There are subtle difference between "producer" "production company" "studios" and "The AMPTP"
Particularly now that the strike is in full swing and SAG interim agreements are causing waivers to be issued.
I might address those in particular later. But first I have to establish the differences I just mentioned, and a bit about why.
Movies get made in three stages: Production, Distribution, and Exhibition.
It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that what we think of as the big studios (Disney, WB, Paramount, Universal, and Sony) are mostly distributors who dabble in production as a side hustle.
Amazon and Netflix, on the other hand, are mostly distributors that have side hustles in production AND exhibition.
Here's how. Buckle up.
Production operates a lot like it sounds: get the money, then make the movie.
A lot of production companies are really just a producer and their office. Renaissance Pictures is Sam Raimi, View Askew is Kevin Smith, that kind of thing. So when they get a project, they shop around for both funding and distribution. Which means talking to the various People Who Can Say Yes.
(The People Who Can Say Yes are mysterious, eldritch beings with the power to greenlight a movie and sign distribution deals. They know their powers make them highly sought after, and hide behind gauntlets of assistants)
Sometimes a studio, usually with a licensed IP, will decide to produce and fund a movie itself, assigning a studio executive to act as the producer. These are unironically called "studio pictures."
On occasion, a movie star will choose to invest in their own star power and partially fund a movie themselves along with appearing in a lead role. This is why you occasionally see stars listed as Executive Producers.
And on top of all of that, one standard practice is to form a subsidiary of a production company whose sole purpose is to make a single movie. This is done as a liability screen so if disaster strikes, the subsidiary is who loses as opposed to the production company or the studio.
So that's production.
Distribution is the stage of actually getting the movie in theaters. This involved making and shipping actual prints back in the day. Nowadays it's more hard drives. This is also where marketing and publicity happens, with the distributor responsible for posters, trailers, merch, and other tie-ins.
Major studios will not only produce movies, but more often than not they will make distribution deals for movies made independently of the studio. Often the result of a producer having a conversation with The People Who Can Say Yes.
Ever wonder why DVD's have region codes? It's because different distributors operate in different parts of the world. And the distribution rights are sold to different distributors operating in each territory. A studio might own distributors in the US, the UK, and Japan, but they would all operate separately.
Unfortunately this is also where Hollywood accounting runs rampant.
Do you know how much it costs to put posters on a subway?
So the distribution side of a studio can bill the production side of a studio for services rendered, and before you know it, something that made $1B at the box office hasn't turned an actual profit.
This is why smart people ask for percentages of gross receipts off the top instead of net profits off the back.
It is also why studios laugh in the faces of non-celebrities who dare ask such things.
Then there's exhibition. That's the theater chains themselves.
Before the end of WWII or so, Studios used to do all three. Paramount would make movies, Paramount Distribution would market them, and Paramount theaters would show them. And before TV, this allowed studios to rerelease their biggest hits to their theaters every couple of years.
If this is starting to sound familiar, congratulations. You didn't spend all of American History class on your phone.
The Paramount Decree declared this system to be an example of a vertically integrated trust, and ordered the studios to break up.
Pretty much all of them dropped the theaters. They were the biggest loss leaders in people that had to be paid and buildings maintained. This is why concessions cost so much at the theater. They're what keep the lights on. The overwhelming majority of the ticket prices go to the studios.
The weird thing about American antitrust law is that there's holes in it big enough to drive trucks through.
Having an oligarchy that happens "naturally" is all well and good.
It's just engaging in practices that actively prevent competition from happening that will get you in trouble.
Or at the least needing to throw lawyers at it until it goes away.
This was the problem that began the Paramount Decision, with things like Block Booking, where a theater would have to show whatever a studio gave it as opposed to what it wanted to show.
In recent years, I thought the majors were going to run afoul of the Paramount Decree sooner or later. Disney got away with mandating that theaters playing The Last Jedi keep it for a certain number of weeks, whether or not it was selling enough tickets to justify remaining. Theaters that refused would be denied other Disney releases. So theaters in small towns, where everyone who wanted to see TLJ would see it in the first few weeks, would continue seeing it, with the theaters eating the cost of empty seats.
Then in 2018, a Netflix original (Roma) was nominated for an Oscar for the first time. I wondered if sooner or later, a judge would wind up ruling that Streaming would be considered Exhibition for purposes of the Paramount Decree.
Instead, the opposite happened. In 2020, the DOJ put a sunset provision into the Paramount Decision, since the old vertical integration model couldn't be replicated.
Long story short (too late) in a world with only two app stores, nobody's batting an eye at having movie studios in single digits.
So, a lot of us use terms like "the AMPTP," "Producers," "Production companies," and "Studios" interchangeably. But they can be very different, especially in terms of decision-making power.
Take care of yourselves out there.