into the 1990s, Hollywood had to battle a recession in the United States.

[00:18:57] Box office sales were hit hard as audiences opted to save their money and watch TV or rent videos.

[00:19:06] Despite this, American movie theatre audiences started to grow with the construction of bigger, more comfortable multiscreen Cineplex complexes, those massive, massive cinemas. 

[00:19:19] Ever increasing advancements in special effects drew large crowds for high budget films, involving car chases, gunfights and epic battlefield scenes, such as Braveheart in 1995.

[00:19:33] As the cost of production continued to increase, the way people watched films was about to change again.

[00:19:41] In 1997 the first DVD players became available, now offering a far superior video quality than videos.

[00:19:50] This provided yet another complication for Hollywood, and combined with the larger and more affordable TVs that were now on sale, the film industry needed to fight even harder to persuade people to pull out their wallets and opt for the original “big screen”.

[00:20:08] Hollywood became increasingly reliant on big hits, home runs of films that you simply couldn’t watch and experience in the same way at home.

[00:20:18] And one in particular stood out.

[00:20:22] Titanic.

[00:20:23] In 1997 the historical, romance disaster movie hit the screens, breaking all genres and creating a tidal wave at the box office!

[00:20:33] In 1998, it became the highest grossing film in world history and remained so until Avatar in 2009, which still holds the record at $2.8 billion.

[00:20:46] In fact, including revenue, including money from the 2012 and 2017 reissues, Titanic earned $660 million in America and $1.5 billion in other countries, totalling $2.2 billion globally.

[00:21:06] But if the 1990s was the decade of the DVD and advances in high definition and surround sound IMAX technologies, the 21st century would raise the curtain on a brand-new age of watching films.

[00:21:20] You can probably guess what we’re going to talk about now, but if you can’t, let me ask you a question.

[00:21:28] How and where did you watch your last film?

[00:21:32] The chances are that it was on a streaming service, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or something like that.

[00:21:39] The turn of the millennium brought revolutionary digital advances in technology with the roll-out of smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

[00:21:52] Video streaming transformed the way we watch films and streaming services have skyrocketed since 2010, with 85% of Americans now subscribed to some form of streaming service.

[00:22:05] Yet again, another complication for Hollywood.

[00:22:09] As part of the streaming “wars”, Hollywood is now increasingly offering its movies on its own streaming services.

[00:22:17] If only 8% of Americans go to the movies every month, well, what percentage of Americans could Hollywood persuade to pay it a monthly subscription in return for home-access to its movies?

[00:22:30] The studios were certainly keen to find out.

[00:22:33] In 2020, WarnerMedia, the parent company of Warner Brothers, announced that it would release all of its 2021 first-run movies to its streaming service, HBO Max, at the same time as it released them to cinemas.

[00:22:49] Disney's Plus streaming service announced similar plans.

[00:22:53] Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, going “straight to DVD” was an example of a film being a failure, but going “straight to streaming” in 2022 is, well, Hollywood seems to think it’s just good business.

[00:23:09] And this trend was, of course, accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

[00:23:15] As cinemas locked down, studios were forced to push films to digital platforms faster than ever.

[00:23:22] All of a sudden, day-one living room access to major films like Dune, Black Widow, Halloween Kills and The Matrix Resurrections was a reality.

[00:23:33] So, what was the result?

[00:23:35] Well, the US box office in 2021 was down sixty per cent from 2019. A Hollywood Reporter survey from December 2021 showed that cinemagoers aged 45 to 64 were still concerned about Covid safety, with 39% less likely to go to a movie as a result.

[00:23:57] Combined with cheaper and better “home cinemas”, some people believe all of this adds up to a poor prognosis for cinemas, but not for the film industry as a whole.

[00:24:08] Hollywood’s Golden Age may well be dead or, at least rusty, but the New Hollywood streaming model is alive and kicking.

[00:24:17] As long as people continue to love watching films, and Hollywood continues to make movies people want to watch, then it will surely find a way to turn that creativity into dollars.

[00:24:30] As the just over 100-year history of Hollywood shows us, if there is one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s changing and reinventing itself.

[00:24:39] And so long as there is an almost limitless supply of actors waiting to get their big break, directors and scriptwriters just waiting to get funding for their next film, and dozens of film studios eager to snag their next blockbuster, you can be sure that Hollywood isn’t going anywhere without a fight.

[00:25:01] Ok then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise of Hollywood.

[00:25:06] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned a bit about Hollywood over the years, and how it has battled to overcome the speed bumps in the road.

[00:25:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:25:18] Can you remember what the first film you saw at the cinema was?

[00:25:22] What do you think the future holds for Hollywood?

[00:25:24] Can you see a world without Hollywood?

[00:25:27] Do you think people will always want to go to the cinemas to watch films with others, as well as streaming on their devices?

[00:25:33] And which Hollywood era or film is your all-time favourite?

[00:25:37] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:41] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:50] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:55] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise of Hollywood.

[00:00:27] It is the district to the north-west of Los Angeles that has become the global home of filmmaking.

[00:00:33] But Hollywood is more than a patch of land.

[00:00:36] The word Hollywood has come to mean more than the place itself, it means big movies, American cinema, it evokes glitz and glamour, and show business.

[00:00:47] So in this episode we’re going to look at how Hollywood became, well, Hollywood.

[00:00:52] How did this small piece of land on America’s West Coast become the home of cinema, what phases did it go through, what challenges did it overcome, and what lies ahead for the future of the American movie industry.

[00:01:08] Let’s get right into it.

[00:01:10] Now, to begin our story, perhaps it’s useful to imagine a world without film, without moving images.

[00:01:19] The first photograph was taken in 1826, and it wasn’t until 1878, over 50 years later, that the first film was made.

[00:01:30] Now, perhaps we can’t really call it a film, but in 1878 the first moving images were created by the English photographer, Edward Muybridge.

[00:01:43] He placed 12 cameras along a horse racing track, and took photos of the galloping horse in quick succession.

[00:01:52] He then created a device to view twelve photo frames of the horse one after the other at high speed. The result was the moving image of a galloping horse.

[00:02:03] Now, although this might not seem like much to us now, you can imagine it must have been pretty amazing to someone back in 1878.

[00:02:13] Can you imagine how exciting it must have been to see that first image come flickering to life on the screen, as if by magic?

[00:02:23] Although he didn’t know it, it would be the tiny seed that would eventually lead to Hollywood and the multi-billion dollar film industry.

[00:02:33] Soon after, in 1885, Americans George Eastman and William H. Walker invented the first film for motion photography.

[00:02:43] At around the same time, the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere created a hand-cranked, a hand-operated machine called the cinematograph to capture and project still frames in quick succession.

[00:03:00] At the turn of the twentieth century, film technology made great advancements, allowing independent filmmakers to experiment creatively.

[00:03:10] One of the most famous movies of this time was The Great Train Robbery, a 12-minute silent Western produced in 1903 by Edwin S. Porter.

[00:03:21] ‘Nickelodeons’, or 5-cent movie theatres, started to offer cheap access to the general public to sit in the dark and be transported to the world of crackling black and white silent films.

[00:03:36] An appetite for film was already growing and by the end of World War I, the United States was on the brink of an economic boom and with it, a motion picture industry was on the rise in one particular neighbourhood of Los Angeles.

[00:03:52] That neighbourhood was, of course, called Hollywood.

[00:03:56] Now why, you might be asking yourself, why would this area become the mecca for, the global centre of, the film industry?

[00:04:06] Los Angeles is now the second largest city in the United States, but in 1900 it wasn’t even in the top ten.

[00:04:15] The reasons that the film industry grew in this area of the world are both legal and meteorological.

[00:04:24] Firstly, Thomas Edison, who you may remember from our episodes on The War of The Currents, Edison held important patents related to filmmaking.

[00:04:35] Edison had invented something called the kinetoscope, which was a device people could use to watch movies. He also teamed up with other companies that made things like the film for cameras, and he aggressively sued people who used any of his filmmaking technology without his patents, without his permission.

[00:04:58] This essentially made it impossible for anyone to make a film without paying Edison.

[00:05:05] Importantly, these patents were not applicable in Hollywood, so filmmakers could go there and be free from the clutches of this famously litigious inventor.

[00:05:17] And secondly, compared to the East Coast, which was where most films had been made before, Los Angeles is lovely and sunny, and California has wonderful nature.

[00:05:30] The long hours of natural sunlight meant longer days to film in daylight, and less reliance on artificial lighting.

[00:05:40] And the Californian terrain was great to make movies, especially if you were filming something like a Cowboys vs. Indians movie.

[00:05:49] Soon, the very first film studios in Hollywood started to be built.

[00:05:55] It was the beginning of a new era that would take the world by storm and introduce the public to the world of storytelling through moving pictures, albeit silent pictures to begin with.

[00:06:08] In 1912 Universal Pictures - the oldest movie studio in the US - was founded.

[00:06:15] Paramount followed the same year.

[00:06:17] And just a couple of years later, in 1914, the first “Hollywood” movie was made.

[00:06:24] According to industry legend, it was a Western called The Squaw Man, and was directed by a man called Cecil B. DeMille.

[00:06:33] The quintessentially American Western genre grew out of a well-established fictional tradition of “the Western”.

[00:06:41] It centred around a lead male cowboy protagonist who straddled the boundary between the wild west and civilisation.

[00:06:50] These were action stories set in the rugged deserts of the New World.

[00:06:55] Self-reliant characters were seen conquering the landscape under the hot sun, with plots often culminating in gunfights and galloping horses.

[00:07:06] It was a genre that would endure for decades.

[00:07:09] But it wasn’t all gunslinging cowboys.

[00:07:13] Around this time, the iconic Englishman, Charlie Chaplin was fast becoming the most famous actor.

[00:07:20] Chaplin’s distinctive appearance, unique charisma, and humour charmed audiences and he soon became the best known actor of the early 20th century and an enduring iconic cinematic figure even after his death in 1977.

[00:07:37] By the 1920s, even though the movies were still silent, there was no dialogue, everyday people were becoming enthralled and seduced by Hollywood.

[00:07:48] But there was even more was to come.

[00:07:50] The 1920s gave birth to two key roles behind and in front of the screen that were to draw even bigger crowds: the film director and the movie star.

[00:08:02] The creation of heroic and beautiful screen personas made audiences flock to the cinema to see their favourite film stars, such as the mysterious Greta Garbo, the beautiful Joan Crawford, heroic Buster Keaton and Hollywood’s original handsome Latin lover, Rudolph Valentino.

[00:08:22] The age of screen fame and celebrity culture was just beginning.

[00:08:28] Meanwhile, directors were starting to realise that they could create their own style of filmmaking and sell more cinema tickets with iconic actors that audiences loved, envied, and wanted to emulate, wanted to be like. 

[00:08:44] With hundreds of movies being made each year, Hollywood was starting to dominate American culture, and attracting socialites to its glamorous party scene.

[00:08:54] The 1920s was also the decade when it became clear that filmmaking could be big business.

[00:09:01] In 1923, four brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack incorporated their company, Warner Brothers Pictures.

[00:09:11] Later the same year, Disney was founded by brothers Walt and Roy O. Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.

[00:09:19] And in 1924 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was founded. You might not know the name  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but you might recognise its initials: MGM.

[00:09:31] And if you don’t recognise the initials MGM, you’ve probably seen a movie with a lion roaring at the start. That’s an MGM movie.

[00:09:42] To this day, Warner Brothers, Disney, and MGM, are still three of the largest and most powerful Hollywood studios.

[00:09:50] But Hollywood’s Golden Age, as it came to be known, reached its peak in the 1930s when sound came to the cinema.

[00:09:59] Silent movies quickly became a thing of the past as there is clearly a lot more you can do with a film if there’s dialogue.

[00:10:08] Having movies with sound allowed for new genres to emerge. Action films, action musicals, documentaries, comedies, horror movies, and, well, practically every genre we still enjoy today.

[00:10:22] It also allowed for a new type of actor to emerge, and stars such as Laurence Olivier and Shirley Temple became hugely famous overnight.

[00:10:33] Audiences couldn’t get enough of Hollywood’s magic and glamour, and going to the movies was practically a national pastime, an official American hobby.

[00:10:45] At this time, during the 1930s that is, approximately sixty-five percent of the US population went to the cinema on a weekly basis.

[00:10:55] To give you an idea of how things have changed, now only 8% of Americans go every month.

[00:11:03] Meanwhile, Los Angeles, or more specifically, Hollywood, was becoming a mecca for thousands of would-be actors looking for their big break, that one chance to become a star.

[00:11:16] Cinema had evolved from a simple series of photo frames to a full-blown industry of grand visual illusions.

[00:11:24] Cinemagoers could not only see moving stories in all kinds of genres, they could also watch and hear their favourite actors on the big screen.

[00:11:33] And the 1940s brought more technological advances such as special effects, improved sound quality, and widespread use of Technicolour, first used to the delight of audiences in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

[00:11:49] Gone were the black and white silent movies, in were coloured films with special effects, great dialogue, well-known actors and experienced directors.

[00:12:00] Although you might have thought that World War II damaged the fortunes of Hollywood, the attention was simply switched to a new type of film production: war movies and American propaganda.

[00:12:14] By 1946, a year after the end of the war, cinema attendances and profits were again at an all-time high.

[00:12:22] The post-war industrial and economic boom of the 1950s created greater affluence and the rise of popular culture.

[00:12:32] But it also created the biggest threat to the cinema since its creation: the television set!

[00:12:40] Sure, the screens might have been tiny and the audiovisual quality terrible compared to nowadays, but they were magic to their new owners.

[00:12:50] Why would you want to go out when mini cinemas have just arrived in your own home?

[00:12:56] Soon, millions of American families were focussed on building bigger and better homes with all the mod cons, and more than happy to spend time there, glued to their TV sets with their families.

[00:13:09] Plummeting film studio profits led to only one question for Hollywood: What should we do now?

[00:13:17] The industry needed a new marketing strategy.

[00:13:20] Its new target audience was American teenagers, a demographic that wanted to escape their parents at home and a demographic with increasing car ownership, so what better group of people to target with a new type of movie?

[00:13:36] The new films shifted the traditional, happy-ever-after storylines and idealised characters to incorporate darker plot lines, flawed, moody characters, and anti-heroes such as Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955.

[00:13:59] At the same time, iconic stars such as Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe were taking the screen and popular culture by storm.

[00:14:09] But it was not enough to save the failing fortunes of Hollywood and the 1950s marked the industry’s diversification into television filmmaking in an attempt to boost its profits.

[00:14:22] The shift would change how we watch films forever. 

[00:14:27] By the early 1960s, Hollywood film production was at its lowest level since the 1930s.

[00:14:34] Cinema tickets were reduced in price to try to get more people to go, while, in an effort to stay afloat, Hollywood started to make films and series specifically to be watched at home, not at the cinema.

[00:14:48] This is not to say that the 1960s were totally without their cinematic successes, though.

[00:14:54] The biggest film success of the 1960s was The Sound of Music, which was released in 1965 and grossed $163 million.

[00:15:04] The Hollywood hills might have been alive with the sound of music and yodelling, but it was not enough to save the industry.

[00:15:12] By 1970, some studios had already started to go bankrupt and the Golden Age of Hollywood was starting to look somewhat rusty, and considerably less golden.

[00:15:25] But a new era of filmmaking was quietly beginning, a ‘New Hollywood’.

[00:15:31] In the throes of the Vietnam war and political corruption, an American counterculture was emerging, taking a more critical view of the American Dream.

[00:15:42] The fall of the studio system and influence of television ushered in a new generation of directors, many inspired by the European filmmaking of the 1960s.

[00:15:53] Frances Ford Coppola epitomised the New Hollywood director and his influence and place in filmmaking history was cemented with The Godfather in 1972.

[00:16:04] This film, which I imagine you will have seen, was an exceptional commercial and critical success and revolutionised a new genre of crime and gangster films.

[00:16:16] Another New Hollywood film that changed the industry forever was Jaws, which was released in 1975.

[00:16:24] The disaster movie genre had landed and with the help of a massive advertising campaign it beat The Godfather at the box office to become the top grossing movie in Hollywood history, taking in $260 million.

[00:16:39] But two years later, the intergalactic science fiction movie Star Wars wowed audiences with its special effects, beating them all and taking in $775 million.

[00:16:53] Meanwhile, audiences were lured back to their TV sets with the advent of VHS video players in the 1970s.

[00:17:02] No longer did you have to wait for a film to be broadcast on your TV - you could now watch it whenever you wanted, simply by putting a video into a new special machine.

[00:17:14] Yet again, there was a big drop in people going to the cinema.

[00:17:18] But yet again, Hollywood fought back.

[00:17:21] If the audience would not go to the cinema, the cinema would go to the audience.

[00:17:26] The film industry decided to break into the VHS market and started making films for video.

[00:17:33] Back on the big screen, the 1980s saw the start of a slicker, more accessible, and highly marketable filmmaking.

[00:17:42] These films aimed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of interests to maximise audiences. Films became focussed on appealing to as many people as possible, not on creating beautiful works of cinematography.

[00:17:57] Scripts increasingly needed to conform to tighter and tighter formulaic plot structures and technological advancements took precedence over experimental or provocative storytelling.

[00:18:10] Financially, international big business started to buy some of the Hollywood studios, helping to secure their futures, and more films launched production in overseas locations in a bid to cut costs.

[00:18:24] Meanwhile, the budgets for actually making movies were soaring while ticket prices continued to drop.

[00:18:32] Of course, there were plenty of big successes in the 1980s.

[00:18:35] The Return of the Jedi in 1983 and Batman in 1989 were two of them, and the highest-grossing film of the 1980s was ET in 1982 which brought in $793 million.

[00:18:51] But moving into the 1990s, Hollywood had to battle a recession in the United States.

[00:18:57] Box office sales were hit hard as audiences opted to save their money and watch TV or rent videos.

[00:19:06] Despite this, American movie theatre audiences started to grow with the construction of bigger, more comfortable multiscreen Cineplex complexes, those massive, massive cinemas. 

[00:19:19] Ever increasing advancements in special effects drew large crowds for high budget films, involving car chases, gunfights and epic battlefield scenes, such as Braveheart in 1995.

[00:19:33] As the cost of production continued to increase, the way people watched films was about to change again.

[00:19:41] In 1997 the first DVD players became available, now offering a far superior video quality than videos.

[00:19:50] This provided yet another complication for Hollywood, and combined with the larger and more affordable TVs that were now on sale, the film industry needed to fight even harder to persuade people to pull out their wallets and opt for the original “big screen”.

[00:20:08] Hollywood became increasingly reliant on big hits, home runs of films that you simply couldn’t watch and experience in the same way at home.

[00:20:18] And one in particular stood out.

[00:20:22] Titanic.

[00:20:23] In 1997 the historical, romance disaster movie hit the screens, breaking all genres and creating a tidal wave at the box office!

[00:20:33] In 1998, it became the highest grossing film in world history and remained so until Avatar in 2009, which still holds the record at $2.8 billion.

[00:20:46] In fact, including revenue, including money from the 2012 and 2017 reissues, Titanic earned $660 million in America and $1.5 billion in other countries, totalling $2.2 billion globally.

[00:21:06] But if the 1990s was the decade of the DVD and advances in high definition and surround sound IMAX technologies, the 21st century would raise the curtain on a brand-new age of watching films.

[00:21:20] You can probably guess what we’re going to talk about now, but if you can’t, let me ask you a question.

[00:21:28] How and where did you watch your last film?

[00:21:32] The chances are that it was on a streaming service, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or something like that.

[00:21:39] The turn of the millennium brought revolutionary digital advances in technology with the roll-out of smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

[00:21:52] Video streaming transformed the way we watch films and streaming services have skyrocketed since 2010, with 85% of Americans now subscribed to some form of streaming service.

[00:22:05] Yet again, another complication for Hollywood.

[00:22:09] As part of the streaming “wars”, Hollywood is now increasingly offering its movies on its own streaming services.

[00:22:17] If only 8% of Americans go to the movies every month, well, what percentage of Americans could Hollywood persuade to pay it a monthly subscription in return for home-access to its movies?

[00:22:30] The studios were certainly keen to find out.

[00:22:33] In 2020, WarnerMedia, the parent company of Warner Brothers, announced that it would release all of its 2021 first-run movies to its streaming service, HBO Max, at the same time as it released them to cinemas.

[00:22:49] Disney's Plus streaming service announced similar plans.

[00:22:53] Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, going “straight to DVD” was an example of a film being a failure, but going “straight to streaming” in 2022 is, well, Hollywood seems to think it’s just good business.

[00:23:09] And this trend was, of course, accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

[00:23:15] As cinemas locked down, studios were forced to push films to digital platforms faster than ever.

[00:23:22] All of a sudden, day-one living room access to major films like Dune, Black Widow, Halloween Kills and The Matrix Resurrections was a reality.

[00:23:33] So, what was the result?

[00:23:35] Well, the US box office in 2021 was down sixty per cent from 2019. A Hollywood Reporter survey from December 2021 showed that cinemagoers aged 45 to 64 were still concerned about Covid safety, with 39% less likely to go to a movie as a result.

[00:23:57] Combined with cheaper and better “home cinemas”, some people believe all of this adds up to a poor prognosis for cinemas, but not for the film industry as a whole.

[00:24:08] Hollywood’s Golden Age may well be dead or, at least rusty, but the New Hollywood streaming model is alive and kicking.

[00:24:17] As long as people continue to love watching films, and Hollywood continues to make movies people want to watch, then it will surely find a way to turn that creativity into dollars.

[00:24:30] As the just over 100-year history of Hollywood shows us, if there is one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s changing and reinventing itself.

[00:24:39] And so long as there is an almost limitless supply of actors waiting to get their big break, directors and scriptwriters just waiting to get funding for their next film, and dozens of film studios eager to snag their next blockbuster, you can be sure that Hollywood isn’t going anywhere without a fight.

[00:25:01] Ok then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise of Hollywood.

[00:25:06] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned a bit about Hollywood over the years, and how it has battled to overcome the speed bumps in the road.

[00:25:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:25:18] Can you remember what the first film you saw at the cinema was?

[00:25:22] What do you think the future holds for Hollywood?

[00:25:24] Can you see a world without Hollywood?

[00:25:27] Do you think people will always want to go to the cinemas to watch films with others, as well as streaming on their devices?

[00:25:33] And which Hollywood era or film is your all-time favourite?

[00:25:37] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:41] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:50] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:55] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]