Most people seem to think there are concerned in the making of motion pictures just four classes of people actors, scenario writers, directors and cameramen. It all seems very simple. The scenario writer sits down in the morning and works out a scene; he wakes up the director, who packs some actors and a cameraman in an automobile, together with a picnic lunch, and goes out to make the picture on some lovely hillside. Then, having finished the photoplay, they take it around to your local theater and exhibit it at twenty-five cents a seat.
As a matter of fact, the movies, now the fifth national industry in the United States, has as many phases, and as many complexities as any other industry in the world.
Broadly speaking, the movies are made up of alliances between producing companies and distributing companies. For example, the Constance Talmadge Corporation produces the photoplays in which Miss Talmadge is starred, and this Company is allied with the First National Exhibitors Circuit which takes the completed film and sells it to theater managers in every part of the world. The Constance Talmadge Corporation's duty is to make a photoplay and deliver it to the First National Exhibitors Circuit; the latter company duplicates the film in hundreds of "prints," advertises it, rents it to exhibitors, and sees to the delivery of the film. In the same way, Nazimova makes comedies and releases them through the Metro Corporation, her distributor.
The great distributing companies employ the salesmen, advertising experts, business men, and, so forth. All the technical work concerned with the making of the picture, however, is in the hands of the producing company, and, since we are engaged in such work ourselves, it is about these posts that we must talk.
If we are to take the studio jobs in their natural order, the first to begin work on a picture is, of course, the author. Each studio employs a scenario editor who is on the lookout for good magazine stories or plays or original scripts. He himself is not so much a writer as an analyst, who knows what kind of stories his public wants; generally he is an old newspaperman or an ex-magazine editor. Having bought the story, he turns it over to a scenarioist the "continuity writer." This type of specialist is much in demand, since no story can survive a badly constructed scenario.
The scenario writer puts the story into picture form exactly as a dramatist may put a novel into play form for the stage. It is the scenarioist or continuity writer who really gives to the story its screen value hence the very large prices paid for this work when it is well done. Next in line is the director, who takes the scenario and sets out to make the picture.
There is a shortage of directors at present, and for that reason, salaries are particularly high in this line, but of course, direction is a profession which takes many years of study.
In beginning work on his picture, the director first consults the studio manager, who is really the head of the employment office. The studio manager consults with him as to the expenses of the scenery and the length of time to be spent in making the picture and then summons the technical staff.
The technical staff of a studio is a rather large assembly. There is the art director, who plans the scenery, the technical man who directs the building, the casting director, who selects the actors, the electrician, who assists in working out the lighting effects, the laboratory superintendent, who must supervise the developing of the film, the cutters, who assemble the completed film, and last, but not least, the cameraman. Of course there are hundreds of minor posts assistant director, assistant cameraman, property man, research experts, location seekers, and so forth.
The casting director immediately sends out a call for the "types" demanded in the scenario. If possible, he notifies the actors and actresses personally, but more often he is forced to get in touch with them through the numerous agencies which act as brokers in "types/ The Actors' Equity Association is now doing excellent work in supplying actors for pictures at the lowest possible cost to the actor in the way of commissions.
Presently a large number of actors and actresses appear at the studio and the casting director selects from them the individuals best suited to the coming production. Beginners are warned against grafting agents who on any pretense whatever charge more than the legal 5% commission. They are also warned against signing "exclusion" contracts with any agent, as this frequently compels the actor to pay double commissions.
Meanwhile the art director has built his scenery, and the picture goes "into production." At the end of some six weeks or two months, the directors turn the completed film over to the assembling and cutting department. As a rule both the director and the scenario writer work with the assembler and cutter, and if they are wise, they insist on doing the cutting themselves, for the success of the picture depends largely upon this important operation of assembly.
At the same time, another specialist designs and works out the illustrations on the borders of the written inserts. Finally the assembled picture is shown to the studio staff, and if they are satisfied, the negative is forwarded to the distributing company. The studio's work on that picture is ended.
From this brief survey, you can see that the avenues for breaking into the movies are almost unlimited. You can be an actor, director, cameraman, scene builder, cutter, titler, scenario writer, or anything else if you will begin at the bottom and learn the game. All of these positions are highly paid and all require a high knowledge of motion picture technique.
The important thing is to start to get into the studio, in any capacity. Then choose the type of work in which you desire to rise, and learn it. Everybody will help you and encourage you if you start this way, instead of trying the more common but less successful method of starting at the top and working down.