What does a film studio actually do?

Movie Shoot
A scene depicting a producer and his children visiting a film set.

From my early days as a content developer and web programmer at a small studio in Kansas City’s Brookside neighborhood, known as Metro Productions, to exploring the iconic back lots of Paramount Pictures with a cinematographer friend in West Hollywood, I have been incredibly fortunate to develop a deep-seated passion for film and content creation. This journey has allowed me to witness firsthand how both tiny and sprawling studios alike look up to and emulate the colossal titans of our industry such as Paramount Pictures, MGM, Universal, Sony and a multitude of others.

These giants do more than just craft compelling narratives; they set and achieve goals that create significant ripples across the industry, profoundly impacting global practices. Their influence extends beyond merely housing actors, directors, lighting technicians, and camera operators. They construct robust business cases and secure financing for new films, equipment purchases, and product development, among other ventures. At the same time, they establish filming trends and exert influence on studios of all sizes. These practices, commonly referred to as “benchmarking,” highlight the enduring legacy of innovation and excellence these pioneers have fostered—an influence that has profoundly shaped the cinematic world.

Through relentless dedication to their art and immeasurable creativity,  the visionaries of film, finance, and distribution have built a spectacular universe of cinema. They have done this by pushing technological boundaries and have inspired us to dream bigger and reach higher. Each scene we admire, every story that moves us, is a testament to their bold, forward-thinking spirit.they remind us that with imagination and perseverance, anything is possible. So, as we sit back and lose ourselves in the latest cinematic creation, let’s carry forward this ‘can-do’ spirit and continue to dream and achieve in the vast, awe-inspiring world of film.

Thumb rules. Things you should know.

Small Studios – look to Big Ones for Inspiration and Guidance

Large film studios like Paramount play a multifaceted role in the entertainment industry, encompassing everything from film and television production to distribution and exhibition. They are, in many ways, the trendsetters in the business, creating workflows and standards that become the industry norm. Here’s a detailed look at the typical roles these studios play and how these can serve as a blueprint for smaller studios looking to scale and refine their operations:

Concept Development – Let’s make a movie!

The development stage involves brainstorming ideas, acquiring rights to scripts, books, or other materials, and turning these into workable scripts. Studios often have development departments dedicated to finding and developing compelling stories and concepts that can be turned into films or TV shows. This stage also includes pitching ideas, securing funding, and attaching actors and directors to projects.

There are a number of steps taken to get through this stage of film development. Included in this stage are the following:

Content development is a crucial and complex phase in the lifecycle of a movie, a television show, even advertising commercials. It involves several processes designed to transform a preliminary idea into a fully fleshed-out script ready for production, with a clear plan for how to execute it.  Here are the key processes involved in the development process:

(Please note: If there are additional parts to each segment, there will be a hyperlink that will open a new tab or window to view the additional materials. We provide this as a way to drill down into more specific detail while. guiding you through each process)

Character, Plot, Storyline, Visual Elements, Initial Planning and Idea Generation
This next section explores how you can emulate an industry titan within your own small studio. Whether individually or as a team, each of the following strategies can be successfully adopted. I strongly recommend assembling a diverse team characterized by varied personalities and ways of thinking. Allowing a broad range of perspectives to influence your vision is crucial when building your film business.
As the founder, you are solely responsible for delegating various tasks to team members according to their interests, talents, and the unique insights they contribute to discussions. Don’t hesitate to assign, reassign, and experiment with the human capital aspects of team building.
Development starts with idea generation, which can come from various sources:
  • Original Concepts: Ideas from writers, producers, or other creative professionals within the studio.
  • Adaptations: Books, plays, comics, or other media that can be converted into film scripts.
  • Sequels and Franchises: Developing follow-ups to successful films.
  • Remakes: Updating or reinterpreting previously made films.
Pitching and Approval
  • Pitch Meetings: Writers and producers pitch their ideas to studio executives. These pitches include a summary of the story, its potential cast, the target audience, and a rough budget estimate.
  • Greenlighting: If the studio executives are convinced of the potential success of a project, they give the “green light” to move forward with further development.
Script Development
  • Screenwriting: Hiring screenwriters to create a first draft based on the approved idea or adapting an existing work.
  • Revisions: Multiple drafts may be written, incorporating feedback from various stakeholders, including producers, directors, and script editors.
Securing Rights
  • Acquisition of Rights: If the project is an adaptation, the studio must negotiate and buy the rights to the source material from the author or rights holder.
  • Legal Clearance: Ensuring that the script and its elements do not infringe on existing copyrights and that all intellectual property issues are resolved.
Attaching Talent
  • Directors and Key Crew: Once the script is in a good place, a director is approached and attached if they’re interested. Key crew members, such as cinematographers, production designers, and composers might also be considered at this stage.
  • Casting: Initial discussions and negotiations with potential actors start here, often spearheaded by the director and casting directors.
Budgeting and Financing

Budget planning in film production is a crucial process to ensure that the production can be completed within the financial constraints set by the producers and investors. Here is a detailed breakdown of the steps involved in creating a preliminary budget for a film:

1. Concept and Scope Definition

Objective: Define the artistic and technical scope of the project.

2. Team Assembly

Objective: Begin assembling the core team that will plan and execute the production.

  • Hire a producer, director, and other key personnel.
  • These key figures will contribute to further budgeting details.

Action: Hiring key personnel like producers, directors, and other pivotal staff in a film or television studio involves a meticulous process, often tailored to the specific needs and scope of the project. Here’s a general outline of how these professionals are typically hired:

Identifying the Need

  • The first step is identifying the need for a new project or a vacancy. This could be for a new film, a television show, or an ongoing series needing new leadership or fresh ideas.

Defining the Role

  • Studios clearly define the roles and responsibilities, required qualifications, and desired experience for each position. This is crucial in attracting the right talent and setting expectations.

Scouting for Talent

  • Networking: Many hires are made through networking within the industry. This includes recommendations from peers, previous collaborations, or through agents and managers.
  • Talent Agencies: Studios often work closely with talent agencies that represent directors, producers, and other creatives.
  • Open Calls and Advertisements: Sometimes, especially for newer talents or less visible roles, studios may post job listings on industry-specific job boards or trade publications.

Reviewing Candidates

  • Portfolio Review: For creative positions like directors and producers, a review of past work is essential. This includes films, shows, or other relevant projects that showcase their style, skill, and compatibility with the project’s requirements.
  • Interviews: Potential candidates go through multiple rounds of interviews. Initial interviews might be more general, while later stages will delve deeper into creative vision and project-specific discussions.

Selection and Negotiation

  • After narrowing down the candidates, the final selection is often made based on a combination of their creative vision, compatibility with the project, budget considerations, and availability.
  • Negotiations then take place regarding contract terms, compensation, schedules, and other logistics.

Finalizing the Hire

  • Once agreements are reached, contracts are signed, and the chosen candidates are formally brought on board.

Integration into the Project

  • Key personnel are integrated into the project team, where they start collaborating with other department heads and team members to bring the project to fruition.

Ongoing Assessment and Collaboration

  • Throughout the project, the performance and collaboration of the hired personnel are assessed to ensure they meet the project’s goals and maintain a productive working environment.
  • This hiring process can vary significantly based on the size of the studio, the nature of the project, and specific industry practices. Studios are increasingly valuing diverse hires and fresh perspectives, which has led to broader searches beyond traditional networks.

3. Initial Budget Drafting

Objective: Create a rough estimate of costs based on script and initial concepts.

  • Cast Salaries: Estimate the cost of actors based on their roles and market rates.
  • Special Effects: Budget for CGI and practical effects as required by the script.
  • Locations: Scout and estimate costs for shooting locations.
  • Sets: Estimate costs for set construction and design.
  • Production Expenses: Include costs for crew salaries, daily operations, logistics, etc.
4. Detailed Cost Analysis

Objective: Refine the initial estimates to more accurate figures.

  • Break down the script into scenes and estimate costs per scene.
  • Get preliminary quotes and estimates from vendors and service providers.
  • Consider costs for costumes, makeup, props, animal handlers, etc.
5. Funding Strategy

Objective: Identify and secure sources of funding.

  • Prepare investment packets and presentations for potential investors.
  • Explore options like film grants, loans, tax credits, and crowdfunding.
6. Risk Assessment

Objective: Identify financial risks and plan for contingencies.

  • Analyze potential overruns, unforeseen expenses, and prepare contingency budgets.
  • Insurance: Ensure all aspects of the production are adequately insured.
7. Review and Approval

Objective: Finalize the budget with input from all key stakeholders.

  • Conduct meetings with department heads to review and finalize their budgets.
  • Adjust the budget based on feedback from producers and financiers.
8. Ongoing Management and Revisions

Objective: Monitor the budget throughout the production process.

  • Track expenses and compare with the budgeted amounts regularly.
  • Make adjustments to the budget as needed, based on actual spending and changes in production plans.
9. Post-Production Budgeting

Objective: Budget for post-production activities.

  • Include costs for editing, sound design, scoring, and special effects needed after shooting.
  • Plan for marketing and distribution costs.
10. Audit and Reporting

Objective: Ensure that spending has adhered to the budget and prepare reports for stakeholders.


Each step of this process involves collaboration between various departments to ensure that the film can be produced within the set budget, maintaining a balance between creative aspirations and financial realities.

Pre-Production Planning

Although primarily a part of the pre-production phase, some elements of planning begin during the late development stage:

  • Scheduling: Rough timelines are established for writing, production, post-production, and release.
  • Location Scouting and Tech Scouting: Early scouting for potential shooting locations.
Marketing and Distribution Strategy
  • Early Promotion: Initial marketing strategies may start being sketched out, including decisions on promotional tours, trailer releases, and tie-in merchandise.
Development to Pre-Production Transition
  • Final Approvals: Once all elements are aligned—script, budget, cast, crew, and initial marketing plans—the project moves officially from development into pre-production, ready for the actual filming to begin.

Throughout the development phase, the main goals are to refine the story and script to the highest quality, secure the necessary rights and talents, and prepare a solid operational and financial plan that can guide the production phase. This groundwork is essential for ensuring the project’s success through the next stages of filmmaking.


Once a project is greenlit, it moves into the production phase. This involves:

  • Pre-production: Planning everything required for filming, including casting, hiring crew, location scouting, creating sets, scheduling, and budgeting.
  • Production: The actual shooting of the film or show. This phase can last anywhere from a few weeks for a simple project to several months for a large-scale production.
  • Post-production: After shooting ends, this phase begins, involving editing, visual effects (VFX), sound design, scoring, and final edits to complete the movie or series.
Marketing and Public Relations

Studios invest heavily in marketing and PR to ensure their projects reach the widest possible audience. This includes:

  • Trailers and Teasers: Creating and distributing promotional materials.
  • Press Releases and Media Interaction: Organizing interviews, press conferences, and promotional events.
  • Social Media Marketing: Engaging with audiences directly through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
  • Merchandising: Sometimes, especially for blockbuster films, creating and selling merchandise related to the film.

Distribution is key to a studio’s success. This includes:

  • Theatrical Release: Coordinating with theater chains to screen movies in various markets.
  • Home Entertainment: After the theatrical run, films are released on DVD, Blu-ray, and for digital download.
  • Streaming Services: Many studios now also release films directly on streaming platforms, either their own (like Paramount+) or through partners.
Licensing and Merchandising

Studios can generate significant revenue from licensing their films and shows for various uses, including TV broadcasts, merchandise, and even theme park attractions.

International Operations

Large studios operate on a global scale, which involves:

  • Localizing Content: Dubbing and subtitling films into different languages.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Navigating the legal and cultural requirements of different countries.
  • Global Marketing and Distribution: Tailoring marketing strategies to different cultures and managing international distribution channels.

Some studios, including Paramount, are involved in the exhibition business, owning cinema chains or having stakes in them. This allows them to have an integrated approach to screening their films.

Streaming Services

With the rise of digital media, studios like Paramount have also ventured into streaming with services like Paramount+. These platforms serve as a direct channel to consumers, offering original content as well as access to their libraries of films and TV shows.

Overall, large studios like Paramount Pictures are comprehensive media enterprises that handle every aspect of the entertainment lifecycle from concept to consumer. They not only create content but also manage its entire journey to audiences around the world.