"A Visit to Movieland" reprinted from The Forum magazine, January 1920. This is the 4th of 9 parts. Written by "The Forum's Correspondent."
What Success in the Movies Is:At the studios it became evident that success in the movies is not so much a question of pull as it is of luck and opportunity. On one of the stages there was a pointed out to us a young actor whose salary, we were told, was $300 a week. "It's his first year in pictures. He used to be the secretary of a New York politician. One night our director, Mr. X--, met him at a party--brought his out here with him and started him at $200 a week. The director could tell at a glance that the young man would photograph well; he was intelligent, and he had just the personality needed for a certain part."
Success does come like that in the movies.
Over on one of the stages they were photographing the final scenes of a book by one of America's best known authors. It was a moment of retrospection for the actor; the character was "broke" in a Paris garret, and thinking what had gone before. It amounted to a silent soliloquy, a conveyance to the future audience by hischanging facial expressions, a tremendous mental effort. To aid him, four stringed instruments were softly playing; the director in a coaxing tone was suggesting the incidents of the past called up in his reverie. The great arc-lights were on; the camera was recording; all was quiet--then a sound of lumber falling; a brawny voice from the end of the studio, "Hey, youse guys, shake a leg here. The boss says this set's gotta be built by tonight."
And the stringed instruments played on; and the director was saying, "Then that night in the garden--" and the actor, still lost in the character, played on. Hammers began to clatter at the other end of the studio. Yet the scene was played out, and played well. How do they do it? Are movie actors human?Another time we motored down to the sea at Santa Monica wherer, on the cliff, the movie people had built the room of a house. I asked why they had not built this in the studio, and they said, "Look toward the window of the room." And one saw framed there a bit of the sea, and rugged headland beyond.
"We wanted that effect to be visible to the audience through the window," the director explained.
"But couldn't you have gotten it by hanging a painted scene in the studio?" I persisted. "The cost of this thing--you've done some concreting work here, the labor, the transportation of labor and artists--the time?"
He looked scornful. "What of it?" he asked. "We have done it right. A few years ago we would have faked this in a studio--the cheap companies do it now--but when some billion admissions are taken in at the box office every year, you can afford to put big money in a production, and do it right. And don't fool yourself that an audience doesn't appreciate your doing it right. Why, I've often spent $5,000 just to get one scene right.