This guest post is published in conjunction with the annual conference of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies, taking place in Seattle on March 13–17, 2019.
By Daniel Steinhart, author of Runaway Hollywood: Internationalizing Postwar Production and Location Shooting
When I started my book project, I faced a question that was basic yet complicated: How many movies did Hollywood shoot abroad in the postwar era? I wasn’t the first to ask this. In 1957, the Hollywood AFL Film Council published a report arguing that “runaway productions” shot abroad contributed to the film industry’s growing unemployment. How bad was the problem? To work out how many movies were filmed in foreign countries, the report relied on the Hollywood Reporter’s production calendar and determined that 314 Hollywood features were shot abroad from 1949 to 1957. The numbers were illuminating but misleading. Some films in the calendar didn’t go into production, others had inaccurate filming locations.
For Runaway Hollywood, I thought a retrospective look was more fruitful. With the help of research assistants, I studied the American Film Institute Catalog, a movie database that includes shooting locations. I concluded that from 1948 to 1962 Hollywood companies released 563 films in which principal photography occurred abroad. While this is a provisional count, the numbers point to a robust trend. Chart 1 shows an increase in productions from the late 1940s through the 1950s, peaking in 1958.
These findings also show that these productions were far-reaching geographically. Chart 2 reveals that US companies shot the most films in the UK. A drop-off leads to still significant numbers in France and Italy. As my book demonstrates, the primary staging ground for runaway productions was Europe, which offered financial incentives, infrastructure, and crews. Plenty of production also happened in Germany, Japan, Kenya, and territories like Puerto Rico. Not included are countries that hosted productions in the single digits, from India (nine films) to Suriname (just one).
Mexico stands out, too. Seventy-six Hollywood productions were shot in Mexico due to lower costs, a skilled workforce, and an infrastructure the US film industry had invested in since World War II. My book touches on Hollywood’s postwar productions in Mexico, but I hope to dig deeper in a forthcoming project I’m calling Cross-Border Hollywood, which details how US film companies went south of the border for economic opportunities, sparking protest from Hollywood unions. The move finds parallels to today’s debates about outsourcing, border politics, and the ties between Hollywood and Mexican filmmakers.
Daniel will be chairing the Historicizing Global Hollywood panel from 1:30–3:15 PM on Sunday, March 17.