Playing the Percentages
How Film Distribution Made the Hollywood Studio System
296 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 11 b&w photos
Sales Date: April 16, 2024
A history of film distribution in the United States from the 1910s to the 1930s, concentrating on booking, circuiting, and packaging marketing practices.
Told not as a “golden age” narrative of films, stars, or individual studios but as an economic history of the industry’s film distribution practices, Playing the Percentages is the story of how Hollywood’s vertically integrated studio system came to be. Studying the history of distribution during the growth of Hollywood, Derek Long makes a case for the domination of the studio system as the result of struggles over distribution practices.
Through a combination of archival research, critical surveys of the film industry trade press, and economic analysis, Long uncovers a complex and ever-shifting system of wrangling between distributors and exhibitors. Challenging the overemphasis within scholarship on “block booking” as a monolithic distribution mode, and attending to distribution practices beyond simple circulation, Long highlights the crucial changes in film distribution brought about by live theater, the rise of features, and the transition to sound. Playing the Percentages is a comprehensive history of film distribution in the United States during the silent era that illustrates the importance of power struggles between distributors and exhibitors over booking, pricing, and playing time.
Playing the Percentages is a work that has been much anticipated by historians of the silent era, and it ably succeeds those expectations. I expect it will be immediately acknowledged as the go-to work on the distribution practices of silent-era American cinema, and I look forward to tracking the ripples and debates it inspires. ~Rob King, author of Hokum! The Early Sound Slapstick Short and Depression-Era Mass Culture
- List of Illustrations
- Chapter 1. Precursors—The Circuits of Show Business: Vaudeville, Legitimate Theater, and the Origins of American Entertainment Distribution, 1800–1920
- Chapter 2. The Package, Part I—Programming the Studio System: Packaging in Film Distribution, 1896–1917
- Chapter 3. The Package, Part II—Reprogramming the Studio System: The Rise of Open Booking, 1916–1922
- Chapter 4. Space—From Franchising to Merchandising: Marketing Films Locally and Nationally, 1914–1923
- Chapter 5. Time—The Battle for Playdates: Temporally Controlling the Distribution Business, 1921–1925
- Chapter 6. Pricing—What Price Sound? Selling the Percentage Contract, 1919–1930
- Glossary of Distribution Terms