The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960

By David Bordwell; Janet Staiger et al. | Go to book overview

13

The division and order of production: the subdivision of the work from the first years through the 1920s

By the mid-teens, the feature had established its dominance over the one-reelers, and production, distribution, and exhibition practices standardized the product's design and marketing. The production system for which Hollywood would become famous was in full operation. The standard working procedure involved a producer, a large, fully-staffed studio, a set of departmentalized technical workers and specialists, all guided by a continuity script. This system is particularly manifest in the physical plant of a Hollywood studio. As a major producer of multiple-reel films, the Lasky studio in 1918 (see fig 13.1) was described by Photoplay as 'a veritable city within a city.' Following the numbers around the lot, we note whole buildings devoted to properties (1, 2, and 11), wardrobes (4 and 30), casting (5), management (6, 7, and 26), direction (8), story selection and screenwriting (9), art direction (13 [Wilfred Buckland's office]), scene docks and set construction (15, 20, 27, 29, 31-4). Besides open stages (12 and 19), there were glass-enclosed ones (17, 18, and 23) and even a 'dark stage' (22). A large back lot with standing sets (37) and a sailboat in a tank (21) provided massive, three-dimensional exteriors-close to the rest of the studio. Also included were hospital facilities (24) and a full service system with 'police, fire, street cleaning, water and electrical departments.' Photoplay reported that the studio used so much lumber that it had bought a tract of timberland in Oregon and a private sawmill and steamers to transport the wood to Southern California. 1 If there was a 'golden age' of the studio, it is in full operation by 1918. The last three chapters have focused on the management hierarchy; now we need to review how the work was executed and how it became systematized during the central producer period.

In the early years of filmmaking. the cameraman for all intents and purposes created the entire product on his own In later years. the firms split the work into more and finer suodivisions and achieved a set regime. One might think of the subdivision of the execution of the work as a tree with its trunk in an earlier period and its branches at later points. The trunk contained all the work functions unified in one worker. At one historical juncture, a set of subdivisions, main branches, appears. Later, these branches subdivide again.

These subdivisions can be attributed to several causes, two of which are most pertinent. For economic reasons, subdividing the work into small segments allowed expertise and increased speed and efficiency. Moreover, the standards of the quality film caused certain work positions to appear. It is true that production practices, on occasion, caused certain stylistic techniques. But overall, Hollywood's production practices need to be seen as an effect of economic and ideological/ signifying practices. In some instances, as we have seen, a production practice affected the film's style, but in general, we have to look elsewhere for explanations of why films looked and sounded as they did.

About 1907, with the increased production of narratives and the ascension of the director system of management, the first set of subdivisions appeared. The second set occurred in the mid-teens, simultaneous with the move to the central producer. At this point, the new standards for the quality film created greater attention to continuity, verisimilitude, narrative clarity, and spectacle. As design and quality standards become more complicated, film companies established jobs

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