In 1930’s movies and popular shorts were exclusively produced and distributed by seven studios: Paramount, Universal, MGM, Twentieth Century–Fox, Warner Bros., Columbia, and RKO. These seven studios known collectively as “the studio system” monopolized what the American public saw and heard.
In 1934 Walt Disney started work on a feature length cartoon that was mocked and derided by Hollywood studios as “Disney’s Folly.” Disney’s project was called, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The major studio heads believed that adults, not children, were the principal economic force driving studio profits. Disney’s announcement that he would make an eighty-three-minute cartoon out of a well-known fairy tale seemed preposterous at best.
To make matters worse Disney planned to spend three times the average Hollywood budget to produce the film. In the middle of the Great Depression studio heads from all corners of Hollywood expected the venture to bankrupt Disney.
To say they were wrong would be a gross understatement.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made a lifetime domestic gross of $184,925,486 across its original release and several reissues. To give some perspective that figure adjusted by inflation is about $866,550,000 in today’s dollars. Compare that to Avatar’s domestic gross of “only” $761,577,300. Apple and Avatar have mastered creative genius in varying degrees, but no one has put all the components of creative genius together quite like Walt Disney.
The movie was also the first to have an official soundtrack. In a true genius stroke, Disney created multiple licensable characters that he transitioned from the silver screen to toys and theme-park characters. As Edward Jay Epstein notes in his article on the economics of Hollywood: “Here was Hollywood’s future: Its profits would come not from squeezing down the costs of producing films but from creating films with licensable properties that could generate profits in other media over long periods of time.”
Today the name Disney is synonymous with innovation and imagination. The key to Walt Disney’s early success was the strategic ability to anticipate and subsequently create a business model centered on creating entertainment focused on children. Furthermore, Disney entered an industry that was able to leverage its strengths in order to create a stronghold in a rapidly growing market segment. In short, Disney’s skill lay in his creative genius.
Disney in many ways the first artistic entrepreneur.
An artistic entrepreneur is capable of doing three critical things:
- Possessing a unique voice
- The exceptional capacity to change that voice into a product
- Translating the new product for a growing market that will continue
When leading we should never forgot Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Picture Credit: PGamba