PUTTING ON A PHOTOPLAY
Making the Movies by Ernest A. Dench
New York, The Macmillan company, published 1915 (now in the Public Domain)
It must seem to many that the production of a photoplay rests entirely with the author, players and photographer. Yet if the truth be known, they have comparatively little to do with putting on the picture in a satisfactory manner. Good actors, authors and photographers are indispensable, but unless they are guided by a talented director, results will be disappointing. The director is the man.
The movie director has command of everything. The scenario is first handed to him by the scenario editor, who has done his best to fit in the play with the demands. Few scenarios are produced as they are written, for no two minds think alike and the director frequently changes things that are not even faulty. This is why efforts from certain studios seem to run in the same groove.
After the director has done all the amending in accordance with his fancy, he prepares a prop list, with particulars of furniture and other articles that are required for the scenes. If any of these do not happen to be avaiable they are hired from local dealers. He then peruses the scene plot to discover the number and descriptions of interior settings required. Instructions are issued to the studio hands, who get busy painting and erecting the different sets. Next he hands copies of the scenario to the leading players so they can prepare for the roles assigned to them.
This last, however, is of secondary importance. The director's first task is to obey what is known as the standard length rule. He has to compress a story of fifteen hundred feet into exactly one reel, one thousand feet, or else pad it out to two full reels. This causes him to figure on so many feet for each scene. If the players fail to approach the speed limit they are drilled until they do.
Although some directors exceed their powers, it is they who can make or mar a player. Frequently a director is called upon to shape a photoplayer out of raw material and it has been by his patience in so doing that some of the stars are with us today. The difference between the experienced player and the trained director is that the former cannot see his faults, whereas the latter can.
No photoplay is put on in a logical manner from beginning to end. One day all the interiors are done and on the next day the company is out scouting about the land for suitable exterior scenes. In this machine-like way the players nearly lose track of the story, and their acting is simply done in portions. The director follows this method because is saves a considerable amount of time.
It is only when the minor members of the company are called for rehearsal that they learn the story of the picture and the parts they are to take. Then when everybody has made up and dressed, and the scenes and properties are arranged, the director explains the plot to all. How he wants it to be acted he describes by gestures.
A scene has frequently to be rehearsed several times before it satisfies him, then the command comes at once: "All right, this is the picture." This is a film command for the camera man to begin his work and for the actors to do their best.
The director's work does not end here. He stands by the camera with scenario in hand while the operator is turning the crank. Perhaps he notices that the heroine has moved out of focus so he promptly calls out. The player, however, must not show that she is obvious of her error by looking at the camera, but must get back to the prescribed lines in a natural manner. The director must also be on the alert for overacting and divers other faults.
There is also co-operation between the camera-man and director, for otherwise the clever photographic effects so often seen in photoplays would not be possible. Weather and artificial lighting conditions have likewise to be given consideration to ensure satisfactory results.
After the negative has been developed it is run off in the miniature projecting room and many stops are made while the director orders cuts to be made and explanatory matter added.
Going back to the acting, when a director requires a good-looking young woman, he will turn her down should her beauty merely be in the coloring of her hair and face. What he wants is a face whose beauty is its shape. He will select a blonde in preference to a brunette, as the hair of the blonde comes out dark on the screen and contrasts will with the face. The same is true of people with red hair.
Many players secure an engagement just because they happen to be a type, for the motion picture camera is an unrelenting critic, and the director prefers selecting the player he needs rather than to court failure in making up one physically unfitted for the part.
There are two thought transference mediums which form the stock in trade of the photoplayer. They are facial expression and gesture. A photoplayer, to be successful, must be sincere and act naturally, avoiding all meaningless gestures and overacting.
The actor must be very cautious in the speed of his movements, for if he was to walk briskly before the camera, it would appear as a run on the film. Every second sixteen different pictures are recorded on the narrow strip of celluloid, and if the player does not want his walk to come out blurred, he must take good care not to travel faster then sixteen inches per second.
The width of the stage before the lens of the camera is six feet, in which narrow space a batch of players have to work together without betraying the fact that they are performing under cramped conditions. The width, however, can be greater as the distance increases, but oftentimes important situations have to be acted through at close quarters.
If the director is not careful, and the actors equally alert, the work of a player in the background will be concealed from view. So you will see that careful attention has to be given to grouping.
Woe betide a player if he reported for duty wearing a perfectly white suit or dress. The director would promptly tell him to discard it in favor of yellow wearing material, even down to the collar and shirt. This is owing to the fact that white photographs a chalky color.
Make-up is an art in itself, and colors produce an effect opposite to the normal when seen on film. Rouge, for instance, comes out black, and yellow grease paint is used sparingly, cold cream being first applied to the face. After the application of the paint powder is added.
The players do not have set lines to go by, but, after understanding the plot of the play, they utter sentences that seem natural to the situations. Although we do not hear their words, it must not be imagined that they are allowed to speak in a careless fashion. They have, in fact, to pronounce their words slowly and carefully. Words like "Yes," "No," "Father" and "Mother" are often caught by the inexperienced lip reader by reason of the pains the players take. The recognized rule is to divide single syllables into two. This means that if a star had to repeat the word "Mother," he would say it in this way: "M-other."
Making the Movies - Contents ... On to Chapter II