Chapter XXIV


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

pp. 100-105

You as a movie fan may pride yourself upon the fact that the producer can seldom thoroughly surprise you because you know so many secrets of motion picture producing, but for all that the type of photoplay labelled as "trick" is apt to be a bit mystifying. You don't see so many of them knocking about nowadays, and few fans ever discovered how they were put on. This chapter tells all about the wizardry of the director.

We all know well the slapstick comedy in which the players indulge in a fast and furious chase. In all reality the players do not move so fast as they seem to on the film. The camera does the trick. Instead of taking sixteen pictures a minute which gives an effect of normal motion, it is made to take about double the number. This means that the figures on the film move at double the pace of normal life.

Who has not seen a toy doll come to life and walk about like a human being? First the doll is placed in a stationary position and a few feet of photographs are taken. Operations then stop while one of her legs is shifted, which movement is also recorded. The same is done with the other leg, and the movements are repeated until the director gets what he wants. These are photographed on a single stip of film without the stops appearing. When projected on the screen at the usual pace, the doll walks as active as life.

Another effect which caused quite a sensation was that of a man who greatly resented being captured by an astute cinematographer. In revenge, he swallows the camera man and his machines as well. This was done by having the lens of the camera on a dead level with the man's face; and the nearer the man strode towards the camera, the less of his body was visible. At the end, a black hole, representing the man's mouth, was revealed. This last was obtained in a dark room which contained an open window. The trouble causing operator leaped through the window, clutching the camera. This was filmed. To prevent injury to the actor, a mattress was placed below.

Then there is the steam roller stunt in which a man is run over and immediately gets up as though nothing had happened. It is arranged for the road mender to come to a standstill just as the man is knocked down, then the camera is stopped until a dummy is substituted. This the steam roller pulverizes and the camera is turned until the dummy is replaced by the man. When he so calmly rises the deed is done.

Another clever trick is that of a tired man dressing himself without effort. The clothes travel across the floor from their hooks and attach themselves to him. His hair is parted by invisible hands; his boots and necktie are tied in like manner. The collar also fixes itself around his neck. Let us take one portion of the trick and then we can comprehend the whole. The boots are filmed unlaced, then a stop is made during which the laces are placed through the first eyelet hole. This process is continued until every eyelet hole has been filled and thus the convincing picture is obtained.

There have also been all sorts of funny things produced such as having the furniture take a trip round the room and the dining table set itself. Many have been puzzled at seeing a bricklayer enjoy his pipe in front of a pile of bricks, which, one by one, fly on to the wall and place themselves in position, thus gradually building the wall. The man is filmed by the wall, but on the other side, out of range of the camera, another man pulls down the already erected wall and throws each brick onto the pile by the side of the first man. By reversing the film, the last picture appears first, and so you are deceived.

If an accidental fall from a scaffold is wanted in a picture, everything is actual until the actor poses for the fall; then a dummy is placed in his place. The camera man then pulls him over by an invisible wire and records the fall. At the bottom another operator is stationed and he gets the incident of the dummy being smashed to pieces by the the impact. All the limbs are then joined together by means of invisible wires and the actor is replaced. Each process, of course, is filmed separately.

Maybe you have at some time or other witnessed wagons, automobiles and men climb up buildings with astonishing ease and rapidity. A piece of painted scenery is placed on the ground and the objects run over it. The camera is operated from up above from a specially constructed platform. When the film is completed the object appears to be ascending a perfectly perpendicular wall.

Perhaps you remember seeing the film in which a bachelor, while smoking at the table, sees a fairy of amazing smallness walk out of the cigar box, and trip over the matches and pipe. Perhaps you have seized upon the idea that the doll trick is used to produce this effect. But it is not.

To accomplish this clever feat the actor sits at the table and imagines what is occurring. Directly to the left of him is a large mirror, while to the direct right is the camera. Several feet from the side of the camera is located a second table, on which matches, cigar box and pipe, each of extraordinary size. The table is proportionately large and on it out of the huge cigar box walks a real life-size actress. All this is reflected in miniature by the mirror and the camera secures it. The result is a perfect illusion.

It all seems so simple, doesn't it? but the work is very tedious and exciting.

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