Star Trek Warping into Universal Orlando Resort? Engage!

To boldly go where no one has gone before! Ordinarily, I don’t make it a point to write about rumors. But, being a longtime Star Trek fan (specifically TNG followed by Voyager), I thought that this would be a fun one to discuss. Rumors of a Star Trek attraction or land have been floating around for a while, but more recently gained traction after discussions of a new attraction coming in the relatively near future. According to the Disney and More blog, Universal Orlando is considering licensing the Star Trek IP from Paramount for an attraction or land. Less of a rumor really, Universal Orlando IS considering The Bourne Identity or Star Trek franchise for the old T-2 (Terminator 2: 3D) building [UPDATE: recent news suggests UO is deciding between Jason Bourne and James Bond for the old T2 show bldg]. In terms of franchise strength, Star Trek is a no-brainer given the two choices; however, the direction for theme parks in the 21st century is building entire worlds that immerse the park guest into–not only the respective movie(s)–but into the universe of the IP. Therefore, it would be more advantageous to utilize the T-2 show building for Bourne than Star Trek. Why? Because Bourne exists in the “real world,” it fits in well-enough with the Beverly Hills set; it’s believable in that present location. However, Star Trek brings with it decades of stories that would be better suited to its own land. With the confirmed 4th theme park (confirmed, but no properties associated with it yet) coming in the near future, the Star Trek IP might just find itself a home at the 4th gate. Perhaps the 4th park will have Nintendo, DreamWorks, and now Star Trek. Talk about a powerhouse of IPs.

With the attendance slipping at Universal Parks and Resorts in 2017, after years of encroaching upon Disney numbers and growth, Universal Parks is definitely working diligently to not fall behind. I imagine that the Universal Creative executives and directors are all-hands-on-deck with the opening of Toy Story Land this year and the highly anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019 at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. As big as Harry Potter is (and it IS), it cannot compete against Star Wars as an equal (in terms of the fanbase, merchandise, etc). But, combine DreamWorks, Nintendo, and Star Trek with the expanding Harry Potter offerings at the parks, and then you likely have what it takes to be a formidable competitor against Disney, Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel. Not to mention who winds up with 20th Century Fox, given that Comcast (parent company to NBC-Universal) is offering an all cash deal that dwarfs the Disney bid. If Star Trek doesn’t go in Universal Orlando’s 4th theme park, then it’s entirely possible that it might be what is used to eventually replace Marvel Superhero Island at Islands of Adventure.

Without getting into the argument that one is science-fiction (Star Trek) and other other kin to Future-Fantasy (Star Wars), one of the primary differences between the two franchises is Star Trek‘s lack of memorable or reoccurring planets that factor into the plot. By extension, this makes developing a world difficult because it limits the number of places that you can transport your park guests. Star Wars is more focussed on the conventional adventure whereas Star Trek is traditionally more focussed on the human condition. One’s internal and the other external. That does spell difficulty for adapting Star Trek to a theme park setting, and by the same token, works brilliantly for Star Wars. Maybe it doesn’t have any memorable planets, but Star Trek does have a HUGE iconic location that can effectively be translated to an experiential theme park setting: the Enterprise! My personal favorite being none other than the NCC-1701-D under the leadership of the definitive Star Trek captain–Captain Picard! Regardless of which iteration of the Enterprise (or Voyager) may be your favorite, there are plenty of ways to adapt it into multiple attractions. Star Trek also has some incredible villains such as The Borg and Romulans and famous anti-heroes like Q.

Just off the top of my head, here are some great ideas for attractions and offerings in the future Star Trek land: For starters, the famous 10-Forward lounge on the Enterprise D would make for an excellent bar & grill for park guests. The trademark transporter serves as an excellent platform on to conceptualize a ride. Just the bridge of the Enterprise makes the perfect backdrop of a simulator style attraction in the vein of Star Tours at Hollywood Studios (but on steroids). A brilliant platform to build an attraction from is the holodeck. The possibilities of sourcing that location to inspire an attraction are as infinite as the imagination. One-off special events are a no-brainer too. A Star Trek land would make for the perfect location of a Star Trek convention, just as Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge will undoubtedly serve as the location for Star Wars conventions. In terms of resorts, the often references and occasionally visited planet of Risa (from TNG) could be a perfect resort or developing a hotel that immerses the guests into the world of the Enterprise. The guest rooms would be modeled after the ones on the starship and there are plenty of lobby, lounge, and restaurant ideas too.

Only time will tell if these rumors are true. I certainly hope they are! If not, maybe Universal will consider the idea with so many people talking about the rumor. Here’s to the future of possibilities coming to theme parks in the coming years. Engage!

The Hollywood Studio System: Employment Then and Now

One of the last remnants of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre stands as a tribute to the movies that started it all.

One of the last remnants of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre stands as a tribute to the movies that started it all.

In light of the recent film Hail, Caesar!, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the old studio system and whether resurrecting some of the practices might actually prove to be a positive affect upon employment in media and entertainment.

The entertainment industry is evolving more quickly than it ever has, and film production companies and distributors are of no exception. Just like the advent of television had a major influence on the sharp decline of movie patrons in the 1950s and 60s, the advent of on-demand and streaming “television” and movie content today is having a major impact on entertainment sources today. But this article does not aim to analyze distribution, production, nor revenue; its aim is to analyze the state of employment opportunities in the film and narrative television industries. What better way to begin to explore this controversial topic than with the studios that started it all.

HISTORY

The famous entry gate to Paramount Pictures as seen in the 1950 film, all about the studio system, “Sunset Blvd.”

The famous entry gate to Paramount Pictures as seen in the 1950 film, all about the studio system, “Sunset Blvd.”

The rise and fall of the former “studio system” lasted for a period from the 1920s to the late 1960s, with the 1940s to the 1960s being the period of the downfall. During this time, there were five major film studios known as the Big Five, essentially controlling the film industry from production to distribution. The Big Five consisted of Paramount, MGM, RKO, Loew’s, Fox Pictures, and Warner Brothers. Though not as prominent, three smaller studios known as the Little Three, consisting of United Artists, Universal, and Columbia Pictures, were the chief competition. Regarded as the end of Hollywood’s Golden Era, the landmark Supreme Court decision in United States v. Paramount in 1948 marked the delcine of the Studio System. In short, over about a 15-20 year timespan, studios began opening their lots to independent filmmakers–independent of the Big Five (not independent by today’s definition), terminating permanent staff members, and refraining from entering into longerm contracts with performers and movie houses. Although the Walt Disney Company was not part of the Big Five nor the Little Three, it is the only studio today still operating as a studio from the old Studio System.

PRESENT DAY

The Bronson Gate at Paramount Pictures as seen today

The Bronson Gate at Paramount Pictures as seen today

With the major studios today only producing about 20 films a year, the majority of films releasing in first-run movie theatres are produced by independent producers. As stated earlier, this is not independent as we think today; independent by this definition means movies produced outside of the major studios, but often distributed by them (or a subsidiary). Think: Star Wars or Jurassic Park. Since the fall of the Studio System, big banks are more reluctant to invest in or finance films, so producers are responsible for securing their own funding. Less funding means fewer job opportunities for film and television graduates. Most film and television professionals in the entertainment business today are independent contractors–being attached to films and television shows for however long the production time or run-length is. Although a long-running television show provides more employment stability than films do, both are high risk professions. Of course, along with the high risk comes potentially great rewards.

According to Hollywood folk lore, making a wish at the famed Bronson Gate is said to bring good luck. This is me (30lbs ago!) on the Paramount Studio tour in March 2015.

According to Hollywood folk lore, making a wish at the famed Bronson Gate is said to bring good luck. This is me (30lbs ago!) on the Paramount Studio tour in March 2015.

Why would the return of some semblance of the old Studio System be a good turn of events in today’s economy? Simply stated: more jobs and opportunities for budding professionals and college graduates. Why is that? Any first-year film student can tell you that studios keep a low threshold of permanent staff members in administration and production. The majority of talent and crew on each film is independently contracted. And with gaining entry into a union becoming increasingly difficult, it leaves many potentially talented professionals out of work or in low-pay positions on low and moderate budget films. If the Studio System were to return, they would have the collateral that big banks are looking for to invest in films. After all, film, television, and to some extent theatre, are the United States’ largest exports even though they are only recently counted as part of the U.S.’ GDP (gross domestic product) in terms of evaluating the health of the economy. If there were more permanent positions in production with studios and production companies, the unemployment rate would drop significantly in entertainment because budding professionals and college graduates could land positions in which they could grow and excel.

An aerial shot of the Desilu Stages in Hollywood in the 1960s

An aerial shot of the Desilu Stages in Hollywood in the 1960s

But what about exploitation and monopoly? Are those not reasons why the Supreme Court stepped in? Yes. However, there are many reasons why personnel in entertainment today, as permanent staff members, would not undergo the same treatment. The reason: unions. SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, TEAMSTERS, and EQUITY do an excellent job at protecting creative peoples’ rights and opening doors of opportunity. But, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain access into these organizations. And with the unions being the gatekeepers to opportunity in the industry, where is a budding professional or college graduate supposed to go? If studios produced more in-house movies and television shows, then that would require them to hire permanent staff members. Those seeking a career in the industry would find their place. Some may argue that production companies offer internships to recent graduates; but with lawsuits increasing in the last few years, internships are increasingly being seen in a negative light. One hypothesis is that unpaid internships are taking the place of entry level jobs. With the number of entry-level jobs decreasing since the recession began, the unemployment rate in entertainment is rising.

One way to combat the increased unemployment in entertainment business is to bring back the large studios that have the financial assets to offer and hire permanent positions. This would enable the studios to hire a number of cinematographers, writers, directors, etc. And, those individuals would work on the films produced by the respective studios. If studios were to increase the number of films produced each year, as they once did, then there would be more opportunities for professionals. Regarding the monopoly studios had on movie houses, the present laws on the books would not allow for a studio to have complete control over a particular theatre chain.

There is plenty of room for studios and production companies large and small. Unlike the days of the Studio System, in which outside companies could not shoot films or television shows on another company’s lot, the smaller studios should be allowed to still rent the stage and lot space as they do today. Of course, if Studios were producing more movies on their lots, that may cause the smaller companies to have to look elsewhere for locations. But, that could be a good thing; because if they purchased land for a backlot or sound stages, that would create more jobs for craftsman. In order to combat the rising unemployment rate in the entertainment business, professionals need to get together to develop ideas as to how to hire more personnel. Bringing back the Studio System is just one idea as to how to create more full-time jobs in film and television production.

One of the entrances to MGM Studios (now owned by Sony Pictures) in Hollywood

One of the entrances to MGM Studios (now owned by Sony Pictures) in Hollywood

With studios forced to produce more movies in order to make payroll, that could potentially mean more writers can sell their scripts and perhaps more original ideas will make their way to the silver screen. This action could create human resource databases at the various studios and production companies that would advertise vacant positions. Just like applying for a job at Disney World, you could see what positions are available. Bringing back a new Studio System would allow for studios to advertise full and part-time regular positions. For instance, you could see which studios are hiring cinematographers, directors, composers, etc. Professionals in the creative and technical arts would also benefit from employer provided health insurance and retirement. Although as independent contractors, film and television professionals make more money than working as a regular employee, regular employees benefit from regular paychecks and benefits, and to an extent job security.

Technology is making the production of movies and television shows more efficient than ever, so a major studio could hire permanent staff members to work as producers, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, etc. Employment opportunity and stability are key elements to the health of an industry–even creative ones. Even though the old Studio System ran unchecked for many years, causing the eventual breakup, carefully constructed and regulated today, the return of a new Studio System could mean more jobs and opportunity for college graduates pursuing entertainment business careers. And just maybe, more movies!

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • US adds entertainment and innovation to GDP, Time Magazine, http://entertainment.time.com/2013/08/01/hey-america-entertainment-just-made-you-hundreds-of-dollars-richer/
  • History of the Studio System, Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/394161/history-of-the-motion-picture/52153/The-Hollywood-studio-system
  • Paramount Pictures v United States, 334 U.S. 131 (1948)
  • Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, New York Southern District court, http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/cases/show.php?db=special&id=300
  • US Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/home.htm
  • Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. 2013 WL 2495140 (S.D.N.Y.) – See more at: http://blog.legalsolutions.thomsonreuters.com/legal-research/westlaw-topical-highlights-labor-and-employment-july-10-2013/#sthash.J9tcpnM1.dpuf
  • Hollywood Studio System Collection, http://mediahistoryproject.org/hollywood/
  • Bigelow v. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 327 U.S. 251 (1946)