Friday, February 12, 2010

Kinetophone Scripts

This item appeared as part of Epes Winthrop Sargent's "The Photoplaywright" column. In it, Horace Plimpton outlines the criteria for a Kinetophone script. Particularly significant are the requirements that the script be limited to six minutes (the maximum length of recording) and that there be no scene changes.
Mr Horace G. Plimpton, Manager of Negative Production for Thomas A. Edison, Inc., answering our inquiry as to the market for scripts for the new talking pictures, is good enough to reply very fully and to the point. He writes:

Answering your card, we are open for plots for Kinetophone work, this being the name used for the talking motion picture. I am enclosing a copy of a form letter which we are sending out and which indicates in a general way the requirements. I would suggest that in anything which you may see fit to print on this subject you not minimize the difficulties. We are beginning to be flooded with plots and I am sure in a short time it will be just as bad as it is now with the regular picture scenarios. Therefore it occurs to me that it would be just as well to let the public understand that on the whole it is pretty hard work.

In talking pictures all of the dialogue and all of the leading business should be indicated and carefully timed. The requirement that the length shall not exceed six minutes and that the action shall be held to one scene will operate against the novice and, speaking more plainly than Mr. Plimpton has, we would suggest to the beginner to keep out. The talking pictures at present are for the trained writer. These are the rules laid down by the Edison company:

The following information will guide those who wish to submit plays for the Edison Kinetophone (talking-motion pictures):
  1. Each play should be figured to run six minutes, making due allowance for the time taken in movement or incidental business.
  2. The characters should be few and the action laid in one set.
  3. Either dramas or comedies will be considered for acceptance provided they are clean and free from offense. Great care should be exercised to avoid infringement upon any copyrighted work, either story or play.
  4. A stamped and self-addressed envelope should accompany each plot.
  5. The Company will exercise due care in handling and returning plots, but distinctly disclaims any liability for their safe keeping or return. If sent they are entirely at the author’s risk.
  6. Prices vary in accordance to the Company’s estimate of the value of the plot. The author may, if he wishes, affix his own price, in which case it will be considered on that basis.
  7. Address all plots to the Edison Studio, Bedford Park, Bronx, New York City.
Source: Epes Winthrop Sargent, “The Photoplaywright,” Moving Picture World 1 March 1913, 881.

Surprisingly, given that Plimpton above claimed his department was overwhelmed with scenarios, Edison himself was apparently soliciting them from Harvard students. At least, that's what this little item from 22 March 1913 claimed:
College Students Writing Scenarios

In the columns of “The Crimson,” the Harvard college daily, there appeared a letter from Mr. Thomas Edison inviting the students to write scenarios for use in the kinetophone. These “talking-plots” are limited to six minutes in length, and must be clean, with free range of subjects. Now that we have school children writing compositions on the pictures they have seen, and college students writing scenarios; there can be little doubt that the moving picture is making great head-way among the educational powers of today. Hitherto the original writings in the class-room have had no profit beyond the immediate object for which they were written, now however, with both a literary and financial attraction before them, new zeal will be given to this branch of study with good results to all concerned.
Source: “College Students Writing Scenarios,” Moving Picture World 22 March 1913, 1199.