Category Archives: Fotoplayer

Fotoplayer (and Joe) Applauded at Preservation Event

Style 40 FotoplayerIllustration of the Style 40 Fotoplayer. The Academy’s installation is the Style 41, built in 1917.

Fol­low­ing the enthu­si­as­tic response at the Fotoplayer’s inau­gur­al pro­gram at the Acad­e­my of Motion Pic­tures Lin­wood Dunn The­ater, Joe Rin­au­do was asked by Jon Erland of the Academy’s Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Coun­cil to speak at the year­ly Los Ange­les gath­er­ing of The Reel Thing, a group that address­es cur­rent think­ing and most advanced prac­ti­cal exam­ples of progress in the field of preser­va­tion, restora­tion and media con­ser­va­tion. 

On August 20, 2016, Mr. Rin­au­do gave the group the “fifty-cent tour” of the restora­tion process need­ed to restore the Academy’s 1917 Amer­i­can Foto­play­er. 

After­ward, the Foto­play­er was demon­strat­ed by Joe, show­ing off all its bells and whis­tles (lit­er­al­ly), and then sev­er­al musi­cal selec­tions were played as the group was exit­ing.  Play­ing the machine with his back to the audi­ence, Mr. Rin­au­do was sur­prised when he turned around to find that nobody had left — they all stayed to watch him per­form and applaud­ed enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly.

The Reel Thing demonstrationWatch The Reel Thing demonstration video, filmed and posted on Joe Rinaudo’s Facebook page by Stan Taffel.

Mr. Erland has dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Joe return­ing at next year’s meet­ing for a more exten­sive dis­cus­sion of the labo­ri­ous effort to restore the Foto­play­er to its bet­ter-than-orig­i­nal con­di­tion.

Learn about The Reel Thing here and Joe Rinaudo’s expla­na­tion of the Foto­play­er here.

Bev­er­ly Gray has writ­ten an enlight­en­ing piece about the Academy’s Pick­ford Cen­ter for Motion Pic­ture Study. You’re sure to enjoy the arti­cle by “a show biz sur­vivor who believes movies can change lives.”

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Guns n’ Roses n’ Rinaudo on the Fotoplayer

When Joe Rin­au­do restored his Mod­el 20 Foto­play­er over three decades ago, he nev­er intend­ed to play clas­sic rock & roll on it. But the peo­ple of YouTube made sure he did. Here is one of the clev­erist, per­fect­ly timed dubs you’ll ever see and hear and LOL to. (Don’t be fooled — this is not the Huell Hows­er seg­ment you saw on TV.)

89-Guns-&-RosesHere’s a poster series for any­one who is in tune with amper­sands, brand names with amper­sands, or Guns & Ros­es with an amper­sand instead of their offi­cial n’ (which should real­ly be ‘n’). Amper­Art is cre­at­ed by Chaz DeS­i­mone, who also restores title cards for Joe’s silent films.

If you pre­fer a poster with Lau­rel & Hardy, click here.

Sounds of Silent Cinema

This doc­u­men­tary explores the use of orches­tras, bands, sound effects artists, piano play­ers & organ­ists dur­ing the Silent Film Era (1895 – 1927).

Fea­ture inter­views:
Dr. Paul Mona­co
Bob Mitchell
Joe Rin­au­do
Mil­dred Lewis
Ed Kelsey

Produced by Chapman University as a graduate film project
Jeff Callaway & Craig D. Forrest, co-directors
Aaron Burns & Ben Bateman, editors
Special thanks to David Shepherd (film historian), Michael Kowalski (advisor) & the late David Garcia (advisor)

Voted Best Short Documentary @ Oxford Int’l Film Fest (2007)
Best Student Short Documentary @ Family Film Fest (2008)
Best Student Short Documentary @ Hollywood Int’l Student Film Fest (2007)
Official Selection: Whittier Film Fest (2008), Scene First Student Film Fest (2006), Charleston Film Fest (2008), Reynolda Film Fest (2009).

Of Special Interest:

Famous Players Orchestra

Famous Play­ers Orches­tra per­forms and records his­toric cin­e­mat­ic music used by movie the­ater orches­tras dur­ing the silent film era. Lis­ten to sam­ples and learn about the orga­ni­za­tion here:

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Joe Rinaudo Plays the American Fotoplayer

Joe Rin­au­do, founder of SCAT — The Silent Cin­e­ma Art & Tech­nol­o­gy Soci­ety — plays his Amer­i­can Foto­play­er in this seg­ment from Huell Howser’s Cal­i­for­nia Gold:

This machine is in Joe’s living room. Think the neighbors mind?

Con­tin­ue read­ing Joe Rin­au­do Plays the Amer­i­can Foto­play­er

The American Fotoplayer

Plug your ears!  Joe Rin­au­do demon­strates his Amer­i­can Foto­play­er on Huell Howser’s Cal­i­for­nia Gold:

Joe Rin­au­do dis­cuss­es the Amer­i­can Foto­play­er:

Joe Rin­au­do, founder of the Silent Cin­e­ma Soci­ety, has a pas­sion for antique phono­graphs, hand crank motion pic­ture pro­jec­tors, and mechan­i­cal musi­cal instru­ments. Among these, his most prized pos­ses­sion is the Amer­i­can Foto­play­er.

American Fotoplayer


Fotoplayer Model 20 modified


So what exact­ly is an Amer­i­can Foto­play­er ?

The foto­play­er (“foto” from pho­to­play and “play­er” from play­er piano) is a won­der­ful con­trap­tion that was built to pro­vide music and sound effects for silent movies. These machines appeared around 1912 and were used in medi­um sized the­aters. Foto­play­ers were in expen­sive to oper­ate because you didn’t have to be a musi­cian to play them as they were also playable by way of play­er piano rolls.

The foto­play­er used a fas­ci­nat­ing com­bi­na­tion of piano, organ pipes, drums, and var­i­ous sound effects designed to nar­rate the action of any silent film.

Ped­als, levers, switch­es, but­tons, and pull cords were all used to turn on the xylo­phone, beat a drum, ring a bell, cre­ate the sound of thun­der, or chirp like a bird.

When sound films came into being in the late 1920’s, the foto­play­er became passé. Of the thou­sands of Amer­i­can foto­play­ers made dur­ing their hey­day, sad­ly less than 50 sur­vive, and of those only 12 are known to be in play­ing con­di­tion. One of those 12 is in Joe’s liv­ing room.

This machine was orig­i­nal­ly built in 1926 in Van Nuys Calif. and shipped to a the­ater in Saskatchewan Cana­da. It was metic­u­lous­ly restored by Joe Rin­au­do in 1976…after being shipped back to Cal­i­for­nia.

The Piano Console

Fotoplayer Piano Console

The piano con­sole hous­es the piano, sleigh bells, xylo­phone, clax­on horn, siren, tri­an­gle and a vari­ety of organ pipes. From top to bot­tom there are pull cords that con­trol gun shot, wind siren, ride and crash cym­bals, train whis­tle, chime, tom-tom, and bass drum. Just above the key­board there is a series of switch­es that can turn on and off the tremo­lo effect and var­i­ous organ pipes rang­ing from bass flute to vio­lin. Some switch­es also con­trol the xylo­phone and man­dolin sounds while push but­tons con­trol sound effects such as sleigh bells, door bell, car horn, and bird whis­tle. The tri­an­gle, cas­tanets, tam­bourine, wood block, snare drum and cow­bell are also con­trolled from tele­graph type keys in this same loca­tion. To the far right is a bulb horn. The ped­als at the floor are used for thun­der, bass drum/cymbal, soft piano, sus­tain, snare drum, and police siren.

The Side Chest

Fotoplayer Side Chest

The side chest hous­es most of the organ pipes and sound effects. Vis­i­ble are the organ pipes, snare and bass drums, ride cym­bal, cas­tanets, cow­bell, wood block, tam­bourine, and chime. Con­cealed under the lid or behind the pipes are the crash cym­bal, wind siren, bird whis­tle, thun­der, and police siren. Larg­er mod­el foto­play­ers used two side chests that con­tained a wider array of pipes and sound effects.

Dual Roll Player

Fotoplayer Dual Roll Player

A unique fea­ture of the foto­play­er is the dual roll play­er. Not only does this keep a con­stant flow of music with­out inter­rup­tion, but it also allows the oper­a­tor to change the music to suit the scene instant­ly. With the flick of a lever the mood can be changed from an excit­ing chase to a mushy love scene.




Though any piano roll could be used on the foto­play­er, the Pic­tur­oll made by the Film Music Co. were made specif­i­cal­ly for the foto­play­er. The Pic­tur­olls were cut with a unique com­bi­na­tion of long and short holes in the paper to make the piano and the organ pipes per­form bet­ter togeth­er.

The titles of these rolls indi­cate the mood of music which one would play to match the action pro­ject­ed on the screen. Titles such as Mushy Music, Fire! Fire! Fire!, Drunk Soused Spree, and The Roar­ing Vol­cano, are some of the typ­i­cal rolls that a foto­play­er oper­a­tor would have ready-at-hand.

Please let Joe Rin­au­do know if you have or have seen any of these Pic­tur­olls, as Joe  would love to hear them played on his machine. Con­tact him here.


Scott Lasky and Joe Rinaudo listen to a few test runs of Mr. Lasky’s new roll arrangement of ‘traditional’ silent film chase music.

Scott Lasky is Musi­cal Direc­tor for Famous Play­ers Orches­tra, a silent film orches­tra based in Los Ange­les. Mr. Lasky vis­it­ed Joe Rin­au­do to test his new­ly-cut piano roll.

Accord­ing to Mr.  Lasky , “I recent­ly dropped in on Joe Rin­au­do and showed him a new piano roll arrange­ment I was work­ing on. This was a test roll which we tried out on the Amer­i­can Foto­play­er in order to hear how it would sound using dif­fer­ent set­tings and tem­pi and also check for errors.” That vis­it was filmed for the above video.


Vis­it the Famous Play­ers Orches­tra web­site,, and enjoy this short piece about music of the silent cin­e­ma, and about the orga­ni­za­tion:

Famous Play­ers Orches­tra CD Fund Dri­ve

Share your love of silent films and great his­toric music of the silent era with a con­tri­bu­tion to Famous Play­ers Orches­tra. Famous Play­ers Orches­tra is an IRS 501(c)(3) not-for-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion and your tax-deductable con­tri­bu­tions are great­ly appre­ci­at­ed! Your gen­er­ous sup­port will help FPO to con­tin­ue their work in reviv­ing this remark­able for­got­ten music through live con­cert per­for­mances and new record­ing projects. Vis­it the dona­tion page.

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