A Hollywood myth has it that the composer Arnold Schoenberg once wrote a film score on the mistaken presumption that a motion picture would subsequently be made to match his music. The story suggests that misconceptions about the nature of the collaborative process have quite likely always cropped up among the creative forces involved in filmmaking. With rare exceptions, such as the work of fiercely independent experimentalists like Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Jonas Mekas, filmmaking is decidedly not, as the popular director Frank Capra (1897–1991) once put it and the auteurs of the French New Wave insisted, a "one man/one film" proposition. Even Capra's own best work in the 1930s involved a fruitful collaboration with the producer Harry Cohn, the playwright-screenwriter Robert Riskin, and the lovable stars and character actors, including James Stewart, Jean Arthur, and James Gleason, with whom he was long associated. Then of course there was Capra's audience, whose tastes and expectations were always crucial factors in the "creative" process. By contrast, the writer-director Preston Sturges (1898–1959), Capra's contemporary, openly celebrated his partnerships with cast and crew in his notable series of comic masterpieces from the 1940s.

Collaboration is the very essence of the art of filmmaking. The challenge of uniting word and image involves close collaboration between the writer, director, and cinematographer. Beyond this, the production of motion pictures involves ongoing collaboration among producers, directors, actors, writers, cameramen, editors, composers, sound technicians, art directors, and production designers. A presiding vision is needed, of course, but it takes an army of creative and technical specialists to produce the end result, whether a work of art or an entertaining commodity. Subsequent distribution and exhibition, moreover, involves a highly complex partnership of publicists, marketing analysts, and theater owners. The studio period in "classical" Hollywood, roughly from 1925 to 1960, affords the clearest demonstration of this collaborative process. Counterbalancing the auteurist notion of the creative individual is the collective aspect of Hollywood filmmaking—what the film critic André Bazin (1918–1958) in 1957 termed "the genius of the system."

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