When it comes down to it, the film business is exactly that. It is a business.
And it is also an art form, and more specifically in the studios of Hollywood, a collaboration of artists.
The two come together in a marriage of sorts. But by no means is it a marriage of equals. The business side, by dint of the numbers it collects (i.e. the monies come their way first), is the dog that wags the tail.
So a look at some numbers:
On the production side for the prior year of 1938, a total of 769 films were released, 362 from major companies and 407 from the independents (with a mix of US produced and foreign imports for both). This marked a slow climb from the 595 films in 1930 when the squeeze of the depression that hit in 1929 could be visualized. (1928 had reached a high of 834, and stumbled in 1929 to 707). Things were looking up on the production side.
In 1938 there were 18,182 motion picture theaters in the US. They saw roughly 85,000,000 paying customers pass through their doors that year, yielding a total gross of 1,016,600,000.
Attendance for 1938 showed a drop off from the 88 million of 1937. This disparity showed up in the weak numbers for the spring and early summer of 1938. A panic set in at the studios, so they came up with a campaign to ballyhoo the box office – calling it the ‘Motion Pictures Greatest Year” campaign.
This hype came true – not for 1938, but for the year 1939.