Research: Topics: Motion Picture Scripts Collection

Motion Picture Case Files in the Archives

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  1. Film Censorship Records in the New York State Archives
  2. Use of Records at the New York State Archives
  3. Explanation of Index Entries
  4. Arrangement of Sets in Index
  5. Additional Motion Picture Records in the New York State Archives

I. The Film Censorship Records in the New York State Archives

The most important of the censorship records at the New York State Archives are the case files that were established for each film reviewed by State censors. The case files contain the following information.

  1. Application for original license. Submitted by the applicant (i.e., the film exchange) and containing information on: the exact title appearing on print; language used; producing company; country of origin; year of production; name of leading male and female actors; footage of film; fees paid; gauge of film (either 16mm or 35mm); whether the film was silent or sound; if a sound film, whether the film contained dialogue, narration, music, or sound effects; name and address of applicant; date received by the Division; and case file number.
  2. Reviewer's reports. Prepared by Division reviewers who screened the film. This report was sent to the director of the Division with recommendation of the determination to be made. The report provides the title of the film; name of applicant; date reviewed; determination (approved, rejected in total, or eliminations); if eliminations, the scenes or dialogue to be eliminated; if rejected, a one-page synopsis of the film.
  3. Copy of the license issued.
  4. Filmscript. Approximately 55,000 case files contain scripts. (There are usually no scripts in the files for the approximately 18,000 silent films reviewed by the Division.) The majority of the scripts in the case files are either dialogue scripts or cutting continuities. Other types of scripts, and English translations of foreign language dialogue are sometimes included.  (For brief description of each type of script see Part III: Explanation of Index Entries.)
  5. Application for duplicate license. A duplicate license was required for each additional print of film shown in the State. Applications for duplicate licenses contain the same information as the original application with an indication of the number of duplicates needed.
  6. Application for substitute seals. If a seal was lost or destroyed, a substitute seal was issued. The applicant was required to indicate why the new seal was needed.
  7. Notice of change in title. The applicant was required to notify the Division when a film was to be exhibited under a title different from that for which the original license was issued.
  8. Notice of change in footage. The applicant was required to notify the Division when changes occurred in the footage of a film.
  9. Correspondence,film reviews, plot summaries, advertising material,appeals documentation. A few case files contain this type of additional material.

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II. Research Use of Motion Picture Records

The records described above are available for use at the State Archives. Photocopies of all material, including the filmscripts, are available under provision of the Copyright Law (Title 17, United States Code). For further information contact the New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, New York 12230.

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III. Explanation of Index Entries

The index summarizes the information that exists in the case file for each film, and provides different ways of locating this information.

Each entry contains 16 categories of information:

  1. Title
  2. File number
  3. Date
  4. Country
  5. Footage
  6. Determination
  7. Notes
  8. Manufacturer
  9. Exchange
  10. Scripts
  11. Additional Material
  12. Writer
  13. Director
  14. Episode title
  15. Alternate title
  16. Title in English

An explanation of the information contained in each entry:

  1. TITLE. Title of the film under which the application for New York State license was made. The TITLE is usually identical to the film's original release title. For foreign films, the TITLE is given in the language of the original release.
  2. FILE NO. As applications for licenses were received by the Division, they were assigned sequential case file numbers. The case files are maintained in this numerical order.
  3. DATE. The year in which the application for license was filed. Usually this is the same year that the film was released in New York State. This DATE may be later than the year the film was actually produced, particularly for foreign films.
  4. COUNTRY. The country where the manufacturer was located at the time of application. Most films were American-made, but approximately 17,000 were foreign productions.
  5. FOOTAGE. Length in feet of the film submitted for licensing, before any eliminations were made.
  6. DETERMINATION. The licensing decision made by the Division. The entries indicate one of four possible options:
    • APPROVED --- the film was licensed as submitted, without any eliminations ordered.
    • ELIMINATIONS --- the film was licensed only after specified changes or deletions were made by the producers or exchanges.
    • REJECTED --- the film was denied a license because of the large amount of objectionable material.
    • NONE --- the application was withdrawn by the applicant and no license was issued.
  7. NOTES Indicates either that the film is SILENT or that its case file is part of a SPECIAL CASE FILE series.
    • SILENT --- indicates that the license application form stated that the film was silent.
    • SPECIAL CASE FILE --- indicates that the case file for the film is part of a separate series arranged under sensitive topics such as obscenity, burlesque, social hygiene, narcotics, and nudity. These files were segregated to assist Division reviewers in deciding especially controversial or precedent-setting cases.
  8. MANUFACTURER. The company that produced the film. (Abbreviation used in the index are: ASSOC---Associations; CO--Company; CORP--Corporation; DIST--Distributors(s), Distributing; INC--Incorporated; PROD--Productions(s).)
  9. EXCHANGE. The company applying for the license. The exchange was usually the primary distributor of a film within the State. (Abbreviations are identical to those used in the MANUFACTURER category.)
  10. SCRIPT. Applicants were required to submit a copy of all dialogue contained in the film. Entries contain one or more of the following indicators of the type(s) of scripts in each case file:
    • DIALOGUE --- All dialogue contained in the film. Credits are not usually given.
    • CUT CONT (Cutting Continuity) --- Typically includes all dialogue, reel numbers, scene numbers, description of scenes, number of frames within scenes, footage for each reel or scene, description of action, camera directions, and a complete list of credits.
    • TRANS (English Translation) --- English translation of all foreign language dialogue.
    • SUB SCRIPT (Subtitles Script) --- English subtitles that were superimposed on a foreign-language film.
    • DUB SCRIPT (Dubbing Script) --- English dialogue for a foreign language film submitted in a dubbed english language version. (In many cases, the index will contain another entry for the same film in a foreign language version.)
    • TIT SCRIPT (Title Script) --- Titles that appear in a film, usually in silent films. Very few exist in the case files.
    • SHO SCRIPT (Shooting Script) --- Typically contains all dialogue with general scene descriptions. Very few exist in the case files.
    • NONE --- Indicates that the case file contains no script material.
  11. ADDITIONAL MATERIAL. Indicates that the case file contains one or more of the following:
    • CORRES (Correspondence) --- Letters written between the Division and exchanges or producers. Correspondence may cover changes in titles or footage, descriptions of eliminations ordered, or other aspects involving the review and licensing process.
    • REV (Reviews) --- Reviews clipped from newspapers or magazines to assist the Division in it review procedures.
    • PLOT SUM (Plot Summary) --- Brief descriptions of the film plot. Many were written by the Division to justify a decision to deny a license. Of particular importance are the many plot summaries for films rejected during the 1920's --- little information exists elsewhere about these films. In addition, there are summaries clipped from the Motion Picture Daily for many films produced in the 1950's and 1960's.
    • ADVER (Advertising) --- A few case files contain photos of objectionable theatre marquees, cards used in lobbies of theatres, posters, press books, and clippings from newspaper advertisements.
    • APP (Appeal Documentation) --- Correspondence and legal papers relating to appeals by exchanges of the licensing determination of the Division. Appeals could be made to the Director of the Division, the Board of Regents, or the courts.
    • NONE --- indicates the case file contains none of the additional materials listed above.
  12. WRITER. The name(s) of the screenwriter(s) when this information was available from the script. NOT AVAILABLE IN FILE indicates no information was found.
  13. DIRECTOR. The name(s) of the director(s) when this information was available from the script. NOT AVAILABLE IN FILE indicates no information was found.
  14. EPISODE TITLE. Provided for serials and short subjects appearing in a continuously numbered series. For each entry, the TITLE (category 1, above) indicates the series title and number of the film, while the EPISODE TITLE category provides the title of the individual episode (e.g., for the film HEROES OF THE WEST #8 "FRONTIER JUSTICE," the TITLE is HEROES OF THE WEST #8 while the EPISODE TITLE is FRONTIER JUSTICE). NA indicates that the film is not part of a series.
  15. ALTERNATE TITLE. Indicates any alternate or variant titles of a film. These include working titles (used during the filming but changed before the film was released); script titles (found on the script but not used as a release title); title changes (releases of the film under a title other than the one for which the license was issued); and subtitles or abbreviated versions of the original title, e.g., for the film THE JONES FAMILY IN "BORN TROUBLE," the ALTERNATE TITLE is BORN TROUBLE. NA indicates there is no alternate title.
  16. TITLE IN ENGLISH. English translations of a foreign language title, if contained in the case file. NA indicates there is no English translation of the title.

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IV. Arrangement of Sets in Index

The index is divided into eight separate sets. Each set contains entries arranged by a different information category. These information categories are:

SET No. of MICROFICHE
Title 81
Country 69
Date 69
Manufacturer 69
Exchange 69
Writer 27
Director 25
Determination 9
Total 418 Microfiche

The various sets are described below:

Title. In this set of microfiche, entries are arranged alphabetically by the original release title of the film. This set of fiche includes "see" references for variant titles, e.g., if a user only knows the script title of a film but not the release title, he would find a "see" reference in this set under the script title instructing him to look under the name of the release title. Note: Titles beginning with numbers, e.g., "8 1/2," sort at end of title set.

Country. In this set of microfiche, entries are arranged by country of production. For example, all entries of films made by French companies are arranged alphabetically by title of the film under the heading FRANCE.

Date. In this set of microfiche, entries are arranged first by year, secondly by country of production, and thirdly alphabetically by title of film. For example, all films produced by French companies in 1959 are arranged alphabetically by title of the film under the heading 1959 FRANCE.

Manufacturer. In this set of microfiche, entries are arranged alphabetically by name of manufacturer and, under each manufacturer, alphabetically by title of film.

Exchange.In this set of microfiche, entries are arranged alphabetically by name of exchange and, under each exchange, alphabetically by title of film.

Writer. In this set of microfiche, entries are arranged alphabetically by name of screenwriter and, under each screenwriter, alphabetically by title of film. When multiple screenwriters occur, full entries are repeated under the name of each writer. As previously mentioned, entries are included only for writers identified on the scripts. If the screenwriter was not identified on a script, there will not be an entry for the film in this set.

Director. In this set of microfiche, entries are arranged alphabetically by name of director and, under each director's name, alphabetically by title of film. When multiple directors occur, full entries are repeated under the name of each director. As previously mentioned, entries are included only for directors identified on scripts. If the director was not identified on a script, there will not be an entry for the film in this set.

Determination. In this set of microfiche, entries are provided for films given the determination of ELIMINATIONS, REJECTED, or NONE. Entries for APPROVED films are not included in this set. Entries are arranged first by the type of determination (E--Eliminations, R--Rejected, and U--None), secondly by year, and thirdly, alphabetically by title of film. For example, all films that were REJECTED in 1942 are grouped together alphabetically by title, and all films APPROVED WITH ELIMINATIONS in 1962 are grouped together alphabetically by title.

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V. Additional Motion Picture Records in the New York State Archives

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