Film Service

The largest recurring expense for storefront theater managers in 1910 was film rental and shipment. The Joyland paid from $25 to $31 for film rental each week. Wilmington movie theaters in 1910 changed their film programs at least several times each week, and frequent express charges for rail shipments ($5-$8 per week) suggest that the Joyland was no different. In fact, according to an October 9, 1910, article in the Wilmington Star, the Joyland changed programs daily. Programs consisted of two one-reel (12-minute) films.

The Joyland probably booked its film programs during this period from film distributors ("exchanges" as they were called) in Washington, D.C., although this is not indicated explicitly in the ledger. Washington was an important early film distribution hub. By 1909 two exchanges in Washington served the city's twenty movie venues and rented films to exhibitors throughout the region, and by 1915 there were twelve major exchanges serving exhibitors in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. The Atlantic Coastline Railroad, headquartered in Wilmington, provided daily rail service between Washington and Wilmington. (Headley 1999, p. 27, 69]) Two exchanges, B&W Film Co. and Paramount, are mentioned by name in the ledger. Paramount, which was later to become a major Hollywood film studio, had an office in Washington at this time. In 1910, the center of film production in the U.S. was still New York City and its environs.

Brief notices on local movie theaters published in the Wilmington Star during the period covered by the ledger indicate that the Joyland used films from so-called independent film producers and exchanges. From the beginning of the film industry in the U.S. in the 1890s, there had been disputes over patent rights covering movie cameras and projectors. Thomas Edison had claimed that his company controlled patents on equipment necessary to produce and project motion pictures, and legal squabbles between Edison and other early companies continued for a decade. In 1908, Edison reached agreement with most of his key rivals, including the French film production giant Pathé, which had controlled more than half the American film market in 1907. A new movie "trust" was formed, The Motion Picture Patents Company, whose members agreed to recognize Edison's patent claims and to pay a license fee to Edison in return for being allowed to operate without threat of legal action. The idea was to freeze those American film producers and importers of foreign films not included in this arrangement out of the U.S. market.

However, a number of producers, importers, and exchanges resisted the power of the MPPC, seeking to take advantage of the seemingly insatiable appetite for new films created by the explosive growth of storefront theaters. Within months of the formation of the MPPC, an "independent" movement had formed, and by 1910, many new film production companies were springing up, particularly in New Jersey and New York.

Exhibitors had to choose between those who were members of the MPPC and those who were not. The trust demanded that local theater managers rent only from approved exchanges and show only films made or imported by MPPC members; renting from an independent exchange could mean being blacklisted by the trust.

Program notices in the Wilmington Star during the fall of 1910 indicate that the Bijou played trust films, and so it might not have been possible for the Joyland to obtain service from an MPPC-connected distributor. The Joyland played films from the Independent Moving Picture Company (IMP), founded by a leading Chicago independent distributor, Carl Laemmle, who in 1912 would form the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, the forerunner of Hollywood's Universal studio. Other films playing at the Joyland in October 1910 were made by the recently established Tannhouser Company in New Rochelle, New York; the Powers Company of Mt. Vernon, N.Y.; and the pioneering Danish film company Nordisk (which distributed films in the U.S. under the corporate name Great Northern).