Chapter XXVII


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

pp. 113-116

When you see films in which some of the action transpires at night, do they ever strike you as if they had really been taken during the gloomy hours? I refer, of course, to the gloomy outdoor scenes, for as you are aware, the indoor ones are produced in the studio in the daytime.

If you have been so impressed that you have imagined that they are real, then the artful movie director has but taken you in with a vengeance. "How, then, are the dark effects produced?" you will ask me. Well, the secret is this: These scenes are taken in broad daylight, but before you are privileged to see them on the screen they are dipped into a large tank containing deep, blue dye; that does the trick.

I have, before now, known the director to give himself away by sheer carelessness. In one photoplay, for instance, I spotted a lady walking along with her sunshade up. Yet specatators were expected to believe that the action took place in the middle of the night.

Another phase of midnight photography that has probably puzzled you is that representing moonlight effects, such as the moon trying to hide behind the clouds, a full moon shining over a silvery sea. The plan in this case is to take the picture at sunset. Afterwards a small round piece of untransparent paper is carefully stuck on to the negative film. A full moon is invariably the result.

But now it is apparent that the death knell of faking has been sounded, for the difficult problem of night cinematography has at last been solved.

In a Bison film entitled "The Brand of his Tribe" there was presented a camp setting in which the fire cast an eerie glow over the darkness. There were also excelent silhouettes of the players. These were taken one moonless night, the middle of the camp being illuminated with a strong violet flame for just two minutes. This lighted up the surrounding country for a good distance around.

A second example was "Stonewall Jackson's Way," a civil war drama by Lubin. In this there appeared a unique battle -- new because it was the first time that such details were presented as bombs bursting over snow covered fields, with intervals of blinding flashes of light, while balls of flame were pouring forth from the discharging cannon. Then, too, the staccato points of light were the result of artillery action. It was a dandy fireworks display.

In this production the first problem was to determine the composition of ammunition which should not only be sufficiently explosive but produce a powerful light as well. Edgar Jones, the popular actor-director, had to manufacture a special kind of flashlight powder, and he succeeded after many experiments.

On a wintery night when it was pitch dark the man at the switchboard had a busy time, for it was his duty to explode three thousand bombs. These were manipulated separately on no less than forty thousand feet of electric wiring.

In Imp's "House of Fear," it was necessary for the hero to see everything that took place in certain portions of a lonely country mansion from outside in the grounds at midnight. This was made possible by the newly invented Panchroma Twin Arc Light. Cunningly concealed at the sides of each front window were these lamps, which positively escaped detection when seen on the screen. Each of the lights used turned the scale at nineteen pounds, including the rheostat. They are so easily portable that they can be operated in any house, providing current is available. The lamp compreses a reflector and two powerful arc lights and the carbons are specially prepared to ensure the colors being produced in their natural hues.

The porch lay apparently in broad moonlight, although you did not see the moon itself. Our spasmodic friend would not oblige by revealing herself on this occasion, so the requisite beams had to be supplied by lamps installed in the branches of a tree nearby.

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