Writing - The Photplay Defined And Explained
( Originally Published 1922 )
A Simple Definition of the Photoplay.—Numerous attempts have been made to define the photoplay. Most of the definitions have been unsatisfactory, however, because ambiguous. The simplest definition possible is: a story told in picture action instead of words. That is, a photoplay is a story told almost entirely in pantomine by actors, whose thoughts and motives are brought out by their actions. As a rule, it is necessary to assist the actor with some worded description thrown on the screen. This combination of action with a few words is a photoplay.
All moving picture subjects are not photoplays. In many instances, moving pictures consist of a series of scenes exhibited for education or information. Witness the Burton Holmes Travelogues or the Pathe Weekly. Here there is no story to be told. Therefore, there is no photoplay, for the photoplay is the modern way of telling a story.
The average magazine story often consists largely of description and conversation. Some of the best passages are almost entirely word-pictures without action. This is not photoplay material. The photoplay must be all action, be-cause it appeals to the eye alone. We might define the photoplay, then, as a story of the eye.
But it is best for the beginner to consider the photoplay as a story told in action instead of words. And this little word action should be kept constantly in mind; it plays an important part in photoplay writing.
Why There Must Be Action in a Photoplay.—In stage stories we see a character enter the scene and say: "It took me all of two hours to get here from my office. The streets were so crowded it was almost impossible to move. I had a terrible time." Then he relates his experience. This all happens in one scene on the stage. But, in a photoplay, several scenes would be used to picture the same thing. We would see the character leave his office, see him go down the street, follow him through it all, including even his arrival at the club. But, on his arrival there, he would not relate his past experience, as in the play, but would proceed to carry out some new action.
So it becomes plain that the one big requirement of the photoplay is action. In fact, the whole plot is told almost entirely in action. Occasionally, a little explanation—a few brief sentences, a telegram, a photograph—is thrown on the screen to clarify some phase of the story not made clear by action alone; but, in the main, action tells all.
Let the reader think of the photoplay as a pictured story in which action, gestures, facial expression, and elements of character replace the dialogue and description of word stories. The person who sees a photoplay must find it a simple matter to identify all characters, to know what type of people they are, just what they aim to accomplish, and whether they win or lose. He must thoroughly understand the plot entirely from what he sees the characters do, with very little explanatory matter. In fact, it might almost be said that a perfect photoplay should consist entirely of action; for, in perfect pantomine, words are not needed. Often, however, the printed matter thrown on the screen serves to heighten the artistic finish of the play; therefore, even though it be possible, it is not altogether desirable to omit all explanatory matter.
The important thing for the new writer to remember is that, in photoplay writing, he must depend entirely upon his ability to make his characters act. Dialogue and description are the story-writer's tools. The photoplaywright must work with action.
In the photoplay, we have the nearest approach to the perfect entertainment—that in which the individual is under no mental labor, not having to gain the thoughts of the author through words. On the contrary, the photoplay's entire plot smoothly unfolds itself as if by magic before the spectator in the form of a continuous, easily-understood story, at times given added attraction, variety, and strength through the written word. ' In story writing, the constant aim of the author is to bring up images in the mind of the reader. All of the author's words must be arranged in such a clever manner that the reader becomes unaware of them and imagines that he is the actual actor in, or sole spectator of, the gripping events depicted. In the photoplay, the author does not en-counter this difficulty.
As previously stated, many stories are not suitable for photoplays. This is because they consist so largely of the abstract, of description, of word-pictures. They lack action, and action is the stuff photoplays are made of. Photoplay characters cannot dream of the past or of the future. They cannot be philosophers or witty conversationalists. They must act. They must do things. They must keep moving without an idle moment.