TAKING FILMS UNDER THE SEA
Making the Movies by Ernest A. Dench
New York, The Macmillan company, published 1915 (now in the Public Domain)
The Williamson Submarine motion picture invention has conquered a region to which the cinematographer did not previously have access to. I admit there have been pictures, ostensibly taken under the sea, but these pictures were deliberate fakes. In a recent nautical drama I saw two divers fighting for life for sunken wealth on the ocean's bed. The deceiving feature about it was that the divers went down from a boat on the real sea. But between the filming of the scenes above and those underwater, an interval of several days occurred. Expert divers were hired for the former work, the latter being left in the hands of the actors. Some film producers have a glass tank lake in their studio so that they can put on such spectacular scenes.
The first film produced by the Williamson Brothers was in five reels. It depicted coral reefs, peculiar fish and marine forests in the region between Nassau and Watling's Island. Native boys were also shown diving and swimming under the water in search of coins thrown to them by passengers on the ship. J. Ernest Williamson, the inventor, engaged in a fierce fight with a man-eating shark, with a knife as his only weapon. Both he and the camera man, Carl Gregory, nearly lost their lives, for the animal was dispatched just as he was making a terrific drive for the glass-enclosed photographic chamber.
The maximum depth at which the submarine tube invention can be safely used is one thousand feet. The steel tube is wide enough for two men to pass each other while ascending or descending, and water is kept out by an inner covering of rubberised cloth. Air is pumped down, allowing the operator to work for hours at a stretch. The photographic chamber is at the end of the tube. This is hollow and is made of steel, and is five feet in diameter. Reaching out from the chamber is a steel funnel whose outer end is closed with a sheet of glass, five and a half feet in diameter, and two inches thick.
It has been discovered that the further down the pictures are taken the more precaution is necessary against the enormous pressure of water on both sides. This is managed by closing the inner end of the funnel with a steel door, into which two glass ports are fitted. These two glass ports are three inches in diameter, the top one being for observation purposes, and the bottom one for focussing the camera. As a further guard, a sufficient amount of compressed air is pumped into the funnel, between the outer glass and the inner door to balance the water pressure from outside. The camera man is pretty well protected against the unexpected, for there is a small steel shutter which blocks out the two port holes. So if the outer glass broke, the operator would be perfectly safe.
The pictures taken by this method are not marred by bad photography, for there is a lighting device which makes it possible to obtain clear views at depths and in places where there would not be sufficient daylight. A wire connected with an electric battery on the ship is lowered above the photographic chamber. At the end of the fuse is a metal submarine globe containing eight mercury vapor lamps which have a twenty thousand candle capacity.
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