Motion Pictures - Direction And Rehearsal
( Originally Published 1924 )
THE title of this chapter sounds very professional and difficult, but it is not so really. Rehearsal and direction are but convenient terms for actions which every amateur has performed time after time. When you work and work to get Baby to smile, that is nothing but direction on your part and rehearsal on the part of the infant. Every motiograph which is worth the celluloid upon which it is printed, is the result of a definite amount of direction and rehearsal. There is little to be said of rehearsal which is not covered by the simple rules of direction, for the two processes are different phases of the same process. Direction is a mental process, the physical application of which is rehearsal. The cinematographer who is his own director, tells his actors what to do. This is direction. The actors follow these instructions, and this is rehearsal.
When working with adults it is well to go through the action a few times, actually cranking the empty camera. This will accustom your actors to the novelty of their positions and remove a certain amount of self-conscious stiffness. However, beware of too much rehearsal, for it will result in the stiffness of routine work. Thus, it is evident that a happy medium must be found. When working with children about all that can be done is to get the child into the right mood and then crank when the opportunity offers. This procedure is familiar to those photographers who are accustomed to Graflex work with children. The cinematography of wild life is an art in itself, and "direction" consists simply in knowing the habits of the creatures being photographed, and utilizing this knowledge to obtain such action as may be desired.
Direction is both an art and a science within itself. A successful director, whether he directs a photo-drama, an orchestra or a stage production, must combine two characteristics which are almost diametrically opposed. He must have the artistic sense developed to the utmost; and at the same time, he must ever keep cool and watch carefully the details of mechanics and technique. There are few rules which can be applied to direction, and these few are necessarily most elastic. It can be easily understood that direction by hard and fast rule would result in a photo-play of such mathematical inflexibility that it would serve only to produce the utmost boredom in the spectators.
You may well think that all of this has nothing to do with you and the production of a simple, domestic photo-drama; but on the contrary, it has everything to do with you. The intimate little home "shots" you will make will be immeasurably better and far more interesting if a little thought is spent upon intelligent direction.
Before attempting direction, the art of cranking and camera manipulation must be mastered until all movements are made automatically and without conscious thought on your part, for all of your conscious energies will be necessary for direction. The position be-hind the camera, which you will occupy by virtue of being cinematographer as well as director, is the ideal position for direction for then you will see the same field of action which the camera sees. If you will observe all the photographs of great directors in action you will notice that they are usually near the camera, in fact, they will be found just beside it, or immediately in front of and just far enough below the lens to escape blocking the lens view. In the course of my professional experience, I have known directors who stated that they could direct from the sidelines or other remote positions; but such directors are found in small companies and in small companies they will stay, for the feat is beyond the powers of vizualization possessed by any but a truly superman. Unquestionably the position of the cinematographer is the ideal directing position. This will be realized by amateurs who have experimented with various viewpoints when photo-graphing some scene or individual. A very slight, in-deed, an almost imperceptible, change in the position of the lens will often produce startling changes in the appearance of the finished print. If you have not tried this, take a reflecting camera and look into the hood. Swing the camera from side to side. Objects in the immediate foreground will cross the screen in the same direction in which the lens is moving, objects in the middle distance will move absolutely in the same direction, but relatively in the opposite direction, and objects in the background will move positively with the foreground but at a much slower rate. Now set the camera on a tripod, place yourself some feet to one side and with a notebook, sketch the relative positions of various objects within range of the lens as you think they will be rendered. Now go and look at your camera screen. Compare your sketch with the actual view. You will be amazed at the result. So, when you get your wife, or some friend to crank while you direct, remember to stay by the camera. Never go into the field of action and maul your actors around with your hands as though they were puppets. You will only get an abominable and unnatural stiffness. Tell them what you want done and let them do it. The interpretation of the actor may not be your interpretation, but you must remember that it is this very individuality and consequent variety in interpretation of action which gives that elusive personal quality to a photo-drama which makes for success. Direct action, suggest appropriate "business," but leave the details of interpretation to your actors. Remember that a super-abundance of individuality is the characteristic which has placed our great screen stars at the top of their profession.
As for the rules of direction, "There hain't no sech animile." The mathematician has set rules. To the best of my knowledge, two and two have made four ever since creation, but that is science. The rules of art are constantly transgressed to the infinite betterment of art, and directing is an art. How many of us remember the day when we bought our first simple box camera and read in the accompanying booklet such "rules" as: "Always have your subject brightly lighted," and "Never point your lens at the sun." These rules are excellent in their place, yet how many beautiful pictures have been produced by the transgression of these rules? This may seem to be a digression, but I cannot too strongly impress upon you that each of the following rules should carry the prefatory phrase, "When the action does not demand other-wise—" These rules are not arbitrary, but are the result of long experience of a generation of directors who have produced our professional photo-dramas. As they are primarily mechanical in origin, they are just as applicable to the home-playlet as to the most elaborate spectacle, in fact, more so, for the elaborate super-film may at times demand the transgression of every rule mentioned here, but the home-film will usually abide by them.
Do not let your actors carry their hands or other objects between their faces and the lens. In the photo-drama the face is the center of interest. The facial expression must bear the burden of telling the story, supported by such pantomime as may be used. Thus, the alternate hiding and disclosing of the face comes to the spectators like a periodic and annoying interruption while reading. However, in photographing a coquette flirting with her fan, it would be absurd to try to follow this rule. Also the grace of certain interpretative dances would be ruined by strict adherence to this rule. Neither should your actors thrust hatpins into their cigars in order to smoke without breaking the rule. A little thought will immediately show the necessity to ignore this rule.
Do not let one actor come between another actor and the lens any more than is vitally necessary. This requires a word of explanation. The supernumeraries, or the extras as they are more commonly called in motion picture work are not, strictly speaking, actors. Their true position is more exactly defined by the expression used by some directors to describe them collectively—"atmosphere." They fill out the scene just as do palm trees or steamer chairs. When the scene demands a crowd it would be absurd to film an empty set, but they are not actors and as such are to be absolutely disregarded in the above rule. The reason for the existence of this rule is aptly illustrated by the familiar story of the store-group photograph.
A large department store had a Circut photograph made of their employees. One diminutive cash girl carried her copy home and displayed it proudly to her mother. "See, mom," she said, "right here at this end is Sadie Milligan; then, see them legs just behind her? Well, that's me!"
So, in your motion work. Do not let any of your principals be so hidden that they have to be identified by "Them legs" or by any other detached portion of their anatomy. It will be thought naturally, using a typical example, that in making a motiograph of Baby that Mother is merely an accessory, atmosphere in fact; but to have her face alternately obscured and disclosed is even more nerve-racking than to see a snap-shot of a pretty girl from whose head a fully matured oak tree is growing. Keep your principals working in opposition and clear of each other—except where the action demands otherwise. A love scene would decidedly lack punch if the principals kept clear of each other. I do not wish to make a bore of myself by constantly repeating, "When the action does not demand otherwise," but it has been my experience that amateurs—tyros, rather—find a constant alibi in the expression, "The book says thus and so and I did thus and so." Remember, knowledge is the tool of the master. He knows the reason for the rule; and there-fore, knows when it should be broken. The best advice for the amateur who would be successful is this: Master your art!
Another test of the finished director is his ability to keep entrances and exits disentangled. They will prove most troublesome, and their apparent insignificance will but add to the difficulty, for until one film with scrambled entrances and exits has been made, the beginner in cinematography will very probably disregard them. Many otherwise good directors have to figure entrances or exits on paper, or have an assistant do it for them. One would naturally think that an actor could leave the screen at any desirable point and re-enter it at that spot which was the least obstructed ; but owing to a psychological twist of our minds, and one by-the-way which makes photo-drama possible, we are prone to follow the actor while he is absent from the screen. Should anything occur to disturb the direct continuity of this off-screen action we are vaguely disturbed and the resultant confusion of mind prevents a full enjoyment of the drama we are watching. To those to whom this subject is new, this sounds like sheer nonsense, yet careful thought and study of successful screen plays will demonstrate that some of the most important action, action in fact, upon which the whole story hangs sometimes, occurs off the screen. In describing the play to others we will include such incidents and many there are who would willing take oath that such action really appeared on the screen. This point leads to many heated arguments among theatre patrons in regard to past productions, for the individual will interpret off-screen action in the terms of his individuality, and this provides a constant source of difference. If all minds worked alike, entrances and exits could be disregarded, but owing to the individual interpretation of off-screen action, the most direct course must be pursued in order that there will be the slightest possible ground for misinterpretation on the part of the spectator and the consequent resumption of screen action be effected with as little shock as possible. Our hero may go from New York to Hong Kong in the interval between two scenes, or in the home-drama, Bob may go from his nursery to the neighbor's kitchen. He may run in circles or turn hand-springs while on the screen; but for the preservation of good technique, have each entrance correspond with the pre-ceding exit, and keep him going in a straight line off the screen.
To master this problem you must be able to visualize clearly the scene preceding the one upon which you are working. I do not mean the one which was made just before the one upon which you are working, but the one which will be shown upon the screen just before it, for scenes are not made in chronological order. Suppose that Bob leaves the nursery for the kitchen and leaves by a door at the left side of the room. We next go to the dining room and set up the camera in such a position that he will enter from the right, cross the screen and again leave at the left. Then to the kitchen and set up so that he will again enter from the right. Here he gets his cookie; and as this is a part of the dramatic action at his destination, he may go back and exit at the right on his way back to the nursery, and arriving there he will enter at the left by the same door used for an exit. This is a complete cycle of action. The entrances and exits are reversed, but only after action has been completed at the destination. The return journey is really another sequence and entrances and exits are studied for it only, not for the complete cycle. Now suppose that we had set up in the dining room and made our motiograph with entrance and exit reversed. We should feel that Bob had been somewhere doing something unknown to us and was returning, for his direction is reversed. Then if the kitchen shot followed, we should feel that the film was scrambled and the scenes joined out of their proper order, and our interest would be lost.
When Bob got his cookie, dramatic action was complete and he might on the contrary, have continued his walk and have gone out into the yard, in which case, although the dramatic action was complete, it was only incidental, and the final action would take place in the yard after which the return would be effected. Try to imagine the result—and I hope you will never see it except in imagination—should Bob leave the screen at the left and in the next scene enter from the left! In technical phrase he is meeting himself. No matter how trivial this sounds in theory, it is most confusing in reality and will inevitably result in the loss of continuity of interest on the part of the spectator. Keep your actors moving in a straight line off the screen unless there is a very good reason for doing otherwise and be sure that if there is such reason that it is immediately apparent to your audience.
Another closely related subject is that of off-screen vision. I do not mean the supernatural, dream or trick-vision. I mean the registration of some scene or object which lies beyond the limits of the screen, but which is seen by some actor on the screen. That is not very clear. Let us suppose then—to return to our typical baby—that he begins to look frightened. The audience may imagine that he sees a toad or a lion; but if we flash upon the screen a few feet of a huge, gray gander with head and wings outspread, every spectator actually sees this creature rushing upon the baby and they know at once that baby is frightened by the bird. This, despite the fact that in reality the gander may have been photographed a thousand miles away from the baby or that the baby may have never seen such a creature. Your audience sees this action as plainly as though both baby and bird were upon the screen at the same time. For this reason it is advisable to set up the camera so that if baby looks toward the left, the gander is shown rushing to the right. This gives the perfect illusion. An alternative method, used sometimes to create dramatic suspense is to place the camera in the position occupied by the actor and in this case the gander would appear rushing right into the lens. Could we temporarily acquire the mental processes of the baby, this would make a far more impressive scene than would the first method, but like all forceful elements in photo-drama, it must be handled properly and with the utmost attention to detail, otherwise it will not only fail to produce the desired effect, but will also ruin the continuity of interest. For home drama I strongly advise the first method. It is simpler, easier and produces the illusion of perfect continuity.
The illusion of coincidence may often be utilized for amusing and startling effects. Leaving baby for the time being, let us go forth and photograph a picnic of young people. They are all seated around the dinner cloth when Bob slyly tickles Mabel's neck with a straw. As a result she probably screams, jumps up and turns around. But, if Bob has been sly enough, there is no apparent reason for this particular bit of business when the picture is shown upon the screen. Then go forth into the woods and fields, or merely into the prosaic woodshed and get a few feet of a huge spider dangling from its gossamer thread. Insert this bit of film into the other, cutting just at the point where she gains her feet and whirls around, and the result will be convincing at least. Your spectators will afterward tell about seeing a picture of a picnic where a great nasty spider dropped right on Mabel's shoulder. Never fear, they will see that which is not. In this work the matching of backgrounds must be carefully done, and the cutting must be exact as explained under the heading "Editing," but in all motion work, the utmost care is necessary. You will now realize that the director must understand the practical application of psychology. In speaking of motion pictures, an old quotation may be aptly paraphrased, "Illusion, illusion, all is illusion."
Your principal character, or pair of characters in the conventional love plot, must stand out strongly from the other actors. Not only must he not be crossed, but every device such as a contrasting costume, placing him as constantly. in the foreground as is possible, and keeping his face constantly toward the camera, must be used to emphasize him. The successful photoplay is merely pantomime enacted by the principal and sup-ported by minor leads and extras. You may not use these terms, but your home motiographs will be the same, or they will gather dust upon the shelves. Any dramatic theme must have continuity or be lost. This continuity rests upon the shoulders of the leading character. For this reason the suppression of this character means the suppression of the continuity—unless the specific action demands otherwise. All action, insofar as is practical, should take place behind this character. Do not let minor characters pass between him and the lens, or in studio parlance, do not let them cross the lead. Of course, this rule is subject to the force of circumstance. Suppose for example, that Mother is the star, supported by the children as minor leads and Rover for atmosphere. Little Jimmy comes running in with a scratched finger and hastens to Mother for comfort. This is tense dramatic action. If he comes in unobtrusively from the rear, passing behind Mother he will appear before her before the spectators are well aware of his presence on the screen and all of the force of the incident will be lost; but if he comes in pell-mell from a position beside the camera and crosses Mother in his progress the audience is warned that something unusual has occurred and that a dramatic "punch" is coming. By the time he reaches her side they are all prepared for some action of importance. Even to those unfamiliar with the technique of the motion picture, it is at once apparent that any action important enough to warrant crossing the lead and temporarily obscuring all other action on the screen, is action of importance, indeed.
Another point of importance is that of tempo. Tempo, or the rapidity of action, has a marked effect upon the psychological effect of such action. You have all witnessed the tense crowds at a race, barely breathing as the horses come pounding across the line, and the hysterical outburst which marks the let-down after the finish of the race, yet who can imagine any such tense enthusiasm being exhibited at a snail race? Tempo is not amendable to strict rule; but it is usually a natural reaction. Briefly, all action should be some-what quickened as climaxes are approached, and slowed down to correspond to the relief following the climax. Youth, joy, sport and kindred subjects require a quickened tempo, while domestic scenes, fire-side scenes and idylls should be enacted with action slowed down. Avoid inappropriate action at all times. In real life people neither race to funerals nor walk with lagging steps to a fire.
Do not use unfinished action. This applies to action which has begun before the scene opens, as well as to that which is not completed at the close of the scene. If your actor is walking across the screen, do not open with him halfway across. If you use cross action at all, bring the actor into the scene after it has opened and continue it until he has left the screen. Of course, if the cross action is interrupted by dramatic action, as at the conclusion of a walk, the exit may be disregarded as it might well be inappropriate for the actor to leave the scene. For example, a scene might open empty and two lovers walk into the scene. Then if the dramatic climax is effected here it would be absurd to finish it and have the actors walk off the screen. The proper treatment is to fade out on the embrace. However, the rule applies to the straight cross action. It is also permissible to open on the actor when the action is oblique, that is if the actor is in the distance and advances into as well as across the screen. Owing to the perspective of the usual fifty millimeter lens the illusion of distance is well rendered. As the angle em-braced is much greater than the angle of sharp vision of the eye, an object at a given distance is disproportionately small when compared with actual vision, and this makes an actual distance of a hundred yards or so appear to be much greater. For this reason, opening on an actor at the distant end of an oblique cross walk does not jar as it does when he suddenly appears in the middle of the screen and calmly takes up a cross walk. Any scene which shows the progress of an actor from one point to another is termed a walk, no matter if he runs at headlong speed. So, cross walks are very useful in showing the progress of a journey, to establish the fact indisputably that the actor has embarked upon a journey or to show amusing or pertinent facts which occur during the journey. However, if you once begin to follow the actor on his journey, follow him throughout its length and show his arrival at his destination. For example, Johnny leaves the nursery and starts to the kitchen. Then, if you set up in the dining room and show him going through it you must also set up in the kitchen and show his arrival, other-wise you have left him hanging in space, perhaps to become a satellite of the earth, but whatever his ultimate destination, you have lost the continuity of interest of your audience. If, however, you merely omit the kitchen scene and photograph him upon his return, you have accomplished no purpose, you have him meeting himself and confusion results from the breaking of the rule of entrances and exits. If you don't want .to go into the kitchen, wait until he is about to re-enter the nursery and then start your next scene. He will not meet himself in this case, even though he leaves and re-enters through the same door, for the nursery is the scene of action and a complete cycle of off-screen action has occured. He leaves action and exits. He returns and resumes action. Thus, it will be seen that the care necessary with entrances and exits is usually applicable only to walks. The proper calculation of such action is based upon your everyday experience. You may leave a house by the front door, and later you may re-enter by the same door, all in the course of sane and reasonable action, but you seldom walk down the street, then abruptly back again without having reached any destination—unless you have for-gotten something —and let me say here, if you should be photographing such a scene, be sure to photograph the sudden hesitation, the thought and the turning and starting back. Don't merely show your actor passing to meet himself, leaving your audience to surmise that he has forgotten something.
This subject of finished action is closely interrelated to that of entrances and exits, yet they are absolutely different. Indeed, some of my readers may think that finished action is that part of the work which sets at naught the rules of entrances and exits, and such is rather near the truth. Let each scene on the screen have definite purpose. Thus, walks show definite progress from one point to another and during its progress entrances and exits should comply with the rule but the beginning or termination of important action occurs in a scene which might be termed a focus of action, and in such all entrances and exits will be such as are the most natural for the action involved. Sup-pose your setting was a room, the door at the right opening outdoors and that at the left disclosed a bathroom. Through a window at the.. rear a beating rain may be seen. The hero dons a rubber coat and steps forth into the storm. It is reasonable and proper far him to re-enter by the same door. If he were to re-enter by the door at the left, according to the rule of entrances, the spectators would not only wonder how he got into the bathroom, but they might also wonder at his unorthodox method of taking a shower. If not otherwise demanded by the action it is well, when an actor leaves a focus of action, for him to re-enter by the same door. It indicates a completed cycle, his absence causes no confusion, and his position is immediately identified. Upon reflection you will realize that when you leave the house or room upon one definite errand you usually return through the same door. This is in direct contradiction to the general rule governing entrances and exits, and may prove a bit confusing; but a little thought will show the reason for such contradiction. All of these rules only serve to smooth the way for the spectator. We live in the midst of drama, but it is obscured by the multitude of petty detail which fills our lives. The dramatist strips everyday life of such detail and making complexity simple he displays to our sight the pure gold of drama recovered from the dross of life. So remember, the simplest complete action is the best. A pertinent detail here and there helps the general atmosphere at times, but irrelevant detail must be suppressed.
Do not let your actors look into the lens of the camera. The screen often displays the most intimate action. Action which we should not commonly have the opportunity to observe in real life. The position of the spectator is analogous to that of the spy. He sees the most private action, but by a peculiar psychological reaction, his personality is merged with that of one of the leading characters, so the impropriety of peeping is not felt. If, however, the actor looks into the lens, he looks directly into the eyes of each individual spectator in the audience. This breaks the illusion of merged personality and brings home the feeling of being caught in the act of spying upon the private life of our neighbors. Suppose you were watching a man through a powerful telescope so far distant from him that you know he cannot see you. You are perfectly comfortable as long as he looks away, but let him look directly at you and you will feel uncomfortable, even though you know he cannot distinguish you.
This rule is broken often, especially in the large studios where actors and actresses of proved ability are employed. It is also used by some news men in photographing figures of importance. In the studio it is most often used in connection with the closeup to register intense emotion, and in the resulting surge of emotion in the audience, the guilty feeling is lost. The newsman is photographing events of the most public nature, and if he can get a motiograph of the President looking directly into the lens he has obtained a film which when projected will give to each spectator a most delightful sense of intimacy with the head of our nation, for on the screen the President looks directly into the eyes of each spectator, and he feels that he has in a measure had a direct conversation with the chief executive. So, the rule may be transgressed in order to create a sympathetic reaction among the audience, but it is a dangerous business in drama, and I would advise the amateur to avoid it.
A volume could be filled with rules, but those given will serve to guide the way, and the fewer rules which can be used, the more artistic will be the result. Many directors have certain methods of procedure which are not observed by others, but these are idiosyncracies and to follow them would result in an imitation of the technique of that particular director, and as most imitations are, it would be a weak, washed-out thing.
It is best for the amateur cinematographer to start with a very few actors in his productions. Anyone familiar with any phase of camera work knows that the instant anyone sees a camera pointed at him, he begins to pose, consciously or otherwise. This is ruinous in motion work, and upon the shoulders of the cinematographer rests the responsibility of seeing that the action is at all times spontaneous, or at least, apparently so. This means, of course, that all actors must be watched constantly; and at the first hint of stiffness, be warned against it. For the beginner to try to make a motiograph with a dozen actors or so on the screen at one time, none of whom have ever had screen-acting experience, is to court disaster. The effort of trying to keep all of them acting smoothly will confuse the cinematographer. Then he will neglect some while trying to correct others, his resultant confusion will be transmitted to his cranking, and the camera had better be stopped. In this connection it might not be amiss to mention the length of scenes. It is apparent that the longer the action, the more difficult it is to keep all going smoothly. You may easily walk a dozen steps with an armload of boat oars on your shoulder, but try to carry them a hundred yards and you will have trouble. The usual action outlined by the amateur will run from one to five minutes, dull, slow, monotonous and filled with superfluous detail. Boil it down! Retain only the meat of the scene! It is an unusually important scene, even in professional work which runs for a minute on the screen. I can count upon the fingers of one hand all of the times I have seen a professional scene of such length ! Go to the theatre and time the scenes. You will be amazed to find the number of scenes of twenty, fifteen seconds, and less. Keep your motiograph "peppy." Just as verbosity ruins a story, so excess footage ruins a film. Remember that the bulk of the action takes place off the screen, in point of time at least, and you show only enough of the high-lights, so to speak, to enable the spectator to follow the continuity. When you go to the theatre, calculate the time covered by the story. The film will probably be in less than ten reels. In this case you have witnessed action in natural tempo, lasting two hours and forty minutes, yet the dramatic time elapsed may be from six hours to ten thousand years. Two hundred feet of sixteen millimeter film, or five hundred feet of standard gauge film is ample to photograph a complete and interesting home playlet with a screen time of eight minutes. Now wait a minute! Sit down and time eight minutes by your watch before you express your disgust. A cinematographic minute has sixty full seconds in it, each -an appreciable interval of time.
I shall now mention two more points, far more professional in character, with the hope that the advanced amateur will incorporate them in his home dramas to their infinite betterment. These two points are the closeup and the fades, both very common, in fact there is rarely a professional motiograph made which does not include both. They are, however, difficult to master, and must be used properly or the photo-play would be better without them.
The close-up, a discovery attributed, I believe, to D. W. Griffith, is practical only when using an actor who is capable of registering emotion in a most convincing manner, or when using a character actor who is a past master in the use of make-up and facial expression. In close-up work every bit of skill which the cinematographer possesses is called upon, and the make-up must be perfect. Motion film cannot be retouched and the lens does not flatter. The close-up is only appropriate in the display of the stress of emotion and in emphasizing action which is so subtle that it might not otherwise be appreciated. It is evident that such work requires a finished actor, the only others who provide satisfactory close-ups are infants who are too young to be self-conscious and the lower order of animals. They may, of course, be used for home portraiture, and as such will provide invaluable records for future reference, but in dramatic action, they may as a rule, be dispensed with in the home playlet. How-ever, if you are filled with true amateur enthusiasm, and have an actor, or actress, whom you believe to be competent, go ahead! Success adds immeasurably to the home film as well as to the professional variety.
Do not confuse the close-up with the insert. The insert is a close-up of a letter, a knife or other inanimate object which serves to call the attention of the audience unmistakably to the object in question, so its connection with later developments may be understood.
This brings up the question of semi-close-up, medium shot, full shot, medium long shot, long shot and so forth. There is no set rule for these terms, which are used by professionals to give merely a general idea of the action involved. I heard one cameraman give the following rules. Close-up, cut at shoulders, semi close-up, cut just above waist; medium shot, cut at knee; full shot, cut to include feet; medium long shot, vertical dimension of frame three to five times as high as an adult; long shot, to include buildings in their entirety. It will be seen that even such a set of rules must be very elastic, and are but vague at best. They may be convenient for the amateur in conversation, but in practice, common sense is the best guide, and the shot may be called by any name. A full shot by any other name will look as good. Set your camera to include the desired action without crowding and "shoot." If you desire to photograph an animated conversation, cut the actors at thigh or waist if you choose,—people nowa-days don't talk with their toes. But a dancer, cut at the knees, would be absurd. Use common sense. Don't try to include the whole universe. Get important action and let the rest take care of itself.
We are all familiar with the screen phenomenon in which the screen appears black and the picture gathers substance, and conversely that in which the picture fades from the screen leaving it black. These are known respectively as the fade-in and the fade-out. The fades are used to separate sequences, or units of action, one of which may include a dozen or more scenes. As it is often more simply explained, the fade indicates a lapse of time, but this explanation must be given the broadest possible interpretation. The lapse of time may be a minute or it may be unnumbered years, whatever it is it is sufficient for a change in the cycle of action.
This system is arbitrary and overworked. It is not understood by the majority of film fans, except as the fade eases up the tenseness of their minds unconsciously. It is widely used for padding an otherwise too short film. For example, a youth grows to manhood. If the film is running short, and this event takes place well along in the course of the drama, a producer may insert a fairly long title explaining the lapse of time and insert it by direct cut. It is understood that the preceding action has been brought to a dramatic close and the succeeding will be opened properly, but with all fades eliminated. The producer who finds his action running short will fade out on the youth, fade in on a lengthy and elaborate art title, fade-out the title and fade in on the succeeding action. Thus, sixteen feet is added to the reel without increasing the action. Other producers cut the titles in between fades. This is a fruitful source of argument, and as yet there is no standard. It is usually regarded that the proper technique is to invariably follow a fade-out with a fade-in; but personally it seems to me to be a waste of film to put a fade on both ends of a title merely because it is inserted between a fade-out and. a fade-in. It serves no distinct purpose and the practice is only observed in order to follow the rule. However, this is a matter for the operator to decide for himself.
The fade mechanism alone of the high-grade camera costs more than the usual amateur outfit complete, so the ordinary amateur will not possess this refinement. However, a very good fade can be produced after a little practice by using the diaphragm as a fade shutter. The diaphragm should have a lever attached so that the actual movement may be as great as possible. The Ertel De Franne has an ideal diaphragm for hand dissolve work. The proper diaphragm opening for the work in hand is determined. Then the diaphragm is closed as tightly as possible. All actors are prepared for work, the hand is placed in front of the lens and cranking started. Immediately the hand is removed from the front of the lens and the diaphragm opened with a steady uniform motion until the predetermined mark is reached. This operation should take about four seconds. When the sequence—not the scene, mind you, but the sequence—is ended, close the diaphragm steadily, when it is closed place the hand over the lens, continue cranking for a turn or two and the fade-out is complete. This work is not necessary for the success of the motiograph, and it is difficult to obtain until after practice, but it does unquestionably add to the finished product.
This chapter might go on indefinitely, but there is a limit to the space at hand and to the patience of my readers, I hope that the salient points of direction, as applicable to the amateur and the aspiring news man, have been covered at least to such an extent that the details may be worked out easily. The chapter may seem to be unnecessarily professional in character, but all points mentioned are just as applicable to the modest home drama as to the professional, multiple reel spectacle. As I have said, these rules are not as the laws of the Medes and the Persians. They are more nearly guide posts which may point the way around pitfalls. If they have been found to improve the quality of professional photo-dramas does it not seem logical to sup-pose that they will improve the home-drama? I have used the terms "actor," "drama," "cinematographer," "director" and other technical phrases. This does not imply that the home-drama should be an attempt at romance or adventure. Any person being photographed by a motion picture camera is essentially an actor. Any action worth photographing, no matter how simple, has dramatic elements. Likewise, the man who manipulates the crank of a motion picture camera is a cinematographer; and if he instructs his actors he is also a director. The terms are convenient—they do not deal with strange facts. We have all been actors at some time or another—either that or some of my readers are more sincere than any person it has been my good fortune to meet.