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Chapter VIII


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

pp. 33-37

Like most big business undertakings of the present day, the motion picture industry sprang up in an unobtrusive manner and was heralded with no clashing of arms or blowing of trumpets. It seemed to want to bloom and blush unseen in the approved manner of a rose, with this difference, however, that the producers were undoubtedly truly ashamed of their unpretentious start. Any old building was hired as a studio and the concerns began producing in a haphazard fashion with nothing regular about their plant or the personnel of their staff.

Considering the extreme crudeness of their attempts it was remarkable that motion pictures leaped into instant popularity, which grew and grew as each month passed. Then the time came when the producers decided they must move with the times and this was how pretentious studios and regular stock companies came into being.

Not so long after the big producers found that they had outgrown even this advance and then motion-picture-making cities and estates were created to cope with the situation.

Up to that time the producers had given little evidence that they were everyday business men, and people throughout the country had begun to imagine that they were literally swimming in money. This meant that when a producer desired the use of some certain desirable location for a photoplay, a fabulous sum was demanded for the necessary privilege. Then when a producer wanted to burn down a house or produce some other such spectacular effect for a picture, owners greatly overvalued their property. Again, when the costumes, furniture and other things in the way of props were hired for some film, the charges were considerably in excess of the ordinary fees.

Aside from this, the cost of production was increasing rapidly, for big salaries had to be paid to the leading players and more money and pains expended on properties. Ruin stared the motion picture companies in the face, so there was nothing more natural for them to do than to re-organise along approved business lines. But there are real disadvantages in the scheme of motion picture estates withich they adopted.

In the first place a film estate for the taking of the natural backgrounds produces a sameness in the films sent out from one studio. After much use of the estate, all the backgrounds will have been given over and over again. And nothing annoys a photoplay patron so much as to come across a rural setting he remembers having seen in a previous production. It detracts from the element of realism, the vital attraction of the silent drama. The same trouble occasionally occurs in a single production, the producer either having failed to utilise the variety of settings at his disposal or else, lacking variety, having had to introduce the same scenes a number of times.

Again, not only does the picture estate result in a loss of realism, but also in the loss of truth.

Your average American motion picture producing concern sells its films in practically all quarters of the globe and it is therefore to its financial advantage to produce photoplays portraying life in other countries. How can the director, then, put on, for instance, a story of medieval France out in modern California? Where there is a will there is a way, as the adage goes, so the stage carpenters erect a castle and gabled buildings and lay down a cobble stone street. These are built and laid so substantially that the fiercest wind would not make them turn a hair, so to speak. Then if an actor feels inclined to lean against one of the structures it will not bend or give way. The director may also wish to stage a street in Cairo, so he resorts to the same plan.

Disadvantageous as this is, it is not, however, so painfully artificial as a few painted sets of scenery at the legitimate theater, for the illusion is so perfect when seen on the screen that it passes muster without adverse criticism. These picture making towns are so well laid out that any portion can serve practically any purpose under the sun. All this saves the producer considerable time and money in not having to despatch a troupe of players abroad in the elusive quest of atmosphere.

There are, at the present time, five such producing plants in America. In California, there are Universal City, the Selig Wild Animal Park, Horsley Zoo, and Inceville, and in Pennsylvania, Lubinville. In Europe there are several plants of a similar nature.

Making the Movies - Contents ... Back to Chapter VII ... On to Chapter IX

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