Playing the Percentages: How Film Distribution Made the Hollywood Studio System

Univ. of Texas. Apr. 2024. 296p. ISBN 9781477328941. $55. FILM
Long (media and cinema studies, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; creator of the database Early Cinema History Online) analyzes how the studio system dominated aspects of U.S. film distribution from the 1910s through the 1930s. Early film distribution practices cribbed from theater and vaudeville marketing but soon became rationalized and more methodical. Long focuses on the economics of film distribution rather than the social and cultural contexts that would appeal more to general audiences. He considers the relatively historically marginalized 1915–25 American film industry, an era before the dawn of talkies, and uses primary sources, such as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America digital archive. The book ends with a glossary of film distribution terms that’s essential but perhaps too short for nonspecialists; it might have been more functional at the front of the book.
VERDICT A contribution to the lesser-known field of media distribution, this joins Joel Frykholm’s George Kleine and America Cinema and Michael Quinn’s dissertation “Early Feature Distribution,” which Long praises. Economic historians and attorneys interested in contracts and court rulings might be the most natural audience for this dissertation-styled book.
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