Friday, February 5, 2010

How Talking Pictures Are Made

This feature article looks at actors behind the screen from the producer's perspective. It seems to have been published as part of the publicity for Humanovo, along with Actologue, one of the more prominent companies staging "talking pictures" by synchronizing live voices to the images. Humanovo used the system of a rehearsed company that went on a circuit with a film; this differs from the system employed later by the theaters detailed by the New York Times and Washington Post, where the actors were hired, much like musicians, for extended runs by a particular theater.

How Talking Pictures are Made.

Scarcity of Picture Actors

Since the advent of the moving picture as an amusement feature no phase of the industry has ever become so popular as the talking picture.

Various devices of a phonographic nature have been placed on the market, and some of them have been in a large measure successful, but they have all, more or less, been characterized by the unnatural and discordant mechanical grate so usual with most forms of talking machine.

The most successful idea in the talking picture field is the plan recently introduced by Will H. Stevens, of New York City, and which consists of a small cast of versatile actors who speak the lines which are apropos to the various characters from behind the screen, and who imitate the different sounds descriptive of the varied situations in the picture.

The above system was termed “Humanovo” and was a phenomenal success from the start. Many different companies were sent out, each with one or more reels of film, and in most cases playing week stands. The Humanovo, like all successful undertakings, soon had its imitators, and up to the present moment there are at least a dozen different concerns engaged in the promotion of moving talking pictures.

The putting out of this new form of talking picture, is by no means as simple as one might at first imagine, and it requires a thoroughly competent and long-experienced stage director to select suitable people and to rehearse the varied subjects. Many inexperienced and incompetent people have naturally drifted into the business, but their efforts are always immediately recognizable by the marked insipidity and amateurishness of their productions. In the staging of the talking picture there are many important details to consider, and the smallest detail is ofttimes the most important. It is, of course, imperative, that the author of the dialogue for the different parts be a writer of ability, with an all-round experience of foreign travel and a good knowledge of human nature. He must also be of an imaginative nature and quick eye, as the overlooking of small situation is sometimes apt to spoil the entire story. The writer must now be assisted by a rapid and able stenographer who can take down the lines as fast as the composer speaks them off. In the framing up of the impromptu dialogue for the talking picture, the reel is usually run off a few time to enable the producer to become familiar with his subject.

The lines and business are then crudely recorded in shorthand and are afterwards typed and modified, and the characters are sorted out to suit the different talkers. The actors are then rehearsed, and after a few suggestions and alterations, the company is ready for the road.

In the selection of actors some judgment must be used, and care must be taken to secure, when possible, people [138] properly fitted for the work. They should be possessed of good voices, above all things, as in talking behind a picture screen much depends upon the carrying power of the voice, as a feeble voice is unable to penetrate through the sheet and is soon lost in the echoes of the fly-loft. The talking picture actor should be a good all-around player and an artist, capable of extemporizing when occasion demands. In the rehearsing of talking pictures attention should be paid to mechanical effects, as thereupon depends much of the success of the picture. It is the better policy to allow the talkers themselves to work their own effects, as they are the most familiar with the subject, and will get better results than by relying upon the different house employees, who are often neglectful and careless, and are often absent when the cue for the effect arrives.

Now that the regular season is at hand it will perhaps be a matter of some difficulty to obtain capable people for the now popular talking picture, as most actors and actresses are either already on the road or are rehearsing for some legitimate production. The talking picture producer is unable to pay large salaries, and amateurs and dramatic students are being largely utilized. Much of the success of the talking film depends upon the competency of the talkers, and it is to be deplored that good professional people are so scarce. When the talking picture man is able to pay higher price for talent, the pictures will be materially improved; as it is, many companies are doing excellent work, and there is a demand for this kind of attraction all over the country.

The Humanovo pictures were put out during the light season and and some excellent talent was secured, the people being recruited from the ranks of the many thespians who were at that time idling and who were glad to take advantage of the opportunity it presented to earn a few dollars during the light season. The work was easy, as it does not necessitate any changes of costume or facial make-up. For this reason, and in spite of the small remuneration, many of the people have stayed in the work, but with the springing up of so many new producing concerns, and with the increased demand for picture actors, it seems as though the demand will more than counterbalance the supply, and will necessitate the employing of many who are hardly proficient enough for the work, which will be the cause of many weak and unsatisfactory productions.
The talking picture is in demand to-day, and is sure to have a big run during the coming season, and it is more than probable that most every picture theater that can afford the extra expense, will make it a feature until something newer and more suitable turns up to replace it.
Sidney Wise, “How Talking Pictures are Made,” Moving Picture World 22 August 1908, 137-38.