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October 21, 1916 MOTION PICTURE NEWS 2515
Open Booking or the Program — Which ? — 11.
"Why Make the Exhibitor Pay the Same Price for Gold, Silver, Brass and Tin? " Asks Lewis J. Selznick, in Defending the Open Booking Plan Against the Attacks of Program Advocates — Difference of Opinion
LEWIS J. SELZNICK sums up his opinion of the Program System in a nut-shell as a plan by which the exhibitor is forced " to pay the same price for gold, silver, brass and tin."
" This illustration," says he, " seems to me a particularly apt one. Under the program system the exhibitor not only has to pay that same price for gold, silver, brass and tin, but in order to get the gold he has to take the silver, brass and tin as well, whether he wants it or not.
" If all the pictures on a program were money makers the situation would not be so bad, but it does not need me to tell the exhibitor that out of any of the program producing corporations' output he never gets more than one or two pictures a month that really pull the people in from off of the streets.
" I contend that the open booking system is the only thing that will save the industry from going on the rocks. Let me give my reasons for this belief :
" Open booking would be the means of readjusting the over-production of feature pictures, which is the worst phase of present-day conditions. The open booking system gives the exhibitor a chance to pick his big attractions and play them when he chooses. Under the open booking system the producers would be forced by competition to put their best effort into every individual production.
" Open booking would enable every ex
hibitor to play all of the big stars now in the field instead of being limited as at present by his weekly contract with programs. Open booking would force every exhibitor to improve the character of his house and program and thereby increase motion picture patronage by the million. Every exhibitor knows his local conditions better than any producer in the country and under open booking would be able to satisfy his patrons week in and out.
" These are a few of the more vital points in favor of the open booking plans. It would be easy to point out its manifold advantages indefinitely. I consider myself pecuharly qualified to express an opinion on this question, having been on both sides of the fence in the course of my film career.
" It seems to me that the doom of the program system is close at hand. The handwriting on the wall is large and firmly written so that he who runs may read. The motion picture has passed the novelty stage. It no longer draws its huge crowds simply because it is a new form of diversion. Picture houses are jammed to the doors today only when one of the popular idols of the screen is being shown or when some great spectacular production is the attraction.
" We hear it proclaimed that the program is the backbone of the industry. So it is, but the industry is suffering from curvature of the spine."
See AU Pictures Before Show
Bernard Depkin, Jr., manager of the Parkway theatre, is strongly in favor of the open booking program. " It is the policy of this house," said Mr. Depkin, " to view all pictures before they are given their public presentation. Those that are not desirable are canceled and something else substituted. We have decided upon this plan as the best after almost a year of contract booking. We were tied up with a contract by one of the largest concerns in the country and used their film as it was released. As we cater to the best people in Baltimore, there is always a number of objections to the pictures that are not up to the highest standard. As it was not agreeable to the film concern for us to shelve the pictures that we considered were not available we decided that the best and only plan would be to enter the open market.
" This plan has been most satisfactory, both to myself and the patrons of the theatre. The latter have now learned that everything presented at the theatre is of the highest stamp of modern motion picture art, while from my own standpoint I know in advance just what the picture that I will present will be and eliminate all eleventh hour switches. To my mind, the open booking proposition is the only satisfactory plan for the motion picture exhibitor."
Advertising Value of Program
" By booking by program I know what I'll get. I don't have to take a chance of getting what I can," said Manager H. M. Thomas of the Strand, Omaha's largest and exclusive motion picture theatre. " I believe the manufacturer is able to make better films if he has regular customers. But on the other hand, with the open market booking to deal with, competition forces him to try to put out pictures better than anyone else. I prefer the program booking because, as I said, I know what I'll have to show my patrons, I can advertise and can make ready for the picture. Frequently, however, when I get a chance at a good picture in the open market, I get it. Of course I have to pay for the regular service at the same time, but more often than not, it pays me big."
A prominent Omaha theatre owner and exhibitor, who would not have his name made known, for obvious reasons, said : "I do open booking. Why? Because I know the exchanges are constantly battling each other. I go to this exchange for a picture. The manager says to himself, ' I'll give this fellow the best I have, and he'll come back. Maybe he'll be a seven-day program patron.' So he gives me the best he has. I go to the next manager; he does the same. I get the best, I pay cash no matter how high the price, and I am a welcome customer — also, I believe I get the cream of the pictures released here."
Exhibitors in Maryland and
Certainty of Program and Advertising Value ( of Independent Selection to Meet
' I 'HERE is rather a difference of opin*■ ion among Baltimore exhibitors as to the relative value of program versus open-booking. Guy L. Wonders, manager of the Wilson theatre, and president of the Maryland Branch of the Motion Picture Exhibitors League of America, is of the opinion that contract booking is the best thing for houses changing their program daily, while open booking is^ the best for houses which change twice a week.
" In the open booking field," said Mr. Wonders, " there is always the possibility of the man who changes his program daily, having a picture switched on him and thereby confusing his entire bill. This has happened frequently and is a very undesirable state of affairs. In the case of a theatre running a show three days straight a switch of bookings is not so likely to occur and, of course, it has its advantage of eliminating the least desirable class of photoplays or those that are lacking the essential punch.
" When an exhibitor is tied up with a contract, which is usually the case with the house changing its bill every day, he feels relatively certain that he is going to get the show, which is scheduled for him as it works on the regular circuit plan.
3maha Have Different Views
f Elnown Definite Pictures Set Against Value Requirements of Local Audience
Of course he is tied up with the producers on the deposit which is now required from all the leading film manufacturers of the country. This is one particularly undesirable feature in the exhibitors' end of the motion picture business. Why an exhibitor is compelled to deposit $200, $400, $600, $1,000 or almost any amount that his service calls for and should receive no returns from this money is very hard to explain.
There is one thing sure the exhibitors should receive at least a fair amount of interest for this money which is locked up in the coffers of the film manufacturers or distributing company, whichever the case may be.
" To my mind, a very satisfactory arrangement is that offered by the KleineEdison-Selig-Essanay, in which the bookings run only for ten pictures and you can select your pictures, which requires a deposit of only twenty per cent, of the contract price while the exhibitor receives upon the release of his first picture an amount equal to sixty per cent, of the money deposited. We exhibitors are in hopes that the deposit system will in the near future work out a little more beneficially to the theatre man than the present general plan."