Peter Milne (essay date 1922)
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 actual task of directing they are dealing with their own ideas. It has been related how D. W. Griffith prefers to work without a continuity and his reasons therefore. Frank Borzage is a champion for the continuity synopsis, a running account of the plot, undivided into scenes. Many other directors prefer this method, dividing their pictures into the desired and natural number of scenes during actual work. All such directors claim that to follow a scene numbered continuity through directly results in a mechanical picture. Like the De Milles they claim that to produce such a picture well, they must also have a hand in the writing of the mechanical continuity.
On the face of it the arguments of these directors seem sound. But it is easy enough to take the other side of the question and riddle the arguments completely. The stand can be taken that the motion picture director performs no other functions than those performed by the stage director. And many and many a stage director has turned out productions of artistic worth by merely following the author's manuscript. Few stage directors decline to direct a Shakespearean production for the reason that they didn't have a hand in the writing of the play.
Which brings up the methods employed by Thomas H. Ince, probably the most successful producing-director in the entire field of motion pictures. Mr. Ince is at the head of a number of producing units. He has a certain number of directors making pictures for him. Over the work of these men he exercises an actual supervision. And when a director works for Mr. Ince he does what Mr. Ince tells him to do.
Mr. Ince is one of the veterans of the picture producing craft. He has developed more stars, perhaps, than any other man in the field today. William S. Hart, Charles Ray, Dorothy Dalton and Louise Glaum are the brightest of those he has brought out. And the secret of Thomas H. Ince's greatness, whether he admits it himself or not, is the minute attention he pays to the matter of preparing the continuities of the pictures from which his directors work.
Probably Mr. Ince pays more attention to this preparation of a continuity than does any other producer. In his opinion the greater part of the work of producing a picture has been completed when the continuity is in final shape to hand to the director.
Equipped with the power of visualization to a remarkable degree Mr. Ince and his production manager thoroughly scrutinize the continuity when it is handed them by a member of the scenario department. Every point in the story, and every point in its development at the hands of the continuity writer is discussed. As a rule when the continuity is returned to its author there are a number of alterations and changes to be made. And when these are made Mr. Ince goes over the script again. Sometimes this interchange of ideas is carried on between Mr. Ince and his scenario department for six or eight times before the continuity is in final shape for the director.
Then when the director finally does receive the manuscript he finds some such order as this stamped across its face: "Produce this exactly as written!" This, however, is not the arbitrary demand of an autocrat. If the director sees a place where a change will work some good to the story he has the privilege of placing the matter before Mr. Ince himself. But for the most part the Ince continuities are so thoroughly gone over before placing them in the hands of the directors that few if any changes for the better suggest themselves.
Therefore when the Ince director starts to work on the picture he is carrying out the ideas of the continuity writer and his chief to the most minute detail. His is the business of directing the picture, not of creating it in the broadest sense of the words.
Now according to other directors who insist that such a method of procedure produces mechanical results, is responsible for a work lacking in inspiration and all the finer qualities that go to make a picture, and degrades the director into the position of a mere clerk, Mr. Ince's pictures would be the worst the art has to offer. The fact that they are the most consistently meritorious that the art has to offer would seem to refute the arguments brought up by these others completely.
So what is the answer? Griffith produces good pictures after his method. Borzage and a number of others produce good pictures after the same methods, or methods practically the same. And Mr. Ince, hands his director a continuity divided strictly into scenes, each camera angle is numbered and for a purpose, for the director to go out and make all these camera angles, these scenes, just as Mr. Ince ordered him to.
The answer is, after all, quite simple. Mr. Ince has capabilities matched by no other director in the producing art. One of his capabilities may be matched here and there but never all of them by another individual. Thus Mr. Ince and his scenario department are the creators of Ince pictures. The directors he employs carry out his ideas. And these directors, while the above...
(The entire section is 2701 words.)