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Production Practices at Edison

Edison production practices remained the virtual antithesis of the studio system that would develop in response to the nickelodeon boom. The informal, sometimes haphazard collaboration that had characterized the making of The Buster Brown Series (1904) continued as Porter and McCutcheon produced Daniel Boone; or, Pioneer Days in America in December 1906. Florence Lawrence, who played Boone's daughter in her first screen appearance, subsequently detailed the production process and underscored these continuities (see document no. 19). Rather than having a continuous production schedule, the Edison staff geared up for each new undertaking. The Kinetograph Department lacked a stock company and hired actors on a per-film basis. Porter frequently relied on traveling theatrical troupes to supply performers who had worked together and could contribute costumes and props. In the case of Daniel Boone , actors were not from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, as Lawrence recalled (it was then in Europe), but from the spectacle Pioneer Days , which opened at the Hippodrome on November 28, 1906, and ran through December and into January.[47] This meant that they had other commitments: on matinee days, filming was precluded. Other actors, such as Lawrence, were hired through casting calls. Production personnel also continued to be used in bit parts, for which they


Daniel Boone. Boone's daughter (Florence Lawrence) befriends an Indian maid in the first scene. Later,
 Daniel Boone and his companion swear vengeance in front of the hero's burned house.

received double pay as a bonus. Appearing in a picture was a way for everyone to pick up some extra cash: it was not a primary commitment. Production schedules were dictated by the availability of performers rather than the reverse.


My mother heard that Edwin S. Porter, then the chief producer and manager at the Edison studio on Twenty-first street, was engaging people to appear in an historical play. I decided to see him at once. My mother accompanied me to the studio.

The news of intended activity on the part of the Edison people must have been pretty generally known, for there were some twenty or thirty actors and actresses ahead of us that cold morning. I think it was on December 27th, 1906. At least it was during the holidays. Everybody was trying to talk to Mr. Porter at one time, and a Mr. Wallace McCutcheon, who was directing Edison pictures under Mr. Porter, was fingering three or four sheets of paper, which I found later were the scenario.

Mr. Porter and Mr. McCutcheon conferred together and Mr. Porter announced that only twelve people were needed for the entire cast, and that some of these had been engaged. He next read off some notes he had made during his conference with Mr. McCutcheon, about as follows:

One character man who can make up to look like Daniel Boone.

One character man to play Daniel Boone's companion.

One middle aged woman to play Mrs. Daniel Boone.

Two young girls about sixteen years old to play Daniel Boone's daughters.

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One young girl who can make up like an Indian maid.

Six men who can make up as Indians.

The part of Daniel Boone, his companion, the Indian maid and a couple of the bloodthirsty savages, he announced, had been filled. That left the parts of Mrs. Boone, the two Boone girls, and four Indians open. As I remember, Col. Cody's Buffalo Bill show was then in New York City and the people selected to play the parts he announced as "filled" were from the show.

Mr. McCutcheon looked at me, then at Mr. Porter and I was told that I was engaged as one of Daniel Boone's daughters. I must have said something to mother almost instantaneously, for one of the men, I forget which, asked, "Is this your mother?" I replied that she was, and Mr. Porter thereupon engaged her to play the part of Mrs. Daniel Boone.

Our names and addresses were taken and we were told "that was all" for the time being, and that we would be notified when to report at the studio. We were to receive five dollars a day for every day that we worked.

There was none in the cast who knew the title of the play until we reported for work on January 3, 1907. At this stage of the motion picture industry the producers were very secretive about such matters. "Daniel Boone; or Pioneer Days in America," was announced as the name of the play. We began work on the exterior scenes first.

Besides mother and myself, others who were playing the principal roles were Susanna Willis, and Mr. and Mrs. William Craver. Mr. Porter and Mr. McCutcheon were the directors. It was during the production of this picture that I learned that the photoplay "Moonshiners," which I had witnessed some three or four years previously, was the first dramatic moving picture ever made in America, and that Mr. McCutcheon was the man who directed it.

All of the exterior scenes for the Daniel Boone picture were photographed in Bronx Park. As one of Boone's daughters I was required to escape from the Indian camp and dash madly into the forest, ride through streams and shrubbery, until I came upon Daniel Boone's companion. As a child I was fond of horses and had always prided myself on being able to handle them, but the horse hired by Mr. Porter was evidently of a wilder breed than the ones I knew. I couldn't do anything with him and he ran off no less than five times during the two weeks we were making the exterior scenes. I was not thrown once, however.

During all this time the thermometer stood at zero. We kept a bonfire going most of the time, and after rehearsing a scene, would have to warm ourselves before the scene could be done again for the camera. Sometimes we would have to wait for two or three hours for the sun to come out or

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get it just right for the taking of a scene which required certain effects. The camera was also a bother being a great clumsy affair.

One afternoon we didn't pay sufficient attention to the bonfire and permitted it to spread. The fire department had to be called out to prevent its burning and ruining all the trees in the park. While beating the blaze away from a tree Mr. Porter discovered a man who had committed suicide by hanging himself, probably while we were working on the picture. We did not do any further work that day.

All the interior scenes were made at the Edison studio, on the roof, where the stage space would accommodate but one set. We could only work while there was sunlight as arc lamps had not then been thought of as an aid to motion picture photography. Three weeks were required to complete the picture.

SOURCE : Photoplay , November 1914, pp. 40-41. Tom Gunning generously brought this article to my attention. Florence Lawrence's dates are incorrect: the completed film was copyrighted on January 3, 1907. William Craver had supplied the horses for Porter in the somewhat earlier Life of a Cowboy (May 1906), and he probably did so for this film too, as well as appearing in it (Moving Picture World , December 7, 1912, p. 961).

A lack of efficiency was evident in several areas. The decision to film Daniel Boone , ill suited for winter production, suggests an absence of careful planning. But whatever Porter chose to make, productivity slowed each winter when the days grew short. Stormy weather would also have precluded shooting. Unlike the Biograph studio, Edison's Twenty-first Street facilities lacked electric lights, not because Porter was indifferent to the technology, but because the small, glass-enclosed studio could not accommodate them. Despite such obstacles, the three-week shooting schedule for Daniel Boone was still extremely protracted. (Two years later, Griffith would handle the same type of story in a few days.) Characteristically, Porter focused on visual details rather than the major thrust of the narrative. With only a few daylight hours available for filming, time spent on achieving photographic effects was costly and not always successful. Rather than reconceive the more time-consuming setups, Porter adapted the production schedule to his filmmaking goals.

Porter and McCutcheon relied on collaborative, nonspecialized working methods. Although Porter was studio manager, he worked with the sets and operated the camera, while McCutcheon was in charge of the actors. America's top two filmmakers from the pre-nickelodeon era thus worked in tandem rather than establishing separate production units or a clear hierarchy. Decisions were made laterally rather than vertically. Both men, in fact, were accustomed to operating in this manner. Porter had collaborated with George S. Fleming, James White, and G. M. Anderson, while McCutcheon had worked closely with Frank Marion.

The Daniel Boone scenario was a joint responsibility and reflected the Porter-


McCutcheon partnership. Like many films, it emerged from a melange of precursors. Only part of the film's title and not the plot was taken from the Shubert spectacle. The picture was an adaptation of Daniel Boone: On the Trail , one of several Daniel Boone plays written and produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[48] At the same time, Daniel Boone; or, Pioneer Days in America owes much to two McCutcheon/Biograph films: The Pioneers and Kit Carson . The focus on family, not as central to McCutcheon's earlier dramas, places Daniel Boone squarely within Porter's family-centered orientation.

Porter's old middle-class predilections remained as apparent in his production methods as in the themes and subject matter of his earlier films. Although the New York studio was called a factory, the manufacturing division of labor was not in evidence. Porter insisted on acting as producer, scenarist, cameraman, and editor. Beyond this he was also involved in refining the projecting kinetoscope and the construction of Edison's new Bronx studio. (Bronx Park was chosen as a location for Daniel Boone because it was nearby.) As George Blaisdell defined Porter's role, "During this period he made all the pictures, built and designed the cameras, wrote many of the scenarios, staged all the productions and operated the camera. He did in fact produce the pictures."[49]

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