Chapter XII


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

pp. 53-57

If there is one thing more than another which has a special interest for the motion picture producer, it is marine life in all its phases. What accounts for this fascination? A study of the movie screens will soon reveal the answer. The film producer adores thrills and water craft supply the desired opportunities to his complete satisfaction.

He seems, however, to make a favorite of no single kind of craft, for he will handle anything from a raft to an ocean liner. Among the feats he revels in are these: accidental turnover of a rowing boat, wreck of a craft by collision, or by wreck against an iceberg or rocks, fire at sea.

When a scenario stipulates that a yacht has to be set on fire and a boiler explosion despatch it beneath the waters, an old craft is purchased. After the preliminary deck scenes leading up to the sensational situation have been produced, the vessel is divested of its interior fittings, for the producer is not so rash as is commonly supposed. The next stage is to saturate the ship with oil and turpentine and place sticks of dynamite in the hold. It is dangerous work for the men who are assigned this task. Immediately their work is over they jump off the yacht into the sea and swim about until picked up by a motor boat and taken to safety. Another example of the producer's determination to get full value for his outlay is given in that he never times the dynamite to explode until the ship has been will burned. Oftentimes scenes are also taken for several productions at the same time.

In the Vitagraph picture, "My Official Wife," it will be remembered that an expensive yacht was blown up by a torpedo. Clara Kimball Young, the wellknown photoplayer, witnessed this and declared it was a shame that such a pretty boat should be destroyed. The director informed her, jokingly, that she could have it as a gift if it was of any use to her after it had got into the clutches of Davy Jones. She decided to take a sporting chance and had a diver investigate the vessel. To her joy, he reported that although it appeared in the picture that the torpedo split theyacht in half, it had only torn a hole in the side. Miss Young at once had the yacht raised and repaired. It is now a trustworthy pleasure craft, in which its fair owner takes many trips.

There are occasions when a misfortune proves a blessing in disguise to the maker of movies. On hearing of a wreck along the coast wihtin easy distance he will promptly journey with his band of players and camera man, weaving a marine drama en route and getting all the atmosphere he requires. Neither is he averse to the other money saving plan of cutting views form an animated newspaper.

There is also a certain film concern, wh ich unlike others in the same business, apparently does not believe in the value of realism. They show a marked preference for the easy and inexpensive way of framing up a wreck in the studio. A miniature model of a ship is placed on the edge of a green topped table. The "wreck" is produced by means of an electrical device and is photographed a good distance away from the camera. On the next fine day some sea scenes are produced on the coast nearby. Both negatives are then cut in two and one section of each used. The first negative is cut in half along the line of the table top, which is the "water line," and the real marine half of the other one matches it exactly. This creates a perfect illusion.

Of course when you see water flooding the cabins or hold or smoke and flames filling and devouring them, with the passengers and crew frantically trying to escape, you must know that these situations are faked in the studio, as they would be too dangerous for the actors if staged on a real ship, let alone the disadvantage that the inferior light conditions would not permit good photography.

In the production of that masterpiece, "Atlantis," the C.F. Titgen (8,137 tons), of the Scandinavian American Line, was hired. Five hundred players acted as the passengers who fought for the boats; many leaped into the sea, some of whom were "drowned." All the horrors of such a calamity were dragged in.

Many were the rehearsals to get the actors to render vivid portrayals. Strange as it may seem, the G.F. Titgen was not sunk at all. Its wreck was only cleverly suggested. The producers saved considerable expense by having a wooden replica of the liner made and sunk to the bottom.

The motion picture director is also partial to stories of pirate days. The difficulty the director of the Powers Company had when about to put on a play of Billy Hayes, the noted pirate and smuggler of thirty years ago, was to discover a suitable craft. On a trip to San Pedro he had the good fortune to hire for a week an antiquated ship which had been confiscated by the government. On board was an old Norwegian who informed him that the ship was originally The Sprite, a vessel which had seen many a bloody encounter. Once it had been seized by Billy Hayes, and with it he terrorised Pacific coast towns for thirty years.

Making the Movies - Contents ... Back to Chapter XI ... On to Chapter XIII

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.