At industry was mainly motivated by its

At the beginning of the 20th century, the East Coast
was the center of film production, with the majority of operations taking place
in New York, New Jersey and Chicago (Roland). However, a mass exodus of the
film industry to Southern California soon took place, and Hollywood was
subsequently established as the clear-cut preference for motion picture
producers across the nation. This mass migration of the film industry was
mainly motivated by its desire to escape from the constraints that were imposed
on them by the Edison Trust (otherwise known as the Motion Picture Patent
Corporation), and Hollywood presented itself as an ideal, even utopian
destination for filmmakers worldwide. Thus, the primary reasons for the film
industry’s relocation to Hollywood from the East Coast were Hollywood’s
distance away from the Edison Trust and its severe regulations, its
quintessential climate and topography that allowed for year-round movie
production in a diverse variety of different settings, as well as its abundance
in cheap, undeveloped land and access to inexpensive labor costs.


Perhaps the most significant reason for the film
industry’s shift westward to California from the East Coast was the Edison Trust’s
vertical integration of the film industry, that allowed them to control every
aspect of film production, distribution, and exhibition in the United States.

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In essence, the Trust was an alliance between the Edison Manufacturing Company
and the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, companies that held key
patents over film equipment (Lasar). Additionally, film production,
distribution, and foreign film companies were also included in the Trust (Izod,
16). To paraphrase Robert Anderson, the Trust “was established as a patent
pool” and aimed “to destroy competition between the member companies, to exclude
others from entering the business, and to monopolize the marketplace”
(Anderson, 104). This meant that the companies shared their patents with one
another, centralizing control over the motion picture industry. Fundamentally,
the Edison Trust possessed patents for every segment of the motion picture
industry, acting as a cartel (Izod, 17). To avoid infringement of such patents,
companies were required to obtain licenses from the Trust, and the subsequent
royalties that resulted from the issuance of such licenses were collected by
the Trust and divided amongst its members (Anderson, 104). Therefore, the
formation of the Trust monopolized the burgeoning film industry, meaning that
“no film could be legally be made, distributed, or exhibited without licensing
agreements from the Trust” (Bach, 51). According to Lasar, Edison’s lawyers
stated that Edison launched aggressive infringement suits against any
production outfit that used patented equipment without approval, the expense of
said suits “would have financially ruined any inventor who did not have the
large resources of Edison” (Lasar). Moreover, the Trust implemented vigorous,
even violent, enforcement of their licenses, “dictated by federal marshals or
hired goons” who “kept licensees in line when they showed signs of wandering.”
Law enforcement also aided in preventing unauthorized use of licensed Trust
equipment. This strict imposition of the Trust’s control, in turn, “forced many
producers farther and farther from the Trust’s most effective area of
domination, the East” (Bach, 52). Because of this, Hollywood became the ideal
destination for the film industry to migrate to, as it provided distance from
the Trust’s authority (Suman). The distance away from the Trust’s dominion
provided comfort for members of the film industry, as it made it “easier for
them to avoid being harassed or sued by the Trust” (Edidin). Evidently, the
Edison Trusts’ control over all aspects of the film industry, through the
pooling of patents and rigid enforcement of licensing, was a key reason that
drove the industry to migrate westward from New York and New Jersey to
Hollywood, where it was safe from the Trusts’ domination. 


    Whilst the
strict impositions of the Edison Trust was a major reason for the film
industry’s move to the west coast, another essential reason for the film
industry’s migration from New York to California was the favorable climate and
terrain that made filmmaking feasible throughout the year. Hollywood presented
the film industry with an ideal destination for film production, as the weather
was good all-year round and movie production could continue throughout the
year. Previously, production had to be halted during the winter due to the
harsh conditions and climate of the East Coast (Suman). In the words of Charles
Musser, a professor of film industry at Yale University: “There were a number
of reasons the movie business moved to Southern California. Weather was
certainly one of them. They didn’t have the terrible winter weather of the
East. There was no rain and it was much warmer so you could work outside all
year” (Edidin). Clearly, the climate of the West Coast was far more
suitable for film production in comparison to the East Coast. Furthermore,
Robert Sklar adds that although Southern California was not unique in that it
had a winter climate better suited to filmmaking than the eastern seaboard,
“its clear, sharp light was a further attraction” (Izod, 32). The factor of
strong, natural sunlight was extremely important for filmmakers, as even the brightest
electric lights weren’t enough to sufficiently expose the film. Therefore,
consecutive days of overcast, a regular occurrence on the East Coast, could
stop film production entirely (Edidin). In addition to the favorable weather
and lighting, Southern California was also home to a unique terrain suitable
for a diverse range of different scenes. Within a small radius of Los Angeles,
filmmakers had access to numerous different landscapes – desert, mountain,
jungle, sea – for a wide selection of settings for film production (Roland).

Sklar summarizes this quality well by stating that within “an hour or two from
downtown Los Angeles one could find a location resembling almost every
conceivable scene one might want to use – factory or farm, jungle or snowy
peak” (Sklar, 68). Along with an impressive range of natural settings in close
proximity to Los Angeles, the unique architecture of the area conveyed “a broad
range of settings” as well (Roland). Undoubtedly, Southern California’s
topography was perfectly suited to the process of film production and provided
the film industry with a highly versatile environment in which a multitude of
different scenes could be shot. In fact, this factor was so significant that
Steven Bach compares it similarly to the film industry’s desire to escape the
Edison Trusts’ authority: “the easy accessibility of mountains, sea, and desert
was probably an equal lure” (Bach, 53). Thus, the factor of optimal climate and
terrain was another crucial reason for the film industry’s migration westward
to Southern California from the East Coast.


On top of the quintessential climate and easy
accessibility to a diverse range of different environments for film production,
Southern California was also a relatively inexpensive blank canvas in terms of
land development, which was another important element in the film industry’s
shift west from the East Coast. In the early 20th century, Los Angeles was home
to an abundance of undeveloped, cheap land for film producers to take advantage
of (Suman). Robert Sklar also itemized the cost of property as one of Southern
California’s major attractions to the film industry, as land could be purchased
at a low price and converted into studios for production companies. These
studios often utilized the space as ‘backlots’ to shoot outdoor scenes, which
was an “especially attractive factor” (Izod, 32). Among the studios built
during this time, one of the most prominent examples was Universal City, a
large studio located in the San Fernando Valley owned by Carl Laemmle (Sklar,
68). Additionally, filmmakers built factories for production, as well as movie
exhibition palaces, one of the most notable of which was Grauman’s Chinese
Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, which opened in 1927. The film industry
acquired and utilized land “from Lincoln Heights to the San Fernando Valley and
from Echo Park to Santa Monica,” owning a significant portion of land in
Southern California (Roland). The rapid creation of movie studios and palaces
in Hollywood also greatly expanded the commerce and business of the film
industry (Suman). Thus, the film industry undeniably took advantage of the
available inexpensive land to develop film production and exhibition centers,
demonstrating the allure of Southern California and its significance in the
industry’s migration westward. However, the available land was not the only
aspect of Southern California that was affordable. Low labor costs were also
another aspect that drew filmmakers to the West Coast. Southern California’s
cheap land also catalyzed an influx of new residents to the area, providing the
film industry with a large population of people seeking work and employment.

Robert Sklar dubbed early 20th century Los Angeles as “the nation’s leading
open-shop, nonunion city” (Sklar, 68). Historian Steven J. Ross also stated
that “the pro-business orientation of the courts and city council helped local
employers undercut the strength of organized labor” (Roland). This meant that
the workers were not protected by the regulations of labor unions and were
subject to lower wages compared to unionized cities, a factor that was fully
exploited by the film industry. In fact, wages were around a “fifth to a third
below the prevailing rates of San Francisco” (Sklar, 68) and around “25% – 50%
cheaper than on the East Coast” (Roland). Obviously, the labor costs of Los
Angeles were remarkably lower than New York and New Jersey and even other parts
of California, making it an especially ideal location for movie production. As
the studios in Hollywood began expanding and architecting more intricate
designs for their sets, as well as improving visual effects and costume
designs, film producers required to recruit adept, experienced workers to meet
their aims. “Carpenters, electricians, dressmakers and many other specialists”
(Sklar, 68) were essential for filmmakers to achieve their desired effects and
consequently lower wages became an increasingly influential factor for film
producers to locate production in Los Angeles. Hence, the abundance of
inexpensive, undeveloped land, in addition to workers who were willing to work
for a far lower wage compared to those in the East Coast, were pivotal elements
that influenced the film industry’s relocation to Southern California.


In conclusion, Hollywood presented itself as the
epitome of film production nationwide, as its location possessed ideal
characteristics that the film industry was undoubtedly lured by. Hollywood’s
distance away from the East Coast allowed filmmakers to escape the draconian
regulations of the Edison Trust, which vertically integrated the entire
industry and strictly enforced their patent-license policy. Additionally,
Southern California boasted a quintessential climate and terrain for filmmakers
to produce films throughout the year with a wide selection of natural
landscapes and unique architecture to shoot their scenes in. Finally, Hollywood
was home to an abundance of cheap, undeveloped land and a nonunionized
workforce with considerably lower wages compared to the East Coast, allowing
the film industry to build a profusion of movie studios and palaces, as well as
enabling filmmakers to recruit skilled workers for relatively inexpensive
prices. For the reasons listed above, it is not a mystery as to why Hollywood
was the ideal destination for the relocation of the film industry and its
subsequent evolution into the center for motion picture production worldwide, a
standard that is unquestionably maintained to this day.