Film History 3


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This presentation was designed for a high school film production class - it provides a visual accompaniment to a lecture on Film History. This module covers the period from the introduction of sound through the end of the studio system with an aside about the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's.

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Film History 3

  1. 1. Film History Lecture prepared 12/02/08 by John M. Grace I.A.T.S.E. member and film instructor D.A.T.A. Charter High School Albuquerque, New Mexico
  2. 2. Film History Famous last words: "Who in the hell wants to hear actors talk?" H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers Studios, 1927
  3. 3. Film History By the mid-1920s technology had been developed for adding sound to films, but the big studios were opposed to sound for 10 reasons: 1) They weren't sure the public would accept it. 2) Some of the top stars were foreign born with heavy accents. 3) Many stars had weak voices that didn't match their macho or seductive images.
  4. 4. Film History 4) Many actors who didn't have stage experience had voice and diction problems. 5) The studios had spent large sums of money promoting their stable of silent stars and many of them would not be able to make it in "talkies." 6) It would mean investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in building sound stages.
  5. 5. Film History 7) Producing sound films would be significantly more expensive than making silent films; a one-million dollar silent film would cost at least one and one-half million dollars with sound. 8) Although it was relatively easy to use subtitles to meet the needs of foreign distribution, you couldn't expect actors to speak different languages.
  6. 6. Film History 9) Silent film directors talked actors through their moves while they were on camera. Sound meant that actors would have to remember what to do and they would have to memorize dialogue. 10) In 1927, there were 15,000 theaters showing silent films, all of which would have to be equipped with the expensive new technology.
  7. 7. Film History The big studios stuck together for some time in discouraging the introduction of sound. However, one studio, Warner Brothers, was outside that group. Given the formidable competition from the other studios, they were struggling to survive.
  8. 8. Film History Warner Brothers had nothing to lose by trying something daring. They reportedly didn't feel that sound would be more than a passing novelty, but, for as long as it lasted, they figured it might make them enough money to stay afloat. Sound was already being used in some theaters for news shorts, so at least those theaters were equipped for sound.
  9. 9. Film History In 1927, Warner Bros. introduced the first feature-length sound film: The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson. The film consisted mostly of background music and contained only two segments with synchronized (lip-sync) sound - a total of only 354 spoken words - but that was enough to set off the sound revolution.
  10. 10. Film History Once the film captured public attention, people were lined up around the block from early morning until late at night to get tickets. The Warner Bros. gamble paid off - big time. As a result, the studio has remained a powerful industry leader for the last 80 years.
  11. 11. Film History Recognizing a good thing, Warner Brothers rushed another film with Al Jolson into production. This one, The Singing Fool , was an even a bigger hit. It cost $200,000 to make and brought in $5 million. Al Jolson, a vaudeville performer, was perfect choice to launch sound. He had a natural talent for relating to audiences.
  12. 12. Film History Now, the major studios were worried Faced with the inevitable, the major studios reluctantly abandoned their stand against sound and started building their own sound stages. Within a few years almost all films were "talkies."
  13. 13. Film History But, the move to sound was not without its consequences. Many stars couldn't make the transition and left the business. Others quickly signed up for voice and diction lessons in an effort to try to save their careers. Even so, the studios used the special needs of sound as an excuse to get rid of some actors.
  14. 14. Film History Hampered by the early limitations of sound equipment and the influx of sound technicians who were all but dictating how everything should be done, film production techniques took a giant step backward. Many of the early sound films were not only crudely done, they were downright boring.
  15. 15. Film History Another major problem was that the camera had to be housed in a soundproof, telephone booth-like enclosure to keep the noise of the camera from being picked up by the microphone. This meant that the camera was virtually immobile; and since this was before the advent of zoom lenses, shots tended to be static and unimaginative.
  16. 16. Film History By this time, the movie industry had clearly established three basic economic divisions: production, distribution, and exhibition. When the NPPA guild was dissolved by government antitrust action, the studio heads gradually moved to another type of control - the Studio System.
  17. 17. Film History MGM, 20th Century Fox, RKO, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, and Columbia dominated the studio years between 1930 and 1950. During this era the studios created elaborate sound stages and back-lot movie sets and developed a well-coordinated and efficient factory system for creating films.
  18. 18. Film History These studios hired a stable of stars and production people to do as many films as possible. These people were under contract and were not allowed to work for any other studio without permission. During this period Warner Bros. was known for its gangster films, MGM for its lavish star-studded musicals, and 20th Century Fox for its historical adventure films.
  19. 19. Film History An oligopoly is when a few companies control such a large part of an industry that the action of one affects all of the others. Although most of the studios were located in the Hollywood-Los Angeles area, they were managed through their New York business offices.
  20. 20. Film History The studio heads like Louis Mayer and Darryl Zanuck controlled all of the business decisions, right down to managing the lives of the actors that were in their films. These companies also controlled theater chains and distribution of their films. Having shed the control of the MPPC, the film industry was now under the control of a few powerful studios.
  21. 21. Film History By this time, films had changed from the small wooden bench nickelodeons to lavish theaters. During the boom, theaters were opening at the rate of one a week. At this time, everyone regularly went to the movies and at an average ticket price of 65 cents almost everyone could afford to.
  22. 22. Film History During the “Golden age of Hollywood” the studios controlled the industry - and the profits. One way to maintain control was block booking , or requiring theaters to take many inexpensive, second-rate films in order to be able to show a few really good movies. Theaters were sometimes required to sign up for packages of 100 or more films, sight unseen.
  23. 23. Film History Early in this era, four major film stars - Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith - rebelled against the block booking practice and formed their own production company - United Artists. Their company not only eliminated block booking, but also went on to produce many films that are considered classics.