Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Give-Aways, Racing the Picture and Indian Pictures

Though Clyde Martin's previous column had promised a discussion of accompanying "Indian pictures," this column in fact devotes little space to it; indeed the preview of this week's column at the end of the previous one in many respects contains a more thorough discussion. Instead, Martin's column this week begins with a rambling diatribe against exhibitors using voting contests, giving away cheap souvenirs and holding amateur nights to attract crowds. He then warns against the practice of "racing the pictures" in order to get an additional show or two in when crowds are waiting. He has short paragraphs advocating for a varied program and drawing attention to new books of music that have been recently released aimed specifically at the needs of playing the pictures. Only then does he finally turn briefly to a method of accompanying "Indian pictures."
In this stage of the game, you can scarcely pick up a trade paper that you do not see some suggestion or tip from an exhibitor giving his means of pulling off novelty stunts and drawing business to his picture house. If you talk to different exhibitors over the country it is the same thing, they are always ready to tell you how they “packed them in” during their voting contest or amateur nights, or, they may give you the address of some junk wholesale house where you can buy “handsome” souvenirs for half a cent apiece, and how much money they took in while they were giving away the souvenirs. The main idea with the average exhibitor is get them in the theatre, if they come once, you have ten cents of their money, then the next time you give something away, you may get another dime.

The exhibitor seems to make no distinction between “the people” and “patrons,” yet there is a vast difference. Patrons are the people that have come to your theatre and enjoyed the music and pictures to such an extent, that they come back to see your next change of program. This may sound silly to you but the point I am driving at is, the people that come to your theatre on the strength of voting for their neighbor’s little girl, or the people that come after a souvenir cup and saucer, are not the ones that get you the money, you may pack the house on these nights and possibly draw a little business away from your competitor for a couple of nights, but, is this kind of business really getting you the money? Wouldn’t it pay you better to put on a good show and make picture fans out of them, so they will come every change of picture instead of just getting them whenever you give something away?

If you have the souvenir craze in your noodle, you had better put store pictures in your building instead of a picture machine. If you are running a picture house give them a good grade of pictures with appropriate music, and see which pays best.

In the trade papers you can see article after article encouraging better music, music that fits the pictures, yet, it seems that the exhibitor cannot see the idea. I have tried time and time again to figure it out, and I certainly wish some one would enlighten me on the question.

If the exhibitor will cater to a family business and deliver the goods he will never be obliged to resort to such unprofessional methods as voting contests, souvenirs, amateur nights, etc. You can flood the town with hand bills and fill the house, but, you cannot expect them to come back unless you give them a good show.

I have tried to encourage better music in picture houses, and I have found several level minded exhibitors who have bettered their show by putting in musicians that have some regard for the picture on the screen, and if you will notice, the exhibitor who is looking after the music is the one that is getting the business.

I have visited some houses where they have had excellent music for the pictures and still the musicians have been handicapped. I cannot say whether it has been the fault of the operator or the manager, but no matter who was to blame, the pictures were run through the machine like a Kansas cyclone, making the efforts of the musicians in vain.

Sometimes the operator is to blame for running pictures too fast but, if you sift it down you will generally find the manager has instructed the operator to “shoot the show.” The reason I say it is nearly always the manager’s fault, is because you will notice these conditions on the big nights when there is a crowd in the lobby waiting for the next show.

When a manager, for the sake of saving a few minutes’ time, will push the show, he has no use for a piano player and plays the pictures; what he wants is an electric piano.

We will take for example such a picture as the Vitagraph release of September 30, “A Home Melody,” a picture where a good musician could make the subjects talk, and then to have the manager instruct the operator to hurry the pictures along, for the sake of a few more nickels and dimes, is enough to discourage everyone interested in the advancement of the picture industry.

Another drawback in the musician’s work is poorly selected programs. You may have a good piano player, one that can follow the pictures and then not give him any chance to work. By this I mean, if you are running a three-reel show and your program is made up of three reels of comedy, your piano player is obliged to play the same class of music through the entire show and the music as well as the pictures becomes very monotonous, the same by be said of a program made up of all dramatic or all western pictures.

It is very encouraging to note that the film exchanges are trying to overcome this point by engaging program clerks that try to give the exhibitor a variety of pictures.

At Dodge theatre, Keokuk, Iowa, where I am working at present, our programs usually run the same. We try to open with a short scenic film followed by a comedy, then an Indian or western picture and close with the feature dramatic. It has always been customary with most exhibitors to close their show with comedy, but I have found, if you have a musician that can bring the life out of a strong dramatic subject, it will leave a better impression in the minds of your patrons to close with a dramatic picture instead of a comedy.

From time to time the piano players over the country receive circulars, and read advertisement in the trade papers of different music publishers that are putting motion picture music on the market in book form, and I believe if these folios are handled properly they will be a big help to musicians. By being handled properly I mean, if the piano player will take one of these books and memorize such parts as the Indian war dances and the most important features, it will be a big help to him, but you must memorize so that you will not be obliged to refer to music during the showing of the pictures.

In playing Indian pictures, never let the drummer use a tom tom except during a war dance. Some musicians are under the impression that the tom tom should be used through every Indian picture from start to finish, but this is a great mistake, the tom tom should be used for a war dance only. Another great mistake that is made by many that do not look after the little details, is the use of horse hoof imitations. Some drummers use horse hoof imitations whenever a horse is shown on the screen regardless of whether the horse is running on the grass, crossing a creek or running on a pavement. There may be many in the audience that never notice these things, at the same time there are so many that do notice details, and it is just as easy to do things right as wrong that it would be well to watch all of these points.

Another point that is sadly neglected by some trap drummers, is the telephone. It is a very easy matter for a drummer to have an electric bell in his line of traps, and I have found if they will have the push button on the floor it is a very easy matter to catch telephone cues without interfering with the other work.

Take such pictures as “Two Little Waifs” or “Waiter No. 5” the telephone effect will make a good point for you, and everyone in the audience will appreciate the fact that you are working with the pictures.

Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 26 November 1910, 12.

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