Chapter XIII


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

pp. 58-60

When a motion picture company wishes to take a fire picture all they have to do is to pay for the use of an empty house for an hour or so. The owner of it does not mind so long as they do not burn the house down in grim reality. In order to make the film convincing it is necessary to smash the windows and break the doors down, but the producer, of course, pays for all damage done. The players and camera men being in readiness, it is the duty of the property man to place a chemical preparaton known as "smoke pots" inside the windows, and cleverly conceal them between curtains and blinds. Then harmless smoke begins to pour out of the house.

Not very far away is a fire engine and firemen only waiting for their cue to go into the picture.

If there is anything that attracts a crowd it is a fire, so the excited spectators are supplied at no expense to the firm.

The engine, at a given signal, races off with the volunteer crowd in pursuit and soon arrives at the scene of operations.

There is plenty of door smashing and window-breaking by the gallant fire-fighters, because directors know only too well that we fans are fond of excitement. The firemen use their axes, having no regard as to the damage they do.

About this time forks of flames appear from the windows, while the smoke issues in volumes. The smoke and flames, by the way, emanate from the "smoke pots" and do no damage at all.

The scenes that are apparently taken inside the house, where we see firemen staggering along with human bodies, have probably been filmed several days before in the studio itself, the "smoke pots" contributing to the illusion of fire.

Next we see people being rescued from the burning building, and this is acted so realistically that the spectators do all the applauding without being asked to.

The human touch is given to these photoplays, so as to gain the sympathy of those watching as well a picturegoers.

It wouldn't be right if the heroine were left to perish in the flames and so it falls to the hero to rescue her. As the hero evades the firemen and dashes into the midst of the flames the crowd turns away in horror.

Since the fire has been in progress water has been poured right and left on the flames and everything done to make the picture realistic and thrilling. Eventually the heroine is brought to safety and, as the hero embraces her, the camera man stops turning the handle.

The "smoke pots" have done their work well, for the only damage done to the house is the breaking of the doors and windows.

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