Further Film Facts from America

May 1916

In previous articles we have discussed the broader issues and given past results and future possibilities for foreign films in America. In this article we will give you some facts and figures and discuss existing actualities in general.

About the first thing that a foreign film man would have to do in opening an American branch would be to advertise; speaking now of the present conditions here. Abroad a full page advertisement in the leading film journals will cost about 50 liras or ten dollars in American money. In America, the leading film journals charge dollars 75 for a page advertisement and the page is not only smaller than the foreign page but the advertisement is by no means so prominent and attractive. When we consider the number of pages which a big film concern takes at times, the tremendous expense is easily computed. Large releasing concerns here frequently take from 12 to 20 pages at a time and do this in three different film journals the same week, not mentioning smaller advertisements they take in minor publications. These concerns are supposed to get a ten per cent rebate from the dollars 75 per page price, but they no doubt get a rate of about dollars 60 per page and in one case at least of dollars 50 per page. Even at this latter price it will be seen that the weekly expense sometimes runs as high as dollars 3.000.

These advertisements are put in to attract the eye of the theatre manager or exhibitor. Naturally in the end he, as the consumer, pays the bill. The natural question suggests itself, why should there be such a vast difference between the advertising rates abroad and here? The foreign journals, generally speaking, are much better papers than the American ones. They use better material and reproduce better photographs. Admitting that labor may be much cheaper abroad, that in itself does not explain the difference. Summing it all up it would appear that there is a big field here for the foreign editor to start something new. The Americans are already making moves in this direction. One of the prominent film journals has started a separate edition in Spanish for the South American countries, while another has announced a Great Britain edition. Let a live Italian Editor come over here and put up a sort of International journal, with a schedule of advertising prices of not over dollars 25 per page with sufficient financial backing to stand a strain during the building to stand a strain during the building up period and there is not much doubt as to the result.

Another angle of interest is the salary end for artists and directors. It is rather difficult to give actual figures on these ends as no two cases are just alike. A few instances, however, will give a fair idea.

Directors, termed I believe in Italian as metteur en scène, are paid largely by reputation. When a new film concern starts in business they immediately arrange to get some director with a reputation away from some other concern and start bidding for his services. One case is of special interest. The director in question was a stage manager for a theatrical stock company in a large city and was paid a salary  of about dollars 75 per week. He was a competent man and well worth that money. About five years ago he went with a film concern which was a member of the trust and, while we have no information as to his salary there, we judge it was about dollars 100 per week. One of the large independent producing-releasing organizations, which has made a specialty of corralling all the stage plays and stars, they could gather, made a big bid for this director’s services and it is reputed he received dollars 350 per week from them. The salary is absurd, as the man is worth nothing like that amount to this concern or anyone else. He is undoubtedly a capable man but has had no great experience except in the making of ordinary stuff and, in the opinion of the writer, would never be capable of competing with Italian directors in the making of great films. And it was recently stated that another new concern had made an offer to this director to join their staff and name his own salary for a term of one year. In any event, he has left the dollars 350 per week place and is going with a new company which has announced the starting of  entire new city for the making of pictures. Such a concern cannot possibly be successful.

Another director, and by the way the best in America, was with one of the oldest companies for about 12 years. He resigned a few years ago to join a new concern and was reputed to be drawing a salary of over dollars 100.000 per year. The statement is absurd on the face of it, and yet it is generally accepted as true. It is safe to assume that his salary is about dollars 500 per week with a percentage of some sort on certain big films in the making and producing of which he is interested. The usual run of directors are probably getting from dollars 50 to dollars 100 per week and at that are enjoying far better positions and salary than they ever earned in the theatrical business.

Extras or supernumeraries receive all sorts of prices. In many cases they select a lot of unemployed men who are found in cheap hotels and similar places and give them one dollar per day; possibly a meal besides. They are most unsatisfactory from every standpoint . Higher grade concerns employ regular acting people and pay them from dollars 2 to dollars 5 per day. The ideal condition is to employ people on a weekly basis when a big production is to be made and pay them dollars 15 per week which is the usual scale for chorus and small grade people for big ensemble scenes in the theatres. This refers to people who can make up and who can be properly drilled and not to the common supers who receive 50 cents a performance in the theatres. People of the dollars 15 per week class could be drilled to really act and play the part properly as units in big scenes and equal those people who appear in similar scenes in Italy.

Salaries of actors in the pictures have been very much inflated not only in the press but in actual fact. Stars of course are in a class by themselves, but for dollars 50 per week fine people may be had to play any and all kinds of parts and for smaller and less important parts dollars 25 and 35 per week will get all one needs.

It is true that fabulous salaries have been paid theatrical stars but that is practically over now. They have been most unsatisfactory. They look old and unattractive before the camera; their camera acting is in most cases a great disappointment and their names have failed to draw anything like the money that they were expected to draw. It has been clearly demonstrated in alla cases that people who have worked for pictures for a long time and have any natural ability for camera acting, have in the long run been the best investment. The biggest and most successful films ever shown in America have had no stars’ names featured with them.

People like Charles Chaplin must not to be confused with theatrical stars above mentioned. Chaplin was an actor but an unknown one and all his popularity and prominence has come about through his screen or camera acting.

W. E. Heal