How to Run a Picture Theatre – part 3

More from How to Run a Picture Theatre (1910) [correction – probably 1912]. Having chosen the building and taken care of the outside appearance, we turn to the interior and the first places to be seen by the prospective customer – the lobby and waiting room. The comments on the lobby indicate how many drab cinemas (usually shop or other such conversions) there still were, with bright lights outside but dismal within:

The Lobby or Entrance Hall. A dingy lobby betokens in the minds of many a poor entertainment. How often the mistake is made that all the public expect for outside appearance is a blaze of light.

Nothing short of 18ft. should be devoted to the lobby. Nor is this waste of space, for it enables an advertising display to be made to advantage, and the passers-by who stop to read the program boards or day bill are well against the pay-box before they realise that their curiosity has already got them almost inside the theatre.

The flooring should be of tiles or cement. A board flooring is an abomination suggestive of hasty construction and a fleeting stay …

Greater variety of material is permitted in walls and ceilings. As a general thing, plaster casting is to be preferred to imitation marble. The last may be sparingly used in the large lobbies, but is almost too heavy to be in keeping with the style of performance. A plaster cast lobby, is tastefully done, finished in white and gold, and kept always fresh by the use of paint and gold leaf is much to be preferred.

White and gold is advocated as a general colour scheme …

A waiting room is considered a necessity on account of the prevalent system of the ‘continuous show’, whereby the same programme of an hour or so would be repeated eight or more times per day, with people able to come in at any time, and often to stay as long as they liked. This contrasted with a more theatre-based policy of two or three longer shows per day with set opening hours, which would become the model a few years later.

The Waiting Room or Lobby Adjunct. … A waiting room has another advantage which should be seriously considered by the exhibitor. With the present system of continuous performance and of allowing anyone to enter or leave the auditorium while a picture is on the screen, you discourage many devotees of motion pictures who, deeply interested in a scene, have either to move to allow someone to pass in front of them or to have some newcomer making the view while looking for a seat, or a lady removing her hat as slowly as possible, and at this most pathetic moment. More than one spectator has expressed disgust when reading a sub-title, to have someone pass in front of him and shut off the view, and the moment he cannot read the sub-title on the screen, he loses the thread of the story and becomes dissatisfied with the show.

… A waiting or ante-room would be a genuine remedy to this drawback …

Product placement


This photograph shows Joseph De Frenes, cameraman for the Charles Urban Trading Company, filming in Africa around 1908. De Frenes is using a hand-cranked Urban Bioscope camera, and the camera case with the product’s name is placed prominently in this publicity photograph for use in the company’s catalogues and promotional literature. De Frenes was an Austrian who filmed with three of the most notable creators of travel films in the early period of cinema: Burton Holmes, Lyman Howe and Charles Urban. He was Urban’s head cameraman when they made the celebrated Kinemacolor film of the 1911 Delhi Durbar ceremonies. After the First World War he established his own film business, which ran successfully for decades.