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SIMPP's Anti-Block Booking Pamphlet

June 1, 1942


Shall Block Booking of Motin Pictures Be Permitted to Return?

Shall Block Booking of Motin Pictures Be Permitted to Return?

An Open Letter
To: Thurman Arnold
From: Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

June 1st, 1942.


Thurman Arnold, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General of the United States,
Department of Justice,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mr. Arnold:—
Considering the extensive documentary record of the motion picture industry in possession of the Department of Justice—a running history of one of the most amazing human enterprises conceived and developed over the past half century—it seems a superfluous effort to add fact and argument to files already bursting with data. However, the legal developments, attendant upon the inoperation of Sections III and IV of the Consent Decree, create a new set of conditions under which the film industry will operate after September 1st, 1942.

In brief, a method of film distribution known as the five picture group plan embracing trade showings of pictures, which has been in effect since September 1st, 1941, by the five major companies [Paramount, Loew,'s, 20th Century-Fox, Warner Bros. and RKO] signatory to the Consent Decree, no longer is binding upon such defendants. The companies are free to select some other method of distribution with the start of the new season on September 1st, 1942.

It is of very great interest and concern to members of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers that such new method or plans as the defendant companies shall adopt—and that the Department of Justice shall approve—will foster the production and exhibition of films of the highest quality and provide a free, competitive market for their distribution. The names of the members of this Society are synonymous with the most courageous, artistic and popular films over a period of years. The roster includes Charles Chaplin, Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, Alexander Korda, Mary Pickford, David O. Selznick, Hunt Stromberg, Walter Wanger and Orson Welles. Their creative works have contributed constructively and consistently towards a more articulate screen art which an appreciative world audience has acknowledged and enjoyed.

In a very specific sense, the members of this Society are in a unique and highly vulnerable position with regard to such pending changes. Their individual operations identify them as entrepreneurs, or originators and creators of entertainment. AS THE MARKETING OF FILMS IS AN INDISPENSABLE FUNCTION OF THEIR ACTIVITIES, THEIR VERY EXISTENCE IS DEPENDENT UPON THE MAINTENANCE OF FREE COMPETITION WITHIN THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY.

It is their output and the productions of others of comparable creative ability, of which liberal mention is made in the Bill of Complaint filed by the Department of Justice in July, 1938, in the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, in Equity No.87-273, against Paramount Pictures, Inc., et al, defendants.

It is partly for their protection, and the protection of other independent producers, that the anti-monopoly suit is pending, although currently suspended by the terms of the Consent Decree. They are of the producer category referred to in the Bill of Complaint (VII-226) as follows:

"(226) Free competition can exist in the motion picture industry only when a condition is brought about wherein and whereunder all producers and distributors of motion pictures, on the one hand, large as well as small, are assured of a fair opportunity to sell their respective motion pictures on their merits in a free, open, and untrammeled market made up of motion picture theatres which are in no way dominated or controlled by any producer or distributor, or any group of producers or distributors, and wherein and whereunder all exhibitors, on the other hand, large as well as small, may compete in a free, open and untrammeled market upon a fair and equitable basis for the product of all motion picture producers and distributors."

In the very extensive text of the Bill of Complaint, above referred to, much space is devoted to the history of the development of the commercial motion picture within the United States. Emphasis is given to the trade practice called block booking, which has pursued a villainous career through the pages of industry chronicle. Such practice is defined in the Bill of Complaint (D-214-1-3) as follows:

"(1) Block booking is a practice whereby unaffiliated or independent exhibitors are compelled to take blocks or groups of pictures in order to obtain any of them . . . . This practice has the effect of imposing upon the independent exhibitor a great number of pictures that are not desired by him, and tends to arbitrarily fill up and consume his screen time, thus preventing him from securing other pictures through other distributors.

"(3) Arbitrary Designation of Play Dates. This is a practice usually employed only against the independent exhibitor, whereby the major producer defendants herein, in selling to the exhibitor, compel him to play the films to be licensed upon designated play dates, usually the most desirable, such as Saturday, Sunday or holidays. The independent exhibitor is forced to accept such arbitrary designation of preferred playing dates in order to obtain the product necessary to the operation of his theatre. The effect of this practice is to subject the management of the independent exhibitor's theatre to the will of the producer and to relieve the exhibitor of his own judgment as to how his own theatre shall be operated. The independent exhibitor, as a result of this practice, is often compelled to operate his theatre in the interest of the distributor and contrary to his own best interests."

It was the contention of the Government when it filed the Bill of Complaint that the indulgence of block booking was the root of all evil in the motion picture industry. There is available unlimited expert testimony and opinion to substantiate this point. From time to time, during the past twenty years, Congressional committees, the Federal Trade Commission and other Government bodies, including the courts, have compiled a voluminous official confirmation of this fact. Outstanding leaders of public welfare groups, educators and enlightened motion picture showmen for years have contested intelligently for abolishment of block booking.

But the evils of block booking do not stop with exhibition. The practice has exerted poisonous influence also in the production field. Exhibit A, attached herewith, is an excerpt from an editorial on this phase which appeared in "Variety," the theatrical newspaper, on December 14th, 1938.

The Consent Decree, however, (III) compromised the principle of abolishment of block booking. While distributors are forbidden to license or offer for license any feature motion picture until the feature ha. been tradeshown, it does permit the distributor (IV-a) to group five or fewer features in a single package for exhibitors.

Although the offer to license one group of features shall not be conditioned upon the licensing of another feature or group of features, the Decree does not permit the exhibitor free choice to license any single or several features from a group.

Thus, perhaps inadvertently, the Consent Decree permits retention of one of the most objectionable phases of block booking, the practice that has the effect of imposing upon the independent exhibitor one, two, three or four pictures that are not desired by him, "thus preventing him from securing other pictures through other distributors" (Bill of Complaint, D-214-1). It is urged that the Department of Justice refuse to approve any substitute plan that retains this highly objectionable provision, and that approval shall be given only to a plan which permits free choice by the exhibitor of one or more features, conditioned only upon the fact that each and every feature offered by a distributor shall first have been tradeshown.

That such free choice is fundamental to the healthy growth of the motion picture industry has been recognized by its leaders for years. In the Bill of Complaint (III-41) Adolph Zukor, pioneer film showman, is quoted in an article in "Variety" on October 25th, 1918, as follows:

"If the business is to progress, it must advance upon the basis of free and unhampered selection of product for exhibitors, large and small....."

Within the film trade for years, justification for block booking has been the oft-repeated statement that its cause for retention was economic, that the financial requirements for major companies to license their films only after screening would be beyond the banking resources of the industry.

What is the situation? Less than a year since the inauguration of obligatory trade showing and the five picture group plan, each of the signatory companies has built a generous supply of completed, but unreleased, films. The facts, which are derived from Weekly Variety of May 6th, 1942, (page 18), Daily Variety of May 15th, 1942, (page 5), Motion Picture Herald of May 9th, (page 654), and Boxoffice of May 23rd, (page 18), furnish the following table:

Status of Major Companies' Productions, May 23rd, 1942

Productions completed and awaiting trade showing In production Total
Paramount 18 7 25
Metro (Loew's) 15 8 23
20th Century Fox 11 9 20
Warner Bros. 11 4 15
RKO 6 4 10
__________ __________ __________
61 32 93

(Exhibits B, C, D, E and F attached contain titles of the films, the directors, stars and feature players of the productions of the companies, respectively.)

 

On September 1st, 1942, according to statements by executives of some of the signatory companies, the number of completed films will be substantially increased. In the instance of Paramount, at least one-half of the features to be released during the year, starting on September 1st, will have been completed. Statement to this effect was made to the trade press by Y. Frank Freeman, in charge of Paramount production, on May 11th, 1942. (Exhibit G).

These facts completely dispose of the argument that the distributor-producers cannot finance sufficient production to maintain the practice of trade showing all feature films before offering them for exhibition. Such facts, further, prove that all defendant distributor-producers have planned their production schedules to have on hand a substantial number of completed films.

To establish free competition "wherein and whereunder all producers and distributors of motion pictures, on the one hand, large as well as small, are assured of a fair opportunity to sell their respective motion pictures on their merits in a free, open and untrammeled market" (Bill of Complaint VII-226), it remains only to amend the Consent Decree to include the prohibition that a distributor may not make the licensing of any feature dependent upon the licensing of any other single or several features.

THE NUMBER OF FEATURES THAT ANY DISTRIBUTOR MAY OFFER FOR LICENSE AT ANY TIME SHOULD BE IN THE SOLE DISCRETION OF THE DISTRIBUTOR, PROVIDED HE HAS COMPLIED WITH ALL THE REQUIREMENTS OF TRADE SHOWING.

In the light of the foregoing, the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers affirms its position of April 14th, 1942, when it stated its opposition to any return to archaic standards, embracing any of the evils of block booking. The following excerpt from the Society's statement of April 14th is re-asserted.

"We believe, rather, that if any modifications of the tale. method are contemplated by the Department of Justice, such changes shall mora vigorously protect the exhibitor against any forced group selling, leaving to his (the exhibitor's) sole discretion whether he shall license one or more films from any group, tradeshown exclusively.

"The idea of returning to any phase of block selling of large packages of films, regardless of how the scheme is presented, is abhorrent to all persons who have the best interests of the industry at heart and a regard for the public service functions of the screen."

It is incredible that the Department of Justice, having already achieved signal success in abolishment of certain phases of block booking and having in mind the public interest, will subscribe to any retrogressive, substitution sales scheme that incorporates any of the objectionable features of the present five picture group plan, or countenances the revival of licensing feature films in advance of their completion.

On the contrary, the protection of the public, the exhibitor and the producer against any kind of group selling is what the situation demands. Let each feature picture be sold on its individual merits, after its content is known to the prospective buyer through obligatory trade showings.

Respectfully submitted,

SOCIETY OF INDEPENDENT MOTION PICTURE PRODUCERS

[signed] Loyd Wright, President

[signed] John C. Flinn, Executive Secretary

Executive Committee:

[signed] Roy Disney

[signed] Samuel Goldwyn

[signed] David O. Selznick

[signed] Walter F. Wanger

[signed] Loyd Wright


EXHIBIT A

(From editorial appearing in Variety, national theatrical tradepaper serving the motion picture industry, issue of December 14th, 1938.)

Disregarding the arguments against block booking which are raised from time to time in public discussions of films, the question before the industry may be simplified to the proposition whether block booking encourages better standards of picture production. To that query there is only one answer: Block booking by reason of price average, does not constitute an accurate gage of the box office or entertainment merit of individual films. Consequently, in the absence of good scorekeeping, much mediocre or misdirected production effort continues in Hollywood month after month, year after year.

Pruning and purging unproductive personnel in the studios is essential to a strong and healthy industry. Block booking is a cloak which shields incompetence at the expense of efficiency. There are producing units in some of the major studios, which continue to turn out a low grade of pictures and justify themselves by pointing to sales figures which show profitable film rentals for their efforts.

Every sales executive in the business knows too well that under block booking the weak are carried along by the strong, and if pictures of the major companies were forced to stand on their own quality as attractions and entertainment there would be an explosion in Hollywood which would eliminate the drones and properly focus approval on the real creators.

Block booking survives because it offers a plan of least resistance in buying and selling, and furnishes a leveling of production talent. Considering the effort necessary to make good pictures outstanding films, it is a surprising fact that the group of consistently effective producers and directors in Hollywood do not demand a change in the prevailing order of things by insisting upon distributing and exhibiting methods which give a true and not a fictitious value to their work.

Block booking is the Moloch which consumes good, bad, and indifferent output in its insatiable machinery. The wonder is not the scarcity of outstanding, smashing film hits, but that under the present system of industry operation there are any hits at all.

 

EXHIBIT B

PARAMOUNT productions completed as of May 23rd, 1942 and awaiting tradeshowing, as listed in film trade papers.

Tombstone — The Town Too Tough To Die

Young and Willing

Holiday Inn (Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire)

Mr. and Mrs. Cugat

American Empire

I Live on Danger

The Palm Beach Story (Dir: Preston Sturges)

Wildcat

My Heart Belongs to Daddy

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch

The Forest Rangers

The Glass Key

Henry Aldrich, Editor

The Road to Morocco (Bing Crosby, Bob Hope)

Street of Chance

The Major and the Minor (Dir: Billy Wilder)

Priorities of 1942 (Dir: Albert S. Rogell)

Wrecking Crew

Features in Production:—

I Married a Witch (Dir: Rene Clair)

Silver Queen

Happy Go Lucky

Great Without Glory

Wake Island

Lady Bodyguard

No Time For Love

 

EXHIBIT C

METRO productions completed as of May 23rd, 1942 and awaiting tradeshowing, as listed in film trade papers.

Panama Hattie

I Married an Angel

Red Light

Her Cardboard Lover

Born to Be Had

Crossroads

Maisie Gets Her Man

Once Upon A Thursday

Jackass Mail

Pacific Rendezvous

Pierre of the Plains

Apache Trail

Monkey Delano

Mrs. Miniver (Dir: William Wyler)

Features in Productions:—

Me and My Gal (Dir: Busby Berkeley)

Random Harvest (Dir: Marvyn LrRoy)

Cairo

Tish

A Yank at Eton

The War Against Mrs. Hadley

White Cargo

Eyes on the Night

20th CENTURY-FOX productions completed as of May 23rd, 1942 and awaiting tradeshowing, as listed in film trade papers.

Tales of Manhattan (Prod: Sam Speigel)

Ten Gentlemen from West Point

The Magnificent Dope

Thunder Birds

Loves of Edgar Allen Poe

A-Haunting We Will Go (Laurel-Hardy)

It Happened in Flatbush

Footlight Serenade

The Postman Didn’t Ring

Orchestra Wife

This Above All

Features in Productions:—

The Pied Piper

The Black Swan

Iceland

Careful — Soft Shoulders

Twelve Men in a Box

Berlin Correspondent

Little Tokyo

The Man in the Trunk

Girl Trouble

 

EXHIBIT E

WARNER BROS. productions completed as of May 23rd, 1942 and awaiting tradeshowing, as listed in film trade papers.

Arsenic and Old Lace (Dir: Frank Capra)

The Hard Way

Across the Pacific

The Constant Nymph

Desperate Journey

Yankee Doodle Dandy (James Cagney, Dir: Michael Curtiz)

Wings for the Eagle

Gay Sisters

The Big Shot

Escape From Crime Spy Ship

Features in Productions:—

Now Voyager (Bette Davis)

George Washington Slept Here

Gentleman Jim Corbett

Casablanca (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman)

 

EXHIBIT F

RKO-RADIO productions completed as of May 23rd, 1942 and awaiting tradeshowing, as listed in film trade papers.

The Magnificent Ambersons (Dir: Orson Welles)

Journey Into Fear

Army Surgeon

Highways by Night

Bambi (Walt Disney, producer)

The Pride of the Yankees (Samuel Goldwyn, producer)

 

Features in Production:—

 

Scattergood Survives a Murder

The Big street

Singing Guns

Name, Age and Occupation

 

EXHIBIT G

(From Motion Picture Daily, May 11th, 1942)

PARAMOUNT FEATURE TOTAL 36 TO 40 FOR NEW YEAR

by Sherwin A. Kane

Paramount's new season production schedule will provide for 36 to 40 features and six Hopalong Cassidy films, Y. Frank Freeman, vice-president in charge of the studio, said on Friday.

The schedule has not been exactly determined yet, Freeman said, due to the possible effect which the new Umpi sales plan might have on the distribution department's requirements. The final production schedule arrangements, therefore, may not be mode until the new season selling method has been determined.

Freeman said that 18 new season productions already are either completed or in work and that three more are in preparation, ACCOUNTING FOR MORE THAN HALF OF THE COMPANY'S PROBABLE 1942-1943 SCHEDULE.

 

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