Chapter XXXII


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

pp. 139-142

A great deal has been written on the exciting experiences of picture artists, but little is known as to the perils faced by that small body of men who grind out pictures.

Some time ago the British and Colonial Company sent Mr. Fred Burlingham, their camera man, over to Switzerland for the purpose of fliming the Alps. All went well until he commenced photographing the Giant Plough at work on the Bernina Pass. To obtain good views, the motion picture machine stood in the track of the Plough. Mr. Burlingham took the precaution to make arrangements with the engineers to stop the Plough a short distance in front of him. Instead of doing so, the B. & C., to the horror of the operator, drove it almost over him, and it was only by quickly leaping aside that he managed to throw himself against the walls of the pass as the machine steamed by. His body was badly bruised, while the camera was smashed to atoms. It transpired later that the engineers could not see him on account of the fact that they had been blinded by the snow.


Another adventure occurred to Mr. Burlingham when he filmed the Matterhorn at the dizzy height of 14,000 feet. It was done at the pont from which Lord Francis Douglas and three more of the party fell in 1865 to their death. While the camera man proceeded with the filming, he had a man below hold his legs, which enabled him to maintain his balance.

The American Company once took some scenic films in the Hawaiian Islands. Water buffalo are there used a draft beasts in the rice fields, being the only animals that can travel through the heavy muck. The camera operator had just started taking the film when a buffalo charged him. He had to dodge as best he could behind the camera and managed to evade the animal until a native came and rescued him, thoroughly exhausted after leaping about in ankle-deep mud.

Pictures with explosions in them are the terror of camera men. Mr. Albert Heimerl, of the American Company, confesses that he never came closer to his death than he did on one occasion in which he was filming a scene of this sort. Both he and the camera were protected by a temporary shelter. One hundred and fifty feet away from him were one hundred pounds of black gunpowder and thirty sticks of dynamite. Calculations went wrong, as the explosives proved too much at such a short distance away. The top of the shelter was struck by a three hundred pound boulder, the camera was smashed, and the operator buried under the debris. He was unconscious when extricated, and could not be up and about for several weeks after.


On the Kalem Company's last visit to the Holy Land, the camera man found himself in danger. He was filming a scene in the desert near Luxor. Suddenly a gang of evil-visaged Bedouin warriors appeared, and eyed the camera with great curiosity, not having seen one before. But the chief was an exception, for he proudly stated that it was his will and pleasure to pose before it. Not content with that lordable ambition, he wanted to appear in the scene in the part of one of Kalem's "stars" whom he had seen acting as he entered. It was useless to expostulate, as the manner of the Sheik and his followers became very threatening, so they humoured him.

When he was ready, the camera man turned the handle of the machine, then the chief strutted and postured before the camera like a Turkey cock. The funny part about it was that the apparatus contained no film to record his efforts for posterity's sake!

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