Monday, March 4, 2013

Film Advertising in Early Cinema: Part 2

This is the part two of an article from the March 1917 issue of Moving Picture World about the early years of movie advertising. This section focuses on the development of more sophisticated advertising techniques such as the campaign, or press book, and the emergence of the serial in American film. Click here for Part 1

What did you think of the article? Has movie advertising really changed in the past 100 years?Let me know in the comments.

TEN YEARS OF FlLM ADVERTISING by Epes Winthrop Sargent - PART 2

Perhaps no greater contrast may be found than to compare the work ten years ago with that of today. Then the advertising man — where there was any — was generally the editor as well. He looked after the scripts and advertising, and still had a little spare time. One company, for example, demanded each week copy for a quarter page advertisement in one paper and a half page in another. Twice a month a sixteen page bulletin release was got out and each week three or four squibs were sent out to the trade papers.

One or possibly two cuts had to be made for each one reel subject, and later the editor also sent out the still pictures to the lithographer.  That was all that was done or could be done. Today the large organizations have extensive staffs of writers. Not all of them are good, perhaps, but they help to keep up the high cost of white paper.

In addition to preparing advertising copy the press room supplies weekly several thousand words of press stuff, ranging from three lines to several typewritten pages. Cuts of one and sometimes two screens are prepared, often more than one cut of a subject and in one, two and three column measures. Ready set advertisements are prepared and often may be had in matrix form for inexpensive mailing.
Pressbooks first appeared in
1913 for the Italian epic
Quo Vadis?
There are elaborate special stories of each release and the usual synopsis, and there is paper of all sizes as well as a stock of portrait cuts and postcards. It is in the serial, however, that the greatest advancement is shown. For these most companies now prepare elaborate campaign books.

These may list a hundred or more sheets of paper, ranging from the half sheet to twenty eights. There will be a careful teaser and followup campaign planned out, a series of stunt suggestions,  perhaps a number of novelty advertisements, such as buttons, pins, pennants, puzzles and the like, from fifteen to fifty cuts ranging from thumbnail to half page layouts, copy for advertising for each installment and special press stories for the preliminary campaign and each chapter.

Advertising novelties and paper and cuts are supplied about at cost. The rest is all free, and yet three or four  years ago the first suit of press stuff for a feature brought  five dollars for about twenty typewritten pages - and was  worth it. Today the campaign book is free and is frequently backed up by elaborate newspaper campaigns, the most ambitious and unique being the recent Pathe campaign, though the most persistent advertising is that done in the Hearst newspapers for the International pictures.

The Universal has got out a number of remarkable books and Bluebird issues a four page sheet for each release that gives the exhibitor all he needs in the way of publicity material. All he has to have is the sheet, a pair of shears and an advertising account with the local papers. The smallest releasing organization today does more for the exhibitor than did all of the companies combined ten years ago, and does it more intelligently.

On the exhibiting end the change has been even more marked. The exhibitor not only makes use of the material given him, but he improves upon it. Ten years ago he had nothing but stock paper with which to work.  There was no true to film paper. He bought of the show print concerns paper of defunct theatrical productions.

*Poster for a multi-part serial
by film pioneer William Selig, 
this one for 1913's
The Adventures of
also recognized as
the first cliffhanger serial

Some of this was positively vicious and contributed in no small degree to the demand for a censorship. Reformers did not go into the theater to see how bad the films were.  A glance at the lobby display was sufficient.
A Selig* release, for example, showed a girl jumping off a bridge. It was a sixty foot bridge, and that in itself was a real thriller for those days. She just jumped off the bridge and towed the hero to land. One house dug up a one sheet for this showing two men in a boat bearing down on a girl and a man struggling in the water. One of the boatmen was shooting at the man in the water and the other was preparing to beat the girl over the head with an oar.

It was a gross libel on a well written picture, but people looked at the paper and not at the film and decided that the pictures must need reforming. Take fifteen or twenty sheets like this, plastered over the front of a converted store, dark, filthy and odorous in the extreme, and the passerby was scarcely to be blamed for being unwilling to risk his health and pocketbook in so unsavory a place. 


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