In 1903, they entered the film industry as travelling
exhibitors, moving throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania with their own portable
projector. ‘The Warners had bowed into
the industry by way of exhibition of motion pictures, with a hand-cranked
projector and  well- worn copy of the
Edison company’s 1903 one-reeler The Great Train Robbery, a film which still
drawing crowds in 1905 when the brothers Warner set out.’ (Fernett, 2002,
p. 245) By 1907, the Warners managed to set up a small nickelodeon of their
own, The Cascade, in New Castle, Pennsylvania. The family worked as a team
running the movie house; Albert and Harry sold the tickets, Sam ran the
hand-crank projector whilst Jack sang illustrated songs during the
intermissions to the piano, which was played by their sister Rose.  From there the brothers went on to establish
a film exchange, acquiring 200 film titles, distributing films throughout
western Pennsylvania which then opened more exchanges in Norfolk, Virginia, and
Atlanta, Georgia. The brothers knew that a large number of profits from movies
wouldn’t come just from distribution and exhibition but from production aswell,
so from then on ‘the brothers went onto
state’s rights distribution of independent production and finally, in 1913,
into film production.’ (Fernett, 2002, p. 247) The Warner Brothers first
picture premiered in 1918, called My Four Years in Germany, which was based on
the experiences of the American ambassador to Germany. This film ‘turned into a popular “hate-the-Hun”
feature,’ (Black, 2001, p.24) whilst making $1.5million and for that time
in film history it was an amazing profitable amount.


By the end of the First World War due to proved success in
initial productions, the firm bought property at 5842 Sunset Boulevard in
Hollywood for $25,000.  Even though the
studio was crowded with other movie factories, this move to the sunset studios
signaled just how committed the brothers were to movie production. ‘In 1923 the company became fully
incorporated as “Warner Bros.” and the studio was upgraded with half of a
$500,000 financial package put together by Los Angeles banker Motley Flint.’ (Schatz,
2015, p. 60) The other half of the money went towards the screen rights to
three hit plays by David Belasco including ‘The
Gold Diggers, and also into the production of a “dog picture,” Where the North
Begins.’ (Schatz, 2015, p. 60) This ranked the debut of Rin Tin Tin, an
Alsatian dog abandoned in a First World War trench of the German Army.  He was the Warners first ever ‘real’ star and
profitable commodity. Jack Warner referred to the dog as ‘the mortgage lifter’
due to the box office staying held up through nineteen pictures over the next
seven years.  The dog became so popular and
important to the studio decided to hire Pedigree- dog breeders for ‘doubles’ in
order to do tricks that ‘Rinty’ couldn’t manage and even when he was too old to
work, the audience never noticed the replacement. ‘The company was on its way
to the top of the American film industry’ (Balio, 2011, p.205)


Darryl Zanuck was a twenty-two-year-old writer working for the
Warner Bros, working for $250-per week contract.  He was hired after pitching a story idea for
their Rin Tin Tin series, however, he only ever wrote the one picture of Rin
Tin Tin; Find Your Man.  Zanuck was very
important to the company as he was hard-working and could come up with several
of different ideas on any given theme which is what to brothers needed. ‘ Zanuck had a gift for turning out what he
termed “hokum”, sentimental, melodramatic, and utterly predictable stories,
long on action and plot but short on thematic or character development.’ (Schatz,
2015, p. 62) Zanuck’s popular tastes for script writing even encouraged Jack
Warner to understand the importance of story and scenario development in the
production process, so much that he enhanced his role within the company. 

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The Warner Bros. now started to look like a competitive company
as its products were being pitched and Hal B. Wallis took over the Warners’
publicity department, polishing their image. 
‘Harry Warner, financial chieftain
of the brothers, then borrowed from the Los Angeles Trust and Saving about a
million dollars with which the brothers not only upgraded the quality of their
productions but also signed such players as John Barrymore and Irene Rich, who
were to prove, for a time, money- making stars at the studio.’ (Fernett,
2002, p.247) Slowly the Warners began to sign top stars in order to produce
more expensive films, for instance, signing up known players such as John
Barrymore and David Belasco helped. ‘ Describing
the Belasco deal, Moving Picture World characterized Warner Bros. as  an organization of progressive producers,
distributors, and exchange men whose history is virtually the history of the
independent market of the past 18 months.’ (Gomery, 2005, p. 47) By 1923
the brothers had produced thirteen features and seventeen in 1924.  They also became associated with a top
director Ernst Lubitsch from Germany’s Ufa studio, who brought the studio much
critical acclaim with his ‘The Marriage
Circle’ and ‘Kiss Me Again’.  This positioned the Warners as the leader of
the independent producers within Hollywood. Harry Warner in 1925 decided to
allow his brother Jack to budget for thirty features, whilst bringing in
Waddill Catchings in order to expand their distribution-exhibition
operation.  ‘Catchings arranged the purchase of the Vitagraph studio in Brooklyn
along with its thirty-four distribution exchanges, giving Warners a national
distribution operation. He also arranged to finance for Warners to expand its
first-run theater holdings.’ (Schatz, 2015, p. 61) The following year the
brothers were able to expand the company by adding ten first-run houses,
including the huge Warner Theatre in New York.


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