EXPLORING BY MOTION PICTURES
Making the Movies by Ernest A. Dench
New York, The Macmillan company, published 1915 (now in the Public Domain)
Nowadays when people depart on an exploring expedition they seldom forget to take a motion picture outfit with them. The reason is obvious, for they are then in a position to bring back permanent records of their accomplishments. In the past, as a rule, they returned with a number of still photographs and then set to work to write a book, illustrated, with these. Both of these records have their good points, but the film goes one better. That visualises the whole undertaking, which, to view, is next best to being a member of the expedition.
Such pictures likewise possess no little educational value. At diffrent times there have been exploring pictures from hardly known portions of South America, the wilds of Africa, the Arctic and the Antarctic. Indeed, there are very few places on this globe that have not yet been visited by the motion picture camera.
Yet there still remains a considerable amount of material to be harvested. The one big mistake made by the majority is that they have been content to obtain merely a few scenic subjects.
In all probability the cinematographer commenced operations by touring the locality in search of likely copy. A week or so later he perhaps returned to the same place with the intention of doing the filming, but by this time the objects that had appeared novel and interesting appealed to him as nothing out of the ordinary. Thus, the very matter the outside world was longing to see was lost. He should have taken the pictures as he went along, in which case the new things would have been discovered, invested with tht charm that so often means big financial reward to an enterprise of this kind. It is the human interest material that outshines the rest in popularity and this is what, in my opinion, has been neglected down to date.
The explorer who decides to combine cinematography with his other work -- hobby he no doubt regards it -- does so with the object of recovering his travelling expenses apart from adding a substantial amount to his bank account. For film records of his big game hunting tour Cherry Kearton netted $50,000 altogether. A certain Australian explorer hunted in the North Pole icefields, and, thanks to the motion picture camera, he was richer by $30,000.
The tastes of movie fans have been greatly misrepresented, for, although we naturally show preference for the ordinary dramas and comedies, we certainly can enjoy a really entertaining educational subject. But it must be good, with nothing dry or didactic. Pictures like Paul Rainey's African Hunt and Captain Scott's Antarctic Expedition have had long runs, both in New York and London.
Now let us turn to the actual producing of these pictures. Tropical regions give the camera man the greatest trouble, for, unless he is very careful, his stock of raw film will crumble into pieces on account of the excessive heat. He must also develop his produced film on the spot, for the climate would rapidly deteriorate the negatives. This is why, when Mr. W.H.C. Raymond visited British East Africa, with the object of filming life in the jungle and native customs he had no alternative but to burden himself with apparatus, soda and chemicals, weighing hundreds of pounds. Fortunately, however he was successful in obtaining 285 natives to carry the heavy load each day through the bush.
As might be anticipated, the work is not unattended with dangers. The Franklin B. Coates' exploration of South America was marked by the failure to get the wild beasts to pose for the movie camera. Mr. Coates was therefore obliged to go after them, and lie in wait for them with a live bait as the lure. After spending two days in the bush in this manner his patience was rewarded by the appearance of a tiger. He had not been long turning the handle of the camera when the beast made a beeline for him. Mr. Coates shot the big cat fatally before his leap could be completed.
Another time this American was lucky enought to film a big boa ten feet from the camera. The serpent, on hearing the clicking noise of the camera, grew excited and it was thought advisable to kill him before he did any harm.
Before now operators had been killed in this very same game. Far more than the average amount of patience is needed for this work, where practically everything is done on chance.
Paul Rainey, the famous American millionaire sportsman, was mainly responsible for the African Hunt pictures. The best scenes were those taken around a waterhole. On and off, six weeks were occupied in obtaining the film. At one stage he was perched for three whole days on a branch of a tree while the animals came and went below him.
Anyway, fortune favored him, for it was at a time of great drought and none of the animals showed any animosity toward any other. In the film are seen baboons, eland, zebras, timid giraffes, elephants, rhinoceri and lions, all drinking together as peacefully as lambs.
A widely used device is a dummy animal, in which there is room for the motion picture photographer to carry on his work. The contrivance is so clever that it deceives Nature's creatures entirely, only the clicking of the movie machine giving the game away. This the resourceful operator overcomes by having a motor at work for a fortnight, by the end of which time the wild animals grow accustomed to the noise. Here, again, the photographer must reconcile himself to weary waits in order to study the habits of his subjects. But there is no other way to secure films so perfectly true to nature, and results, therefore, justify the trouble involved.
The denizens of the jungle, as is commonly known, have a strong sense of smell, and to mislead the beasts, it is necessary for the traveling cinematographer to smother his body with some vile smelling liquid.
The tives frequently present another difficulty. Once some native thieves in Central Africa smashed a motion picture machine to atoms, in their belief that it contained valuables.
Even in colder climes, like the Arctic and Antarctic regions, the work is equally hard. The climatic conditions render film taking very difficult and perilous. Nevertheless there have been some excellent pictures form both ends of the globe at different times, the most extensive collection having been obtained by Mr. Ponting of the ill-fated Scott Antarctic Expedition. Had he not been hampered with the heavy apparatus, he would have accompanied the unfortunate Southern party in their final dash. As it was he came back with some remarkable records which deserve to be preserved at a museum. All pictures with a permanent value shuld be treasured for posterity's sake for, by the magic film, the dead, past events and accomplishments can be brought back to life again.
The motion picture has undoubtedly succeeded in affording us an insight into life and lands we hitherto knew little about.
And it will continue to do so until every particle of the world shall have come under its ever eager eye.
Making the Movies - Contents ... Back to Chapter XXVII ... On to Chapter XXIX