Monday, July 20, 2009

Traps and Effects

In this weeks column, Martin addresses the drummer and sound effects, with special attention to those effects that a small exhibitor would most likely need. Near the end of the article, he presents a couple of pieces of advice for the pianist: play throughout the showing of the picture and be sure to have exit music playing at the end of the show until the last person leaves the theater.
Since I have been conducting my article's in The Index I have received many letters from musicians asking suggestions for appropriate music for certain releases that have been booked in their theatres for some future date. It is very gratifying indeed to know that the musicians" in the better class of theatres are looking after the details of the picture music and bettering their own conditions,' as well as the conditions of the theatres.

I will be glad to receive suggestions at any time from picture musicians, and at any time I can be of service and give advice on appropriate music for any certain release I will do so either by letter or through the columns of the Index.

Last week I received an inquiry, from a Western exhibitor asking for a list of the most important traps and effects to be used by the drummer and behind the screen. From the tone of the letter I was led to believe the exhibitor was located in a small town with a limited number of amusement seekers to draw from, but was willing to take a chance at educating more picture fans by improving his show as much as his income would allow. I believe there are many more of the smaller exhibitors that are willing to spend a little money on effects, and for their special benefit publish the list I believe to be complete for the small town show.

On the drummer's rack I would advise, as the most essential effects,

Sand Blocks
Crash Cymbal
Wood Block
Tom Tom
Electric Door Bell

The balance of the effects should be handled from behind the screen, and you should make it a point to have a competent person in charge of the concealed effects, as the least mistake on the part of your effect man may ruin a scene or possibly a whole picture. The most important line of effects to be used behind the screen consists of

Baby Cry
Rooster Crow
Hen Cackle
Mocking Bird Whistle
Steamboat Whistle
Sleigh Bells
Tugboat Whistle
Locomotive Whistle
Horse Hoof Imitation
Train Imitation
Midway Musette
Dog Bark
Cow Bawl
Wind Machine
Auto Horn
Thunder Sheet

It is seldom that you will find use for some of these effects, but it is well to have them on hand. Take, for instance, such a picture as “The Legacy," that clever production, by the Vitagraph Company; just think what a help your tug and steamboat whistles would be to the scene where the old couple is shown on the ferry, crossing over to the New York side. The reason I mention this picture in particular, the first matinee this picture was run in our theatre, the effect man was on the job, but the only thing he had was one tug and one steamboat whistle, and the Hudson River was a very tame affair that afternoon. But after the matinee I searched the town over and scared up fifteen or twenty good whistles. That night everyone around the theatre with a good pair of lungs was on the job, and when the ferry scene came on, well, we nearly made the Hudson backwater to Albany. And the best part of it was the scene got a big hand and the picture caused so much comment the management kept the picture on and featured it for four days, matinee and night. This is what convinces me that the audience wants effects.

By the way, did you use a phonograph on the effect list when you run the Edison release of October 11? There was another chance for an inexpensive effect to make the hit of the show. Give them something different whenever you get the chance, and you will soon have them talking about your show, and when you get them talking you can get their loose change.

Another impressive effect that can be worked by the drummer is a roll on the crash cymbal. Don't run a good thing in the ground, but wait until you get such a picture as the Pathe release of Saturday, October 8, "An Indian's Gratitude," and in the scene where the Indian turns and falls over the 250-foot cliff you can make your audience stand up if you will give a roll on the crash cymbal. Don't work this on every little
fall; wait for a novelty like this Pathe picture and then you will take the audience by surprise.

The use of a thunder sheet is very seldom called for, unless you use it in such a picture as the Vitagraph release of November 19, "Francesca Da Rimini." Through the last scenes of the picture, during the approaching storm, try and work the effect of distant thunder, and then, when the cripple raises his dagger to kill, work up the scene with loud thunder from behind the screen, a roll on the crash cymbal is the drummer's end of the work; then, when the bolt of lightning strikes the lovers dead, muffle the vibration of the cymbal and thunder sheet so that the second they fall to the floor the house is quiet, and let the piano music fade away with the light on the picture. By handling the climax in this way It will be In keeping with the conception the producer hag portrayed.

A musician should never stop playing through the showing of a picture. This is a great mistake that you will frequently find in the big houses as well as the small ones. This is one reason why I say there is no orchestra that can play the picture properly, for the simple reason, the music of an orchestra is limited, and they are obliged to stop at times in the middle of a picture and wait their chance to go ahead.

This point was illustrated to me while on a short trip to Chicago. I happened to stroll into one of the largest picture houses in that city and I believe, there was a Biograph on the screen. When I entered I was surprised not to hear music. By the time I was seated I had come to the conclusion the orchestra was either eating their lunch in the pit or had sent a representative to the box office with a request for more money. I had still another surprise coming, for, at the finish of the picture every one in the orchestra sat up, took notice, and, as the last ten feet of the film passed through machine they struck a chord and went into the introduction of the illustrated song. I went from there to a five-cent picture house just a round the corner and found the same picture on the program that I had just seen at the larger house. The music at the five-cent house consisted of piano and drums, and when this same picture was thrown on the screen you would have been surprised to hear what that piano player made out of the picture. It is the same old story every place you go an orchestra either plays long andantes and waltzes, or they sit and watch the picture.

Another thing that should be remembered by the musicians: Don't cut your chaser short. If it is the last show for the evening play until nearly every one is out of the house. By doing this you send them away in good spirits. If you are running illustrated songs or a spotlight song in connection with the pictures, and you have a song that has made a hit with the crowd it is a very good idea to play the chorus over for a chaser. I figure if I can play a chaser that will have the audience humming as they leave the theatre I have won a good point. In my next article I will show how it is possible to advertise a picture in such a way as to help the musicians in their work.
Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 10 December 1910, 5.

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