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Friday, August 29, 2014

Industry To Fans --- Thanks, But No Thanks


Long-Ago Trial Of Breaking Into Pictures

Devilishly Clever Is Not Only The Gentle Letdown, But The Editor's
 Recommend That Mr. Weymouth Study Writing via Pics From Fox Films Corp
How to find a most agreeable way to say No? Film companies from inception sat under deluge of unsolicited stories from fan-ship who figured they could write at least as good yarns as those being made into flickers. Enough hours in a nickelodeon might make writers of us all, thought being shared by so many that "I could do better than that." And so a lot of them could ... and did ... upon breaking into pictures from the outside. Surest way of charging gates then as now was coming up with a fresh narrative. It needed savvy, of course, as to how drama unfolds best on the screen. It never was a same art as novels or the stage. One or two reel subjects needed situation more than story. Just put your man/woman in way of danger or conflict and resolve it by ten/twenty minute mark. Fast learners like Mack Sennett and Anita Loos cracked the code early and made careers, Sennett starting with pulse-quickeners for Griffith (The Lonedale Operator) and Loos putting humor/heat-tug into The New York Hat, also for DWG.

Anita Loos Is Here Because I Always Had Sort Of a Crush On Her, and Further
Consider Her More Of a Looker Than Most Any Actress Of The Silent Era

Gee, that seems simple, thought many in the audience, but it wasn't. A coming feature era would further turn checkers into chess. Hollywood developed a "Classical Narrative Style" to make mass production more efficient. Plebes learned quick to plug love, laughs, or action into three acts that one later described as chasing your guy or gal up a tree in the first, throw rocks at him/her for the second, then bring them down in the third. Again --- sounds like a cinch --- but if it were, why so many bad movies? The reject letters here was from a devoted moviegoer's scrapbook circa the early 20's. Judging by bulk of blow-offs, Mr. Douglas F. Weymouth had been submitting tales to the industry for years, and to that I say Bravo, as any writer knows it takes time and endless struggle, even to fail, as most do. But there's nobility in trying, and that's as true today as when Vitagraph, Fox Film Corp, and Famous Players/Lasky sent out their polite "not for us, but thanks" to never-say-die Douglas Weymouth.

5 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

Who knew that Slim Sommerville was one of Fox's -- no, the world's foremost scenario writers?

And why didn't the Fox marketing guy put an apostrophe in "worlds"?

10:01 AM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Interesting that Fox considered Ford to be a writer. Maybe that's an indication of how much he added to the scenarios he was given. Any idea what year that Fox ad is from?

12:50 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Mark ---

That trade ad was from May, 1923.

1:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson has more on the topic of early movie writing:


A story I remember; thought it was in "Behind the Screen" by Kenneth MacGowen (excellent old book) but not finding it there:

A silent director complained in an interview about scenarios provided by noted "real" authors. Specifically, one said "Not by accident, they both arrived at the lodge." The director declared that dramatizing the words "not by accident" required additional sets, a few days of shooting, and presumably writing the scenes merely implied in the one phrase.

Later, of course, Hollywood came to regard submitted ideas as lawsuit bait. Studios employed literary types to track down conceivable predecessors to a script, and buy them up if possible (the makers of "King Kong" supposedly made a deal for Conan Doyle's "Lost World", since both involved prehistoric monsters and one getting loose in the big city). Also to fend off litigants by proving the idea in dispute predated the plaintiff's creation.

4:23 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Moviepas remembers Anita Loos:


Anita Loos. That pix conveys the same feeling to me. I met her at an Author's Luncheon at Detroit's Book Cadillac Hotel and she signed her new book for me. Only God knows where it is now in my collection, I hope!! Lovely little lady.

6:58 AM  

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