When we think of the power of Hollywood - we often think of large sound stages and studio sets. But anyone, anywhere in the world with the right amount of capital can build movie studio. Hollywood’s power lies in it’s ability to get the movies it makes to a paying audience - distribution. In an era before internet or even reliable phone service coast to coast, distributing movies and promoting with trailers and posters was a logistical nightmare - one that the major studios were happy to outsource to a company called the National Screen Service.
Started in 1919 by Herman Robbins, the NSS opened an office in New York City that took movie stills, spliced in titles and turned around and sold these trailers to movie theaters directly. They didn’t even ask permission from the studios. Well that didn’t seem to bother the filmmakers. Quite the opposite, many studios happily signed deals to submit their films to the NSS to be made into trailers. By the 1940s, the NSS had branched out into poster and paper advertising and contracts with all the major Hollywood studios.
The way NSS made money was by signing Movie theaters owners to a contract where the NSS would rent out their poster and trailer needs on a week by week basis and NSS would kick back a small royalty to the studios.Now occasionally a studio, like Warner Bros. or Columbia would experiment with their own trailer cutting department but for the most part the NSS dominated the trailer making business from the 1920s through to the 60s - creating a template style trailer with some very specific stylistic patterns like screen wipes and fly-in titles as seen in this classic trailer from Casablanca:
Other notable examples of NSS trailers:
But as star directors started taking the stage, new styles for trailers were emerging as seen in this trailer for Citizen Kane by Orson Welles trading on his and Mercury Theater's popularity to promote their first feature film: