Ince, Thomas H.
Ince, Thomas H. 1882-1924
(Full name Thomas Harper Ince) American filmmaker.
A prolific director and producer of the silent film era, Ince is regarded as a pioneer in the motion picture industry and generally credited with streamlining the modern method of studio filmmaking. He is principally noted for his introduction of very detailed, written "continuities"—later known as shooting scripts—into the filmmaking process, an innovation that greatly improved efficiency and quality in Hollywood films. Also among his accomplishments, Ince is thought to have elevated the film genre of the Western to the level of true art with his production of The Aryan. While Ince personally directed many of his features at the beginning of his career, including his early triumph The Battle of Gettysburg, and produced hundreds more, he is generally remembered for his work as the executive producer and creative force behind a multitude of motion pictures, including the antiwar film Civilization.
Ince was born in Newport, Rhode Island on 6 November 1882. His father was a comedian, and from his youth Ince took acting jobs in vaudeville and stage dramas. Later he defected to the new medium of film, performing for Carl Laemmle's Independent Motion Pictures (IMP) Company and others. Ince directed his first motion picture, entitled Little Nell's Tobacco, for IMP in 1910. After completing several more films for Laemmle and agreeing to direct a series of movies starring Mary Pickford, Ince signed on with the New York Motion Picture Company in late 1911, and began making pictures, mostly Westerns, in Los Angeles. With some hundred shorter films to his credit, Ince began work on his first full-length feature, The Battle of Gettysburg. After completing the film in 1913, Ince ceased the work of direction himself for all but a few projects, delegating this responsibility to such notables as Reginald Barker, Fred Niblo, Lambert Hillyer, William S. Hart, Roland Lee, and Frank Borzage. In 1915, Ince and his business associates formed their own production company, Triangle. The success of his works with Triangle, including Civilization, allowed Ince to build a large studio complex at Culver City in 1916. Ince departed Triangle in 1918 to form his own production company. He eventually joined Associated Producers, Inc. in 1919 and continued to produce a great number of films for the next several years after Associated Producers was absorbed by First National in 1922. In November of 1924, Ince attended a party on the yacht of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. He was carried off the boat and died of heart failure two days later amid unsubstantiated rumors of scandal and foul play.
Critics have found Ince's contribution to the motion picture industry somewhat difficult to evaluate. From 1910 to 1913, when he was still directing his films, he created a series of popularly successful, realistic Westerns, most notably War on the Plains and the well-regarded Civil War picture The Battle of Gettysburg, a film that no longer exists. A collaborator for the majority of his career, Ince's credit on most of his later films is as executive producer. Fulfilling this role, Ince insisted that his directors follow strict shooting scripts, which included detailed commentary on sets, costumes, camera angles, and the various other minutiae of filmmaking, factors which are generally left in the hands of individual directors. Ince is also generally credited with the technical innovations of such films as The Bargain, which features a series of powerful exterior shots of a picturesque Arizona canyon. Again as a producer, Ince is said to have infused the genre of the Western with the grandeur of legend in The Aryan. Considered Ince's greatest production, the propaganda film Civilization dramatizes the evils of war in grandiose spectacle. A submarine commander unwilling to torpedo a passenger ship, the hero of Civilization opens the way to mutiny and precipitates the destruction of his sub. Following his death, his soul travels to Purgatory and to Heaven, where he is redeemed by Christ.
In the early days of film, many of Ince's motion pictures were immensely successful and lucrative ventures. In the years since his death, critical speculation as to Ince's legacy in the history of film has been the source of considerable contention. Scholars in America have generally acknowledged Ince's business acumen, eye for talent, and innovative systemization of the filmmaking process. A contingent of European film historians, however, have taken a broader view. Led by the influential French critic Jean Mitry, European commentators have viewed Ince as an original artist whose influence rivals that of filmmaker D. W. Griffith. Mitry has remarked, "If Griffith was the first poet of an art whose basic syntax he created, one could say that Ince was its first dramaturgist. His experiments, in fact, were based on the composition of original themes, on the expression of ideas. . . . He was able to guide and discipline his collaborators only because, like them, he was a director, and superior to them."
Little Nell's Tobacco (film) 1910
A Manly Man (film) 1911
The Aggressor (film) 1911
Artful Kate (film) 1911
Behind the Stockade (film) 1911
The Dream (film) 1911
The Fisher-Maid (film) 1911
For Her Brother's Sake (film) 1911
Her Darkest Hour (film) 1911
In Old Madrid (film) 1911
In the Sultan's Garden (film) 1911
Maid or Man (film) 1911
The Message in the Bottle (film) 1911
The New Cook (film) 1911
The New Cowboy (film) 1911
The Silver Dollar (film) 1911
Sweet Memories of Yesterday (film) 1911
Their First Misunderstanding (film) 1911
The Winning of Wonega (film) 1911
A Double Reward (film) 1912
Across the Plains (film) 1912
The Battle of the Red Men (film) 1912
The Colonel's Ward (film) 1912
The Crisis (film) 1912
Custer's Last Fight (film) 1912
The Deserter (film) 1912
For Freedom of Cuba (film) 1912...
(The entire section is 271 words.)
SOURCE: Chapter XV and Chapter XVI, in Motion Picture Directing: The Facts and Theories of the Newest Art, Falk Publishing Co., Inc., 1922, pp. 136-51.
[In the following excerpt, Milne describes Ince's strict film production process and lists several studio directors who successfully used his methods.]
As a general rule there is no love lost between directors and scenario writers. This is particularly the case in the big producing companies where directors work more or less on a schedule, an elastic schedule to be sure, but nevertheless a schedule. In these companies a director seldom has a chance to co-operate with the scenario writer on the construction of a continuity. Sometimes he has complaints on it which are never taken up and discussed due to lack of time. As a result the director blames the scenario writer for the mistakes in the finished picture.
With the case of the directors who have proven themselves in an artistic way, it will be found that the majority of them have much to say about the handling of their stories in continuity form. They either actually co-operate on the writing of the continuity from which they are to work or they claim to discard continuities altogether and work from notes, a brief synopsis or—from the head.
Both the De Milles have much to say about the writing of continuities from which they work. As a consequence when it comes to...
(The entire section is 2701 words.)
SOURCE: "The Challenge for the Motion Picture Producer," in The First Film Makers, edited by Richard Dyer MacCann, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1989, pp. 110-14.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1925, Ince expresses his desire for clarity, continuity, intensity, and above all realism in motion pictures.]
We are living in an age when the white light of criticism is turned upon accepted and established standards in all phases of life. The old order of things has passed, and all over the world worn-out traditions and methods are toppling. We are in the grip of another renaissance, a revolution of ideals. Like the phoenix of mythology, the new world order is rising out of the ashes of the old.
The picture of yesterday fulfilled its mission, giving way to the newer and higher standards demanded of the picture of today. And because some of the modern productions are now reaching such a high standard, the public has learned to expect even greater achievements. Picturegoers have shown their faith in us, and by that very faith they have thrown us a challenge to produce bigger and better pictures. Are we going to accept that challenge and make the picture of tomorrow take its rightful place in the onward march of progress? I, for one, pledge myself to this task.
The demand for better pictures is universal. On that point we all agree. But that demand brings up the...
(The entire section is 1993 words.)
SOURCE: "Thomas H. Ince Was the Pioneer Producer Who Systematized the Making of a Movie," in Films in Review, Vol. XI, No. 8, October, 1960, pp. 464-84.
[In the following essay, Mitchell details lnce's life and career as a film director-producer.]
Thomas H. Ince, one of the more important of the pioneer filmmakers and one of the most interesting of the early producers, was only 43 when he died, suddenly, in 1924.
Today film historians are divided in their estimates of him. Some dismiss him as merely a commercial producer, who contributed nothing of lasting significance. Some praise his contributions to scenario construction and film editing, which, they say, did much to elevate the motion picture in its formative years. In France Ince has even been called "the equal, if not the master" of D. W. Griffith.
He was neither, but he nonetheless deserves a prominent place in film history. It was he who systematized the production methods, inaugurated by J. Stuart Blackton, which are the standard operating procedures of the motion picture industry today. In doing this Ince made his greatest contribution to motion picture technique: he proved that filmmaking is better, as well as more economical, when a scenario is complete to the last detail before shooting begins.
Ince was a demanding man, but he could do, and often did, the things he demanded of...
(The entire section is 8826 words.)
SOURCE: "Thomas H. Ince: His Esthetic, His Films, His Legacy," in Cinema Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2, Winter, 1983, pp. 2-17.
[In the following essay, which was first published in 1965, Mitry evaluates Ince as an artist rather than as a businessman or technical innovator.]
If D. W. Griffith can be called the earliest poet of an art whose basic syntax he elaborated, then Ince can be said to be its earliest dramatist.
Indeed, his explorations of the medium dealt far more with plot construction, with original subject matter and with the expression of ideas—allowances being made for the means at his disposal—than with technical innovation.
Unlike Griffith, staging for Ince was a secondary concern and consequently his personal touch is to be found elsewhere. It would thus be incorrect to speak of his "style" if indeed style subsists more in a work's outward form than in its spirit. It would, however, be quite legitimate to speak of an esthetic, of a certain concept of what a movie is which runs throughout his films, making them so many diverse instances of a single underlying intention.
His primary concern was to establish an equilibrium between form and content, between the means of expression and the dramatic exigencies of the theme, imposing on the latter...
(The entire section is 7331 words.)
SOURCE: "Dividing Labor for Production Control: Thomas Ince and the Rise of the Studio System," in Cinema Journal, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 16-25.
[In the following essay, Staiger argues that although Ince may be seen as an innovator in the film industry his improvements generally reflect the adoption of scientific management and the division of labor to the process of filmmaking.]
Thomas Ince was a classic case of a stage actor who, during a brief period of unemployment in 1910, turned to the fledgling movies as a source of income.1 Yet his long-term impact on filmmaking would be very great indeed. Working first for IMP and then Biograph, he returned to IMP when promised a chance to direct. He completed his first film in December 1910. Ince soon tired of the one-reel format, however, and accepted a position in the fall of 1911 to direct for Kessel and Bauman's New York Motion Picture Company. He headed to Edendale, California, where a small group of people were already making films. The studio at that time was a converted grocery store: one stage (without even a muslin overhang), a scene dock, a small lab and office, and a bungalow which served as a dressing room. Ince wrote, directed, and cut his first film within one week.2 From these beginnings, by 1913 he had a fully developed continuity script procedure; by 1916 a one-half million dollar studio on 43 acres of land...
(The entire section is 4348 words.)
MacCann, Richard Dyer. "Ince and Hart." In The First Film Makers, pp. 61-114. Metuchen, N. J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1989.
Collection of essays on Ince's filmmaking technique by various contributors, including the actor-director William S. Hart.
Pratt, George C. "Thomas H. Ince." In Spellbound in Darkness: A History of the Silent Film, pp. 143-75. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society Ltd., 1973.
Includes a brief biographical sketch of Ince, along with commentary on the films The Bargain and Satan McAllister's Heir produced by Ince. The balance of the article reproduces a detailed shooting scenario for Satan McAllister's Heir.
(The entire section is 98 words.)