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Chapter IX

UTILISING COUNTRY ESTATES FOR
MOTION PICTURE PLAYS

Making the Movies by Ernest A. Dench
New York, The Macmillan company, published 1915 (now in the Public Domain)


pp. 38-43

All is grist that comes to the mill of the motion picture producer. One week he may put on a play of life in a city tenement. That does not present any difficulty. But a week later his next story will probably deal with persons in high society and then he is confronted with a much harder task.

If he has been in the locality for any length of time he will have compiled a list of the imposing estates in the neighbourhood, for he can hardly adopt the makeshift method of the theatrical producer and confine his natural backgrounds to painted canvas. He must, therefore, approach the owner of the residence which strikes him as ideal for the necessary permission. But this is not so easy to obtain as one might expect.

In the early days of the present great industry many people had a deep rooted prejudice against motion pictures and imagined it to be beneath their dignity to consent to have their property utilised for motion picture purposes. That the producer then did not do justice to his subjects is painfully true, but this cannot be used in evidence against him to-day when he is making continued progress.

Granted that permission is obtained, the actors may make a pretence of going inside a mansion. But note that the elaborate drawing room scene that next meets your gaze is taken at some other time in the studio, where it has been erected and dressed with extreme care in every detail by a real decorative artist.

The size of the photoplay stage is six feet from one side to the other and the player who moves beyond this gets out of focus. From this information you will appreciate the skill of the producer who puts on an elaborate ballroom scene in a realistic manner.

Although the vision of the camera is limited, immediately in front of the lens, to a field of six feet in extent to right and left of the lens, its field of vision can be made to be many times this width and breadth as the depth increases. In this way rooms of immense size are represented. If a director were to attempt to show portions of action that take place in a corner of the room in the one big scene they would not be understood at all. So he introduces some "close up" views. Then if he wants to emphasise the fact that the room is as wide as it is long he panorams the player while he or she walks from one side to the other.

For every motion picture company that despatches a troupe of players in search of the elusive atmosphere, nine stay at home and make use of the facilities at their disposal. In California, for instance, there are many types of architecture and the director can obtain practically everything to fulfill his requirements, with the possible exception of a Swiss chalet.

About two years ago the movies were employed under false pretenses. It happened this way. A film company called upon a wealthy banker and asked if he would be so kind as to permit the free use of his country estate. He willingly consented, and on leaving his residence to keep an engagement, he instructed the patrolman to take no notice of anything unusual that might occur.

A few minutes later when the burglar left by the window in the approved manner with a bag of swag, the watchman looked on unconcernedly, for did not the presence of the camera tell him that it was only for the movies? Besides, he had been prepared for the unexpected.

When the banker returned home, however, he came in for a revelation, all his silver plate and other valuables having been stolen. After investigating, he found out that the credential bearing the name of a reputable producing concern was a fake.

In too many cases at the present time the director cannot obtain the necessary privilege unless he pays five dollars or more, according to the value placed upon the property by the owner. The terms demanded in some instances would ruin any film company in no time. One of the companies -- Universal -- has taken action on this petty graft, as they term it, and in their studio yard they now possess the facilities to make anything from a medieval castle to a modern millionaire's mansion. Whether they find it more effective to do things in this way is rather a moot point.

The Lubin Company has seldom relied upon outside assistance, and on the estate where the president and his family reside, pleasure is combined with business. It comprises five hundred acres of the most charming country existent in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, it is situated on historic ground where Washington held the British in check during one horrible winter. No better natural effects can be found for rural photoplays than there are on this estate where there is a picturesque mansion, a conservatory, half a dozen other buildings and spacious grounds. A river runs through for two miles; there is a duck pond, a deer park and a railroad station, the latter having been specially erected at a cost of several thousand dollars. Then when a railroad or auto smash is needed all they have to do is to throw money away like water. A house can be burnt down; an earthquake raised, while they can stage a cliff fight effectively and produce "Western" dramas without any one being the wiser that they were taken in the East.

The motto of the motion picture producer seems to be summed up as follows: "If you can't get a thing one way, try another."


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