"Blockbusting" is an in-depth look at how 300 of the biggest and best movies made it to the screen. The material covering the early years of the industry is particularly interesting. At least one movie/year, from 1913 through 2005, is included. The first movie, 'Monkeyshines,' was made by Edison's assistant William Dickson, was 5 seconds long, and used Eastman's flexible roll film. Edison decided the technology didn't produce a strong enough image to project on a big screen and exhibited it in a coin-operated upright cabinet with a peephole. After some further experiments, Dickson settled on 35 mm wide film. The viewing machines cost $250, and a view was 5 cents. In 1895 Dickson left Edison and began filming with Mary Pickford and the Gish sisters.
'The Great Train Robbery' (1903) was one of the first era of film-making most memorable products. It ran 12 minutes, cost $800, and was completed in 4 days. Films at that time were sold by the foot, and ran until audiences lost interest or the film was in tatters and no longer usable. By 1907, however, there were 150 movie exchanges that rented movies for one-fifth the purchase price. New releases were shipped out ahead of time so they could be promoted nationally and open on the same day across the country. Block booking soon followed - this required theaters to take at least one print of every movie the producer made. French movies at the time were considered better by many - even prior to 1908 the French were offering color, and by 1909 they introduced newsreels covering events around the world. Movie rates rose to a dime in 1909. The major film producers of the future, Warner, Loew, Mayer, all started as New York city film exhibitors on or before 1907.
Edison's General Film Company took films costing about $700 to make and made $7,000+ from each one - Edison had exclusive deals with Eastman Kodak and filmmakers. Distributors had to sell themselves to Edison's firm to participate, or rely solely on European films. Turns out Edison was both a great inventor and hard-nosed businessman as well. However, lawsuits in 1912 broke up Edison's monopolies. In 1919 Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin joined Douglas Fairbanks and others to form United Artists, which controlled all aspects of movie-making and distribution. The decade's leading film was 'The Birth of the Nation' (1915), covering the U.S. after the Civil War. Producers of that time refused to put the names of actors on each movie, not wanting them to become more famous and then demand more money. This stratagem was undone by astute theater operators that posted the stars' names outside to increase draw. Movie star cults and movie magazines followed.
The first Academy Awards was held in 1929 as a private dinner, the following year it was broadcast on radio, and went live on TV in 1953.
Warner Bros. was first with sound (1926), but theaters had to synchronize the separate audio and video systems; many theater-goers were not happy with its replacing a regular orchestra - seen as inferior. Fox followed the next year with an improved system that was incorporated into its Movietone News. The first showing - Lindbergh taking off for Paris, brought a ten-minute standing ovation. By 1928, Fox was on to making 'tallkies.'
Color didn't become common until the 1950s - differentiation from newly introduced TV was a major motivation. Fox, and Darryl Zanuck, had been the major exception regarding use of color up to that point.
Early theaters (eg. 1917) were cooled by fans blowing air over blocks of ice - expensive and not very effective. Thus, theaters in warm climates closed for the summer season. The 1930s brought the spread of newer cooling systems, adapted from those used in meat-packing plants. Theaters became a respite from the heat, and the movie content less important. Revenues were further boosted by showing double-features, candy and soda sales, special promotions and give-aways, and the construction of elaborate facilities. The 1940s, however, brought a government-forced separation of movie production from distribution. The 1950s then brought the licensing of movies for TV broadcasting.
President Roosevelt formed the Office of War Information (OWI) in 1941 to sell the war and American propaganda. The intent was to portray a united America (workers and employers) making joint sacrifices for the war effort. Combat films were supposed to include a multi-ethnic cast, and all allies (including Russia) shown favorably. Compliance was not legally mandated, but aided by the fact that many movie moguls at the time were immigrant Jews who were deeply disturbed by events in Europe. Another favorable factor was that the OWI controlled films shown in liberated countries and could hold ticket revenues until it felt a studio was 'behaving.' Regardless, Paramount didn't comply - the only major studio.
Walt Disney came into prominence during these same years - his 'The Three Little Pigs' ran 8 minutes and was a smash hit. Full-length 'Snow White' took four years, was also a hit, but required mortgaging almost everything he had.
Today's innovations include switching to digital (clearer, easier to distribute), and the introduction of 3-D.