2

International Expansion, 1907-1918

2.1 The exterior and interior of a typical nickelodeon, c. 1909.


THE UNITED STATES

The Early Industrial Production Process

By 1908 the cinema had risen from the status of a risky commercial venture to that of a permanent and full-scale, if not yet a major and respectable, industry. In that year, there were ten thousand nickelodeons and one hundred film exchanges operating in the United States, and they were supplied by about twenty "manufacturers" who churned out films at the rate of one to two one-reelers per director per week. A similar situation existed on the Continent and in Britain, and by the time Griffith entered the cinema, the studios or "factories" of the Western world could scarcely keep up with the public demand for new films. Furthermore, the novelty of the medium was such that almost anything the studios could produce, regardless of quality, was gobbled up by the international network of distribution and exchange. Although the introduction of mercury-vapor lamps encouraged several companies to construct indoor studios as early as 1903, films were generally shot out of doors in a single day on budgets of two hundred to five hundred dollars and rigorously limited to one reel of about one thousand feet in length, with a running time of ten to sixteen minutes, depending on projection speed. Nearly all of them were put together on an assembly-line basis following the stagebound narrative conventions of Méliès and the overlapping continuities of Porter, with natural backgrounds and few, if any, retakes. Not surprisingly, industry emphasis on speed and quantity of production militated against creative experiment and demanded the detailed division of labor described by Lewis Jacobs in The Rise of the American Film:

Action was divided into scenes, and these were photographed in consecutive order. The number of scenes was limited to seven or eight, each 100 to 150 feet long, in order to keep the story within the 1,000‐ foot length in which the raw film came.... Increased production necessitated more people and a division of duties to speed the output. By 1908 directing, acting, photographing, writing, and laboratory work were separate crafts, all of equal status. Each worker regarded himself as a factory hand, lacking only a time-clock ritual for concrete evidence of his position. No one received any screen credit for the work he did, for, as the employers realized, a public reputation would mean higher wages. Besides, most of the directors, actors, and cameramen who had come to the movies were more or less ashamed of their connection with them; they stayed in their jobs because they needed work, and they gave little thought to the medium's possibilities or

-32-

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