Chapter X


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

pp. 44-48

A good old standby for the motion picture director in need of a thrilling or suspense-creating picture is the railroad drama. It has performed yeoman service ever since the movies came out of their swaddling clothes, and it is likely to for much longer.

The successful ingredients for the receipt of a railroad film are these: Procure one pretty girl and a handsome and brave young man. Mix well with a villain of the deepest dye, who mars their happiness. He his, however, the victim of a railroad accident, which allows the inevitable happy ending to be presented.

Another ever favorite device is to introduce the heroine as a telegraphist or some clerk at a rural railroad depot. She is attacked by thieves who desire to possess the gold she is so zealously guarding. They reverse the signals to gain their purpose. In some ingenious manner she informs her lover of her plight without her attackers being aware of it. So it is not long before we see the hero dashing down the track in the nick of time to prevent a collision. He either waves a handkerchief or else he turns a switch.

It will now be interesting to cast a glance behind the scenes just to find out how these pictures are made.

When a film concern sets about to produce one or more of such dramas they lease a portion of the side track of a railroad nearby. The player cast to perform the driving act is instructed by a full fledged locomotive engineer until he or she -- oh, yes, the ladies are not exempt -- has passably mastered the complexities of the engine. This takes, on an average, about two days.

After everything is ready the director puts the players through their parts, when all are in for a strenuous time. In nine cases out of ten the camera has to be stationed on the engine for several of the scenes so that the movie driver can be shown at work in the cab, or, failing that, tussling with the villain. Both have to be extremely careful that they do not overbalance themselves.

If you were to bet that they always take the interiors inside a genuine pullman or railroad office, then you would lose. You see, there is not sufficient light in most of these places to give a clean picture, so it is necessary to build them up in the studio.

But the railroad collision act is a different sort altogether. Usually two locomotives which have seen their best days, and half a dozen carriages are purchased outright. This has been known to cost a film company $50,000 for a single occasion. Needless to say, such heavy outlays are reserved for the big feature productions; and incidents for several of these are obtained at the same time.

Everything is so carefully planned that there is little chance of the unexpected to derange things. The trains run along a single track, and at the given signal, the engineers open the throttles wide and then jump from their cabs. The trains now dash on to destruction. And, last of all, comes the fatal crash, which is the most eventful moment for the squad of camera men who focus their machines from all points of vantage.

The scene then changes, allowing time for the photoplayers, wearing torn and dirty clothing and their features made up, to clamber into the wrecked carriages. The cameras again get busy and the "dead and injured passengers" are lifted out by the rescuing party. The performance is so interesting that frequently the railroad companies run excursions to the scene of the smash.

There are, however, motion picture firms, who, too mean to do the thing in proper style, hire perfectly good rolling stock, but cut out the actual collision. A the right moment engines of the scrap iron variety are substituted and placed together to give the smash effect.

One company -- the Kalem -- specialises in railroad dramas, the stories of which are written by a railroad man. Under this brand a series of single reel dramas entitled "The Hazards of Helen" has appeared, featuring Helen Holmes as a girl telegraphist.

Europe seldom sends us a railroad picture produced in the thorough manner which characterises the American product. Some years back a fatal accident occurred during the producing of one of these plays in England, since which time the railroad companies there have stubbornly declined to co-operate with motion picture producers. It is much the same in other European countries.

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