The Hagley Library is excited to announce a new digital collection of the Business Screen Magazine, a publication for filmmakers and distributors of industrial films covering a period from 1938 to 1973. In their inaugural issue, a writer from the magazine defined this genre of film as follows:
“A ‘business film’ is, in essence, a sales tool. Its function is to tell a sales story to the potential consumer audience. Its sales appeal may be direct or indirect; it may be timed to tell its story in two minutes or two hours; it may cost $100 to make or $100,000; it may be shown on a salesman’s projector across a prospect’s desk, or it may have gala presentations in the finest motion picture theaters rented for the occasion. Essentially its purpose is to sell the product offered by the film sponsor.”
This definition is adequate, but ignores a more compelling aspect of these films that goes beyond a simple commercial transaction. While it is true that “business films” sold products, they also sold ideas.
A number of works in Hagley’s collections can be described as selling ideas, including films produced by the National Association of Manufacturers and the United States Chamber of Commerce, which “sold” ideas concerning free enterprise and capitalism.
In Hagley’s DuPont collections, one can find films sponsored by DuPont’s cellophane division that trained salesmen to market their products to grocery stores. In these films, the product itself became a bit player in a more overt message about improving sales technique. This larger training message helped to broaden the films’ appeal and potential audience. These are just a few of the thousands of examples where ‘business films’ transcended the simple act of selling a product.
In the decades after 1938, the term ‘business film’ evolved into the more commonly known ‘industrial film’ or ‘sponsored film.’ The Business Screen Magazine covered this genre at its height of prominence and influence, when nearly every major corporation and trade association used films as a means to market products and ideas.
The magazine featured specific films and technology in addition to new production and sales techniques. Over the history of the magazine's publication, contributing writers included practitioners in advertising, marketing, filmmaking, and distribution. Nearly every issue of the magazine had a directory of production houses, equipment suppliers, distributors, and writers; evidence of a thriving industry.
Business Screen Magazine is a significant primary source for anyone studying industrial films from the middle decades of the 20th century. We are thrilled to add this important publication to our digital archives.
Hagley would like to thank Rick Prelinger who provided the digital copies of Business Screen now available in the Hagley Digital Archives.
Kevin Martin is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Audiovisual Collections & Digital Initiatives at Hagley Museum and Library.