Preferred Citation: Smoodin, Eric, and Ann Martin, editors. Hollywood Quarterly: Film Culture in Postwar America, 1945-1957. Berkeley:  University of California,  c2002 2002.



5. Practice


A Costume Problem

From Shop to Stage to Screen

Edith Head

One of the many myths of Hollywood is that the screen exaggerates all women's costumes. This has been true in some pictures—and still is. Not so many years ago one of our leading studios put its actresses into dresses of almost unimaginable extravagance. But the trend today is away from eccentricity of line and color, flounce and peplum, ruffle and jabot. Exaggeration of reality, which is necessary on the stage because of the distance that separates the audience and the actress, is absurd in terms of the close shot. The tendency today is to clothe actresses as if they were indeed playing characters and not themselves, and yet to be conscious of the points of design which agree with the physique and personality of the player. The Hollywood Quarterly has asked a designer who is particularly successful in this—Edith Head, of Paramount—to explain in her own words and her own pictures just how a basic dress develops from the reality of life into the costumes of characters played by actresses. In order that the characterization in each dress may be emphasized, Miss Head has not sketched in the face of each different actress, but has given them all the same fashion-plate visage.



A typical suit which could be bought in a store. This suit was not selected with any idea of its being photographed, or any attempt to bring out any characteristics in the wearer. It is a very average suit, and can be worn by the average woman.


A stage version of the same suit, using color contrast. The suit accessories are more stylized. However, this suit could still be worn by the average woman.


For Barbara Stanwyck in Cry Wolf! A very simple version of the original suit. She plays a young geologist, so the suit must be professional-looking. Note use of a headband, since Miss Stanwyck avoids hats as much as possible.


For Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia. Simple, boyish, and "tweedy," to counteract the feminine, little-girl look. Beret and boy's tie are particularly good with Miss Lake's long hair and slender neck.


For Joan Fontaine in The Affairs of Susan. In this sequence, Miss Fontaine is supposed to look very smart, with a young sophistication. The fur peplum and muff are for smartness, and the stocking cap to keep her from looking too grown up. Dark cap to accentuate her blond hair. Light coat because the character is shot at in a park at dusk.


For Ingrid Bergman in The Arch of Triumph. Dark to emphasize her coloring. Simple in line and detail for character. This suit must be as nondescript as possible because of the nature of the story. The white collar is necessary for close-ups.


For Dorothy Lamour in My Favorite Wife. Light color to emphasize Miss Lamour's dark type. Hat and muff also emphasize the glamour of the character, mysterious and alluring. The draping of coat and skirt keep the suit from a too tailored look.


For Loretta Young in The Perfect Marriage. A molded suit with sable stole and sophisticated hat for character as a fashion editor. Note the exaggeration of the coat, and the addition of jeweled buttons. Eye veil and jeweled choker are very good for close-ups.


Performance under Pressure

Alexander Knox

Alexander Knox is an actor, playwright, novelist, and screenwriter. His last two films were Indian Summer, at RKO, which he co-authored and played in, and Sign of the Ram, at Columbia, both unreleased.

. ….

In an earlier article in the Hollywood Quarterly I tried to prove that there is a difference between acting and behaving, that acting is richer than behaving, and that since acting in isolated moments has been caught on film there is no reason why it should not be caught more frequently in sustained performances. At this time I should like to deal with a few more of the facts and conditions in the motion picture industry in Hollywood which militate against acting, and to refer to one postwar development which seems to prove my point—my point being simply that I view with rather more alarm than some of my contemporaries certain obstacles which acting must hurdle before it can reach the public.

Like most people, I find a certain enjoyment in viewing things with alarm, and first, I hope you will indulge me in such oversimplifications and exaggerations as are bound to accompany the "viewing with alarm" type of trend spotting. Second, it is important to remember that the subject I am dealing with is very poorly documented—that the skills, moods, emotions, and personality exploitations that go to make up a performance are so evanescent that any discussion of them is likely to share that quality. And thirdly, you may be more sympathetic toward my conclusions if I am explicit about the point of view from which they arise.

You are probably familiar with Mr. Harley Granville-Barker's preface to Hamlet, the first few pages of which express this point of view expertly. Mr. Granville-Barker considers that the dramatist's master secret is to learn the right sort of material to give his actors: "Shakespeare learns to work in the living mediums of the actors and their acting. If the dramatist cannot work in it, clearly he is no dramatist at all. He soon sees, more-over,

that it is the essential thing which no pageantry must be let overshadow, nor mechanical tricks degrade." This conclusion was reached on the subject of plays written to be acted without scenery, and some people may find it difficult to see the connection between this comment and the film, which is frequently written to provide magnificent scenery for the minute speck of more-or-less decorative acting, like the fly on the wedding cake; but this is only one kind of film, and it is my belief that, as the medium develops, the actor will become—in a somewhat different way— as essential to it as he was to the theater. I think it is true that pageantry and mechanical tricks have received more attention from creative film makers than performances have done, and this is of course reasonable and natural in the present stage of development of the film.

In achieving a suspension of disbelief there have been, still are, and probably always will be, two tendencies in technique, manifest in films wherever they aremade—toward "actualism" and "stylization." In this connection, of course, these words refer to techniques, not matter; to manner, not subject. Any manner can be used to deal with any subject, and the rights and wrongs of this or that relationship of manner and subject doesn't concern us here. It is obvious that all performing is to some extent stylization, and it is equally obvious that the more actualistic a film is in manner (whatever its matter), the more behaving it will require and the less acting. In this discussion, therefore, I am thinking mainly of those films the appeal of which is, at least in some degree, larger than life.

I have referred to the "creative film makers," and before we go any further I think it might be wise to make some effort to find out just who creates what, when, and where. Film making is a curious mixture of critical and creative talents, and there seems to me to be an unnecessary amount of jealousy between different departments of film making which might be at least partly eliminated by a consideration of the critical and creative contributions.

Plato assumed quite simply that the creative state occurs when "the mind is no longer in a man," and that unless man has attained this state he is powerless as an artist. Herbert Read in The Innocent Eye makes the same point somewhat differently when he says, "It is the function of art to reconcile the contradictions inherent in our experience, but obviously the art which keeps to the canons of reason cannot make the necessary syntheses. Only the art which rises above conscious reality is adequate."

E. M. Forster calls it "dipping into the subconscious." If these quotations from experts indicate the truth about the creative state, it must be admitted (a) that talent is not creation, and (b) that the creative state is, to say the least, somewhat unusual. Unusual or not, it is the precise proportion of the product of this state that must give to any work whatever of freshness or excellence it may have. So it becomes increasingly curious to note the general feeling among moviemakers that their personal honor is being attacked when it is suggested that the creative element in movies is sometimes somewhat hard to find.

It is obvious that a cameraman may be creative when he conceives a shot and, to a lesser degree, when he executes it. It is obvious that a cutter may be creative when he hauls up from his subconscious a happy juxtaposition of two scenes. The writer is creative before and during his writing. The director, purely in his function as director, is creative when he conceives shots and when he executes them. From all this it is obvious that there is a great deal of overlapping. The overlapping is sometimes called "coöperation," but more often "interference," and it is interesting to note that the coöperation or the interference takes effect at one point—the set: the only place where the actor can be creative.

If we examine these overlapping functions closely, I think we may find that some of the so-called creative functions are not creative at all, but critical. It may be very helpful to separate these two tendencies rather carefully. E. M. Forster, in an address at the Harvard Symposium on Music, had many vital and illuminating things to say on the subject of criticism in relation to music, and I wish he could be persuaded to spend a little time separating the creative and critical functions in moviemaking.

"Think before you speak is criticism's motto," he says; "Speak before you think, creation's." And, later in the essay, "If criticism strays from her central aesthetic quest, something happens, but not a work of art." "Criticism," he says, "can eliminate a particular defect, perhaps; to substitute merit is the difficulty." With so much "coöperation" in films, defects are eliminated and lie writhing all along the path of progress, but I amnot so sure that a merit automatically springs into being whenever a defect is dropped by the wayside.

Where the actor is concerned, acting merit certainly cannot be created in the cutting room, although it may seem to be, and although that grim chamber is eminently suited to the elimination of whatever almost anyone, from the wardrobe man to the producer, happens to consider a defect.

So the actor must create when the cameraman has finished his arduous work of setting up a shot and is very anxious to get on to the next setup; when the director has just come back from telling the producer on the telephone that he is doing the best he can with the hams the budget has allowed him; and when the cutter sits on the outside of the circle sharpening his scissors. Incidentally, the writer is no help at this point, because he has just had a good line altered, first by the producer, rewritten by the director, and said incorrectly by the actor. The writer is aware that it is his business to write the words and the actor's business to say them, but he remembers certain passages in, for instance, Shakespeare, which from a casual reading would appear impossible to speak, yet when they are spoken by an accomplished actor have a totally unexpected brillance and power. Such a writer might wonder what would happen to a similar gem of his in a film script, and he might regret that the present studio technique is apt to encourage that kind of acting which hasn't time to spend on difficult concentrated speeches, and therefore that kind of writing which needs grunting, not speaking.

Mr. Granville-Barker spoke the truth when he said that Shakespeare "cut the coat to fit the cloth" or tempered the wind of his inspiration to the shorn lamb—the shorn lamb being the actor—but Shakespeare had the right to demand that the actor be capable of more than a smile and a grunt. For the actor, then, there are two places where defects can be eliminated, the set and the cutting room, and there is one place where merits can be created, the set. And it is here at this critical point that all the financial and mechanical and creative and critical forces in the industry are brought to bear, resulting frequently in a profusion of second-rate performances and ulcers.

The nature of the creative process among actors is one of those questions —like the best way to make coffee—which cannot be finally decided; but in the making of coffee there are certain fundamentals, water and coffee, without which good coffee has seldom been made, and in the making of a performance there are also certain fundamentals.

Preparation beforehand does not solve the problem. When an actor is studying a particular part in the theater, he has two important aids: the emotional sweep of the play, and the relationship, in both its subtle and its obvious aspects, between himself and his audience. He must still create the "illusion of the first time" and must behave as a human being. This behaving is very similar in process to a child's trying to behave. He must

do a greater or less violence to his own personality for an end which he considers worth the effort. A child often finds direct and immediate advantages in behaving—peace of mind, absence of punishment, being liked, being admired. The actor's satisfaction in the film is not psychic, but monetary; it is not immediate; and certainly it is not direct.

Then, at the same time that he is behaving, he must have an attitude toward his behaving. In its crudest form this attitude may be a consciousness of the necessity to keep in key. In its more complicated forms it is a comment on the character in its relation to the story, just definite enough to be undetectable, but never absent. It is this comment which makes some performances, for the period of their duration and long afterward, seem more immediate, intimate, and affecting than the real people we meet and talk with. To gain the maximum effect in any dramatic presentation, the audience must seem to know the characters in the story far better than they know themselves. At any given moment, if the actor leaves his knowledge and understanding of the character out of his mind and his voice, there is a loss of richness.

In the two-hour playing time of a film, no author can tell everything about a complex character. We could watch a real situation in life for many more than two hours and fail to gain a real understanding of the people involved. An important difference between life and drama is simply this: that the significant details are crowded together in drama. These details are the bones to which the actor gives life. If he gives only the immediate, thin, literal meaning of the line, it isn't life at all, but a mechanical imitation; for an emotion without a comment, an emotion without an emoter, does not exist.

Sometimes, for the sake of the drama, it is necessary for the actor apparently to do just this—to create an emotion without an emoter, to wring all human elements from a line so that it is dry, brittle, and lifeless. This, too, the actor must do, and this the inferior actor cannot do. The inferior actor cannot help filling a line with the comment of his own personality, and if this personality happens to be vacuous or petty, the comment destroys part of what the writer tried to say and the vacuousness becomes more interesting to the audience than the character, and the spell of the drama is broken.

In my experience, the actor who is incapable of making the right kind of comment in a performance is apt to be incapable of refraining from

making the wrong kind—and most bad performances spring from this cause.

If the personality of the actor is vivid and interesting and the part is written for its display, we have what is popularly known as personality acting, in which the comment is made in terms of the actor's own personality. Naturally, he does not say the lines or perform the gestures of a film in the way he privately behaves at home. Each line and each gesture is a bundle of impressions charged with years of experience in making his own personality clear to spectators and in captivating them with the personality thus presented. Personality acting is, in short, a sort of public wooing, bisexual, and therefore both polygamous and polyandrous.

This kind of acting is interesting and valuable both in theater and on film, and as long as suitable parts are provided they will be suitably played; but it is wise to remember that many of these actors are capable of another kind of acting which, to me, is more impressive as acting.

The heights of the profession are reached by actors who can play a number of different parts, behave the parts accurately, comment in the person of the imagined character, and play them all, not as if the parts were written for them, but as if they were created for the parts.

This is a subtle and curious art, requiring at its best a high degree of skill, and the precise degree of consciousness—how much you forget yourself in your part—is a matter of individual habit and technique. The actor may have dipped into his subconscious at home or anywhere, but on the set he must, even if slightly, dip again. He must also retain the active memory of all the preceding dips. Whatever the degree of consciousness, and whatever qualities of skill or nerve he may possess, the acting of a scene of any size and scope requires unusual concentration.

What are the conditions under which this act of creation is expected to take place?

You have been waiting for hours. Suddenly your waiting is ended. One second you were waiting. The next you are holding up production. The setup is made. You are ready. Set, props, furniture, lights, effects, sound, and camera are now waiting. You have a last flurry of doubt about remembering lines. It is somewhat warm under the lights. You can't see who is shouting at you. The cameraman creeps in and reminds you in a fatherly manner not to bend too far to the left on the turn. The sound man appears at your other side and reminds you to raise your voice on the speech

where you drop your head. All this time the make-up man is patting you with puffs or swabbing the sweat from your forehead. Wardrobe runs in and peers at you, then explains that he had nervous prostration lest you were wearing the wrong tie. The prop man is messing around with the eggs you are about to eat. The gaffer puts a light meter against your left eye. Speed. Action. So you dip into your subconscious.

I was watching a popular star one day at a distance of about fifty feet. He had an enormously difficult scene to play and he was walking along muttering his words. An opera singer can practice aloud backstage. An actor, for some reason, mutters. This actor, who had received a deserved Oscar, made a timid gesture or so. An electrician in the gallery inquired in a friendly manner, "What'cha doin', bub, rehearsin'?"

On one occasion, and I admit it is somewhat exceptional, I had a fourpage scene coming up. We began it. Seventeen times we began it, and each time there was a mechanical breakdown—arc noise, camera noise, dolly noise, light failure, or someone with several bronchial difficulties on the set. On the eighteenth take everything was perfect until the last sentence and the silence was heavy as fate, all animation, all breathing even, being suspended, waiting on my words.

I blew.

Since the last rehearsal we had been over the beginning of the scene seventeen times, the end not once.

These occasions are trying to a director. He is reasonable enough to know that it is not profitable to scold the arc for failing, the film for breaking, or the camera for being noisy, and it is considered bad discipline to scold the actor. But the actor who blows is conscious of not being scolded and, in time, he is apt to develop curious resentments against the mechanical gadgets which make his work possible and impossible at the same time. These resentments change to active distrust—no arc light has ever been fired because an actor blew, so why should he feel guilty when an arc splutters? Gradually he is convinced that the lights are purposely malignant, and the men in white coats pick him up in the back garden wearing heavy boots and trampling burnt-out mazdas.

I once visited a set where a parrot and a cat were performing. The assistant director, hoarse and frenetic, shouted, "Now this time when I say quiet Imean quiet! Please, please remember we're working with animals!" I have tried to indicate some phases of the creative process in an actor's

performance and the conditions under which it is expected to proceed. If my impression is even partly correct, no general improvement in performances can be expected without, first, a keener recognition by production managers of those scenes the quality of which will depend largely on performances, and second, a willingness to discover ways and means of providing the actor with a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere and set of circumstances in which to work when such a scene is to be shot. There is no other solution to the problem except a little more time and this costs money.

In the cutting room the actor's creation— finished—fixed—irrevocable —is held up for approval or disapproval before the eyes of four or more functionaries whose boredom with the procedure can be assumed to be in direct relation to their creative frustration. Here is an anecdote which illustrates the extremes to which this frustration on one occasion led three persons: A well-known character actor was given an important line to say at a point where the writer, the director, and the producer required a laugh. They had given the line a great deal of thought and it was an excellent line. The actor, when the line was given him, recognized its quality but realized that in the situation, if he read it in the obvious way, part of the audience might be ahead of him, get the point on the third word, begin laughing, and prevent the rest of the audience from enjoying the joke by making it impossible for them to hear it. So the actor read the line in a manner which concealed its emotional implications until the necessary information had been imparted; the picture was cut and run and nobody in the audience laughed, and there were wild recriminations in the producer's office next day. The actor was called in to do a retake of the line. Before doing it, they ran the film so that he could see what was wrong. What was wrong was, quite simply, that in the cutting room a movement of the eyes which had occurred at the end of the line had been considered unnecessary and had been cut out. Three intelligent men thought the joke was in the words. Actually, the joke was in the gesture. What had happened, obviously, was that these three men in the projection room or the cutting room knew what was coming and, knowing it, failed to see it. They were not objective about what was happening on the screen; they were seeing preconceived notions, and in the interests of brevity they had ruined the joke. I do not believe it is possible for anyone to see the same scene done from ten different angles, repeated over and

over again, and remain objective. If the scene has emotional tension, any unexpectedness in a given take is apt to be embarrassing, and, generally speaking, I think that a great many actors would agree with me when I suggest that of a given set of takes the probability is that a mediocre one will be chosen. Actually, I should be surprised if this were not so. Art by committee is criticism, not creation, and the conditions in a projection room are not always friendly even to good criticism.

To make it more difficult, most actors agree that when they see themselves in rushes they experience the emotion they felt at the time of the take, and find it impossible to be objective, and if anyone thought I had a solution to offer for this unfortunate state of affairs, I am sorry to disappoint them. The semidivine critical faculty will continue to be exercised in adverse circumstances, and the divine creative faculty will continue to be exercised under inhuman conditions. There is a slight hope that, with more time on the set, one of the forces inimical to performances will be to some extent controlled. More time on the set will make possible either an alteration in existing contractual arrangements, allowing for more flexibility on the part of both artists and producers, or a state of affairs permitting the fact of good performances to have greater interest to the public and therefore greater financial value to the producer.

Of course, there are many points which I have not time here even to mention. The selection of actors is important, and there is plenty of material elsewhere which proves how damaging the star system, for instance, is to the standards of acting.

There is the question of rehearsal periods before shooting begins. Repeated rehearsal seems to be increasing, and I have not spoken to a director or an actor who disapproves, although many do not think it solves the real problem.

There is the large question of the training of actors. Most studios now pay dramatic coaches comparatively small salaries, although they have sometimes done excellent work.

From this point of view alone, if I were a major producer, I would view with alarm the definite and steady decline in the number of theatrical productions in New York and the more frightening decline in the professional theater outside of New York. The amateur theater is only a slight mitigation, and the summer theaters not much more. When rehearsals are limited to a week or so, the actor learns little but facility, even if the

director is good. In this connection it is interesting to note that of twenty actors receiving Academy Oscars during the past five years, sixteen were theater-trained. In the five British pictures which have received general acclaim in this country within the past two years, the eighteen stars and featured players have all been theater-trained.

Most of us, I suppose, have seen these five films: Henry V, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Odd Man Out, and Thunder Rock. They have been greeted with a concerted cantata of serious interest, and, for the most part, praise from critics which is unusual in the history of American film criticism. "British Film" as an entity has suddenly become important— a serious subject for conversation.

Some consider the British invasion a looming threat.

[1] This paper was written prior to the imposition by the British Parliament of a heavy import duty on American films, and its repercussions in America.

Others, like Mr. Goldwyn, say that it will stimulate us to greater efforts. Early in August, Mr. Harry Brand, the President of the Independent Exhibitors Association, stated in the Hollywood Reporter that the great motion picture industry in Hollywood need have no fear whatever of British films, because the American public, if we follow one simple procedure, will not go to see them, and the procedure which we must follow is to make films as good. Can we? Let us consider these British films. There is obviously nothing startling about their subjects. Shakespeare has been attempted before; so has Dickens; The Informer was made a long time before Odd Man Out; marital tangles were popular in Hollywood before Vacation from Marriage or Brief Encounter; and a great variety of Hollywood fantasies preceded Thunder Rock.

It is equally obvious, from a list of fine Hollywood films which would probably include Wuthering Heights, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Stagecoach, that Hollywood has writers and directors as capable as any in Great Britain. Several of the actors in the British films I have mentioned have appeared in Hollywood films or are available for them. Hollywood has never been reluctant to import talented actors.

It seems to me that there are two interesting facts about British productions which may help to explain the quality of these films. The first fact is general and deals with the whole somewhat disorganized nature of the British industry. In Great Britain, in recent years, the creative people in

the film industry seem to have been given a much more complete authority by Mr. Rank than by any major producer in Hollywood up to this date, Second, the contractual obligations between producers and studio owners, between producers and craft unions, between producers and actors, are so flexible in England that it is possible, without overpowering financial loss, to stop production on a picture for a few days. This fact alone is, in my opinion, of great importance to the industry, because on it depends a kind of leisure on the set which is a necessary condition for really good performances. In reading reviews of these pictures, most of us were probably struck by the uniformity with which all the performances were praised. One reason became clear when we saw Finlay Curray, the convict of Great Expectations, doing a three-word bit in Odd Man Out, or Robert Donat appearing for a minute in Captain Boycott. Undoubtedly, there are many factors which must be investigated in explaining the excellence of these films, but very important among them is the whole fabric of flawless performances so detailed, so careful, and so shrewd that even the somewhat phony heroics of This Happy Breed were almost concealed by them. Of course, the value of the performances is vastly increased by the sensitivity of direction and the general excellence of dialogue. But that is not the subject of this paper. It is important to note that the factor which many actors feel is seriously lacking in Hollywood—time on the set—is present in England.

I have heard two producers who have returned from England in the past year after making a film complain bitterly about the English industry's amateur spirit and its inefficient system of film making. I am sure these producers are not really more concerned about efficiency of manufacture than about quality of product, but it would seem that some of the Hollywood efficiency they missed in England might with advantage be applied to the problem of finding an economical means of providing a little more time for acting when it is necessary. Personally, I do not think it would require much more than two or three days added to the schedule of the average film, an added cost of twenty to seventy thousand dollars. This is a rather small figure when we think of the sets costing five times as much that are built and never used.

The closeness of the British film industry to theatrical London has often been mentioned as a reason for the general high level of performances in British films, and undoubtedly this has an effect; but it is also


Odd Man Out (1947), by Carol Reed, with James Mason (left) and F. J. McCormick

necessary to remember that film schedules for people appearing in a play in London have to be adjusted and readjusted to a degree that would persuade a Hollywood production manager to find another way of making a living.

And if anyone thinks that the answer to what I have said about British films is the simple statement that they have not made money, I believe he is fooling himself dangerously. To be valid, any comparison between the box office of British and of American films exhibited in the United States must be objective enough to include three considerations: the quality of the release, the budget for promotion, and the amount of money spent (sometimes over a period of many years) publicizing the actors. If it is to be valid, we must compare the gross of any British picture with the gross of a Hollywood picture made with unpublicized actors, a low promotion budget, and a poor release. A picture without a star is generally considered box-office suicide in Hollywood. If a comparison such as I have indicated were made by men who have access to the necessary information, I have no doubt that they would be forced to the conclusion that quality itself has value at the box office—a sentiment one is often urged to deny.


In as much as the Hollywood film industry is an industry, the men in financial control must inevitably, out of the normal instincts of self-preservation, view this whole problem from a somewhat different standpoint than the creative artist. They must hover somewhere between two very definite points of view: that which says spend as much on quality as the traffic will bear, and that which says get by with the least the public will accept.

And please don't conclude that I am equating quality with costs. I am speaking of an industry in which one production technique seems to have come dangerously close to resulting in an automatic reduction in quality.

For certain types of scenes, most actors I have spoken to agree that generally they do not have enough rehearsal time, and, more important, they do not feel the interest and the quiet and the relaxation which can alone encourage the real act of creation.

Altogether, it seems to me that organization and efficiency, concentrating as they do on the one moment when the actor can be creative, have already passed the safety point, and that there is a remote possibility that Hollywood may, in an orderly and efficient manner, organize itself out of the film business.

When a man chooses a subject to make into a film, not because it interests him creatively but because he thinks it will make money, he is going to be timid about the way he makes the film. The enemy of creative effort in any art is the man who has so little faith in the validity of what he has to say that he, in terror, insures himself by saying it in an old and proved way. When one is either confident of the reception of what one has to say or careless of its nature, the method of expression is apt to be more daring, more exciting, and more effective. Ultimately, many of the difficulties of the creative branches of the film industry spring from an inherent contradiction implied in the classifications art and industry.

It is probable that both of these aspects are best served when the techniques are under the control of creative people. Eric Johnston, speaking before the United States Chamber of Commerce, urged the need for a new definition of capitalism. He said that capitalism should be considered a "competitive economic system designed for the enrichment of the many, and not to make a few men rich." I am sure that the film industry will "enrich the many" in more than one sense when its control is more

largely in the hands of its creative men. The industry will serve the public best when it also serves its creators.

It is very doubtful that an undeviating adherence to factory methods of production will ever get the quality of performance that could be obtained in other ways. Only a man who is confident of what he has to say is relaxed enough to recognize new and surprising skills in any department. A good actor, finally, is an actor who can at one and the same time satisfy and surprise you. When a man is looking for clichés, he is too nervous to be satisfied by anything, and he certainly does not want to be surprised.

Granville-Barker emphasized the fact that Shakespeare wrote for actors. The writer and the director in certain kinds of film must fulfill the same function, and I feel that in British films recently they have fulfilled this function with great skill and with resultant profit. In my opinion, it is not an observation of minor importance that the creative men connected with the manufacture of recent British films seemed to value acting, to some extent at least, for its own sake, and it is no accident that it is the creative men, the men who have something to say, who do so value it. If Hollywood is right in being a little nervous about the British invasion, a study of conditions necessary to good performances might afford part of the remedy.


Designing The Heiress

Harry Horner

Harry Horner, a graduate of Max Reinhardt's Theatrical Seminary in Vienna, came to America as a designer with Reinhardt fifteen years ago. He designed a dozen plays on Broadway, including Lady in the Dark and the Theater Guild's The World We Make. He also did set designs for the Metropolitan and San Francisco opera companies. He has designed and supervised the art work on such films as Our Town, Little Foxes, and A Double Life, and he recently won an Academy Award for his work on The Heiress. Currently Mr. Horner is making his debut as a director in the filming of The World Inside.

. ….

It rarely happens that the designer of a motion picture production has the opportunity of making his designs an integral part of the dramatic effect of the picture, but this opportunity was given to me in the production designs for the film The Heiress.

Many faithful Broadway theatergoers will remember the play, the story of Dr. Sloper, residing at No. 16, Washington Square North, in New York in the 1850's, and the tragedy of his daughter Catherine. Every reader of Henry James's novels will certainly remember the story, Washington Square, from which this play was taken.

In one of our first discussions William Wyler, the director of The Heiress (and of such other great character studies as The Best Years of Our Lives and Wuthering Heights), said to me: "Almost the entire picture plays in one house. It will depend a great deal upon the designs and the arrangements of the rooms in this house, upon the style in which the story is told—in other words, upon the conception of the designer—how convincing the characters will become, and therefore how successful the motion picture, The Heiress, will be."

How does the designer translate the style and conception of a story into a practical motion picture setting? It was not enough to be authentic in period and locale; deeper analyses of the lives of the characters in the play

were necessary. It was essential to know as much about their backgrounds as if the designer had grown up with them, lived and visited with them, and even hired their servants for them. To search for the smallest characteristic habits became part of the creative function of design. Would the doctor, after arriving home from his professional calls, go immediately into his parlor and sit in his favorite chair to rest and smoke and read, or would he more probably join his daughter and other members of his family? A question like that determined the position of the parlor in relation to the house, and determined also the position of the chair in which he would sit in relation to the parlor. Would Catherine, the daughter, take her breakfast with her father, or would she eat separately, perhaps in her room upstairs? Those are examples of the many and challenging questions which influenced and shaped the creation on the drawing board.

The fact that there was only one important set, namely, the house on Washington Square, made it necessary that the house should have a personality of its own which, in different ways, would affect those inhabitants with whom the story deals and also would impress the character whose visit to the house plays so vital a part in the drama.

It was a challenge—to inject the house with a personality of its own. Very often, houses that have a memory of one kind or another attached to them are able to dominate the inhabitants and mold them with a definite force of their own. To Dr. Sloper the house on Washington Square bore the memory of his wife; to Catherine it represented the enclosure which became torture; for Catherine's lover the house became almost a lure, a very nearly human temptation, the possession of which he desired more than he desired Catherine.

How to design this house, how to keep it authentic and still make it come alive with its own soul and with the soul of its inhabitants, became the main task of the designer.

As a counterweight against any overcharacterization, I remembered Mr. Wyler's warning not to give the secrets of the story away in the designs. "The story may be a serious one," he said, "but this should not show in the designs of the house, since the structure could not know in advance what its inhabitants would do."

So I started with the first and easiest task, which was necessary as a basis for the design; namely, to familiarize myself with the style of architecture

and the living habits of New York in 1850 in general, and of Washington Square North in particular.

Armed with sketchbooks and a camera, I roamed the streets of what is now downtown New York. As the spirit of another era slowly took hold of me, Washington Square became an "uptown" district. The skyscrapers disappeared and I realized that with just a little imagination it is even now possible to find in this modern city many treasures of century-old architecture.

I rang the doorbells of those lovely houses with their handsome old stoops in order to acquaint myself with the interiors which have been the landmarks of Washington Square since 1830, when the first families moved "uptown."

As I planned the design for the park, to be filled with romantic trees, I realized that I had to tone down this conception, for early prints showed that Washington Square was a parade ground in those years, with the old Victorian castle-like New York University on one side, and that it consisted of a large lawn with very few trees and very few benches. After I had searched many weeks in the picture collections of all the libraries, and had benefited by the kind help of all the historical societies in New York, a clear picture of life in a city in those past years crystallized in my mind.

Wandering through this early city, I hit upon such lovely museum pieces as the Tredwell house, an example of the typical residence of a rich merchant. I wandered through backyards of houses and saw those gardens and dwellings along the "Mews" which once represented the stables of the elegant places on Washington Square. Here I picked up a detail for an iron fence which would express the wealth of Dr. Sloper, and there a stairway which would help to dramatize Catherine's last climb up the stairs.

Those details were helpful, but ultimately the basic character of the house came from analyzing the past of our doctor. Although the main action of the story is laid in 1850, with a short episode five years later, I traced back the doctor's life from indications in the play and in the novel so that this house would have the atmosphere of having been lived in for many years.

Dr. Sloper, according to my notes, was married to a wealthy New York girl about 1835, and the house was built while they were on their honeymoon in Paris. It was probably designed by him in the currently popular style, the Greek Revival, with its high columns inside and double mahog-any

sliding doors connecting the rooms. It even contained the doctor's office, with direct access from the street.

When the doctor and his bride returned from France, they furnished the house with delicate pieces in exquisite taste—Duncan Phyfe pieces, and others which they brought with them from Europe. A French spinet occupied a special place, and the whole house had an atmosphere of loveliness.

Then his wife died, and as the doctor's practice improved he enlarged the house. He kept the old part untouched, giving it the feeling of a shrine. He moved the spinet into the back parlor near his favorite chair; and he added, in the now modern Victorian period, a small wing containing a winter garden and a study.

After having gleaned what I could of what Dr. Sloper must have done to the house, I proceeded to design it. It was to become not a house of one period, but of many—it must give the feeling of having gone through several styles, thus making that first phase of his life which existed only in his memory stand out and become visible to us.

The ground plan had to conform with the restrictions of those enclosed, narrow building lots which characterize Washington Square North; entrance in front with a narrow long hall, and garden and stable at the back. This gave reality and the feeling of enclosure within a city block.

But within this plan many vital elements must be incorporated. There had to be room for a dramatic staircase which was to play an important part in the story. One of the old houses of downtown New York gave me an idea for a staircase which was laid out so that from one vantage point three flights of stairs could be seen—with the father's bedroom on the second floor and the girl's bedroom and guest room on the third floor. There had to be room for an interesting arrangement of hall, dining room, front parlor, back parlor, study, and so on. All this we built in the studio, with the sliding doors placed so that certain vistas into rooms became dramatically important. The father's chair in the back parlor, for instance, dominated the house, and a direct view to the entrance hall was possible.

The garden and the stables were planned with flowers and had to work in different seasons. Trees with foliage and summer flowers were replaced by bare trees, or by the foliage of spring—all with the careful consideration of the characteristic vegetation in New York. The grass had patches of bad

growth even in the summer, and anyone who appreciates the difficulty of growing nice grass in New York will know that we were authentic.

Then there was the planning of the period of 1855— five years later. Again careful search into the characters' personalities gave the clue for changes in the house.

The father had died, and now that only women inhabited the house, the elegance and strictness disappeared, and a feeling of less discriminating taste was noticeable. The curtains became softer, more Victorian; certain pieces of furniture were changed, slip covers had been put on others, and we hoped to give the impression that the women in the house were drifting slowly toward a status of unalterable spinsterhood.

The park changed too—fortunately I found that the years around 1850 were full of changes in New York. Gas was introduced on Washington Square; so our audience sees the change from the earlier kerosene lamps to the laying of pipes for the new gaslight. And of course the old "Washington Square Parade Ground" was now really called "Washington Square Park."

One of the more costly problems was to find adequate furniture to match the description of exquisite taste and wealth, both of which were attributes of Dr. Sloper. Our expert on furniture, Emile Kurie, went to New York and bought fine antique furniture, including the spinet, fine paintings, and ornaments, knowing that under the examining camera close-up the standard prop furniture would not convince anyone of the great wealth of the heiress.

Thus the whole house was built, the life and habits of the characters were carefully considered, hundreds of sketches were made to indicate the most effective camera setups, and the director liked and approved it all.

But there was yet an obstacle before those sets could be called ready. This obstacle, so different from those of real life or of the stage, was the camera itself, with the sound boom. Proportions of rooms had to be carefully thought out so that they would photograph: not too high, or too much of the ceiling would be lost outside the range of the lens; and not too low, of course, or there would be lost the typical architectural proportions of elegance and period. And, what was more important, all those walls and ceilings had to be constructed so that they could come apart— they had to be made "wild," as the technical expression goes—to make elbow room for the cameras.


After having seen the house standing on the stage, almost habitable with its main floor, garden, and stables, and the staircase leading up to second and third floors, it was pitiful to see it torn apart again, limb by limb, a windowed wall here, a corridor ceiling there, so that a shot could be taken from behind a column, or so that the sensitive sound boom could reach into a narrow passage without picking up too much echo. It is typical of a movie set that the further the shooting of the picture is advanced, the more the walls of the set are pulled away; but no audience will ever know how little of the house was left, how little of many months of work remained standing when that final scene was taken.

No audience will ever see that last scene the way we saw it, or will ever have to use as much imagination as the actress had to, in order to make herself believe that she was left alone in a big house. This is what they would have seen when Olivia de Havilland played her last scene, the scene in which Catherine ascends the staircase as her lover knocks in vain on the entrance door of the lonely house: Where that lonely and silent house was supposed to be, there was a big boom with the camera on it, there was the camera crew giving orders, there was the man who lifted the high boom arm up to the third floor, and in the midst of all the turmoil was Olivia de Havilland as Catherine, masterfully ascending the steps of an abstract staircase which was completely detached from all the remaining architecture and stood—Daliesque—in the middle of a swirling and active group of men who were trying to direct, to photograph, to light, and to sound-control the scene of a dark and lonely house, deserted and silent.


The Limitations of Television

Rudy Bretz

Rudy Bretz, TV pioneer, entered the television field eleven years ago when CBS formed its original staff. Cameraman, director, and inventor, he later became production manager of station WPIX. He is at present preparing one of the first definitive books on television production facilities and techniques. His article, "Television as an Art Form," appeared in Volume V, Number 2, of the Hollywood Quarterly.

. ….

An examination of the equipment and the methods of operation today in both the production of television programs and their reception reveals a long list of obstacles in the way of full realization of the new medium.

A large deterrent to the full enjoyment of any program is, of course, the small size of the average television screen, for actual physical size has a great deal to do with visual enjoyment. The visual sensation created by a large picture is greater than that created by a small one, since a large picture covers more of the retina with light. This restriction has led to a great concentration on close-ups and a hesitancy in the use of long shots, simply to make sure that the audience is able to see the subject properly. A feeling of claustrophobia, of watching a scene with blinders on, sometimes results from this lack of long shots.

Television receivers are very rarely in perfect working order. One of the most common ailments does not totally impair reception and so goes unnoticed. This is poor centering or overexpansion of the picture on the face of the picture tube. So much of the edges of the picture are lost on most sets that advertisers carefully avoid placing their messages anywhere but in the central 50 per cent of the picture area. Obviously the effectiveness of careful composition is seriously limited when only a small percentage of receivers can show the entire picture.

There are four production obstacles which seem to be prominent throughout the television field. There is never enough space, enough time, enough staff, or enough money for satisfactory production. Creative people working in the small stations, especially, are almost always frustrated.

They complain of having to throw together productions, go on the air with them unrehearsed, and work in incredibly cramped quarters.

The average studio is much too small. Most television stations are operated by concerns which previously had operated radio stations. The management is familiar with production problems in radio. The engineering department usually has had contact with no other kind of show production. This is immediately felt in the design and construction of the television studio. It is usually the chief engineer of the radio station who is put in charge, and it is he who advises on the choice of studio locations, orders the equipment, and provides for the production facilities. A typical attitude is that television is the same thing as radio except that pictures are added. (I have actually heard this attitude expressed and been told about many key people, in the small stations, who hold it.) Experience has shown that the operation of a television studio requires many service departments and storage areas. Scenery must be constructed, painted, and stored. Props must also be stored. Provision must be allowed for dressing and make-up rooms. About four or five times the area of the studio itself is desirable for these service functions. Only a very few of the small television stations have made reasonable allowance for any of these functions, and, even more discouraging, a large percentage of small television stations have made no allowance whatever. An engineering maintenance shop is always provided. Dressing rooms are usually thought of. But space to construct, paint, and store scenery is usually lacking. Props are commonly stored along the side of the studio. The same goes for flats, fire-places, roller drums, and furniture. I have seen studios—pitifully small to begin with—reduced in size by another 20 or 30 per cent because of lack of proper storage. Painting and set construction also must often be done in the studio itself, since no space has been allowed for the purpose elsewhere.

The result of this, in many cases, is to reduce drastically the amount of set construction that is done, and the variety of background sets that the studio keeps on hand. Some studios have given up changing sets entirely and do every show in front of a permanent background which is varied from show to show by the use of drapes, set dressing and the like. Another studio has permanent flats hinged to the studio wall, in order to produce quickly a great variety of simple sets by swinging these flats out in the desired combinations. Another studio uses stage wagons for permanent sets,

and mounts a threefold set on either side of a castored wagon eight feet long and two feet wide. After one set is used, the wagon is rolled around, and the set on the reverse side serves as a background. These ingenious methods do not really solve the problem, however; they simply make it possible to do a lot in a small space.

The large network origination studios in New York are faced with the same storage problem as elsewhere. Having no place near the studio to store sets, and finding it would cost too much to truck them across town to a warehouse after each use, one studio chose for a time to destroy everything that was not connected with a permanent show. Thousands of dollars worth of scenery was broken up almost daily.

The small size of the actual television studio is a great deterrent to adequate production. Television studios must be large. Ellwell, art director for NBC television, says, "It has been found impractical to attempt television in a room smaller than thirty feet wide and fifty feet deep." Only 35 per cent of the existing television studios are as large as this. Cramped quarters lead to conditions such as I watched in a Chicago studio where the set for one scene of a dramatic show had to be struck during the show so that cameras could work in this area to shoot a following scene. Fluidity of motion, both of camera and actor, is hampered by small studio size. The result is often static shooting from unvarying positions.

I recall a time at WPIX when the studio was ringed on all sides by the sets for the evening shows, and because there was no time to strike and reset, an afternoon production was set in front of the evening scenery. The total working area was left a space about fifteen feet square. This was crowded with a large Fearless Panoram dolly, two cameras on tripod dollies, a gigantic Mole Richardson microphone boom, and a number of floor lights. Plus personnel, of course—about six or eight crew members. There was very little fluidity of movement or repositioning of cameras under these conditions.

A sometimes serious problem in small studios is background noise. This does not matter particularly during a show which frankly originates in the television studio; but, in the case of dramatic shows, it can be destructive to the story illusion which they attempt to build up. In large studios it is not so much of a problem, since the microphones are farther from the sources of unwanted sound.

The economics of television is based on the sale of time. Time is money in video. It is the commodity which is bought and sold. If time must be

devoted to purposes from which revenue cannot be derived, it must be kept to a minimum. Sustaining shows for which rehearsal time is not purchased by a sponsor are cut down to the lowest possible amount—sometimes lower. Network commercial shows with an adequate budget will allow about a 10 or 15 to 1 rehearsal ratio—5 to 71/2 hours rehearsal for a half-hour show. (The hours are paid for at the average New York price of approximately $250 apiece.) In a small station, a director who attempts a dramatic show is lucky to get a 3 to 1 rehearsal ratio—an hour and a half of rehearsal for a half-hour show. This refers to "camera rehearsal," the actual use of facilities on the studio floor; rehearsals outside the studio are not so strictly limited. As a result, great value is placed on preplanning since the director must have all his camera positions, angles, and composition planned beforehand, so that he will not have to waste time in the studio through trial-and-error methods. New techniques which the director has observed, but which he himself has not tried before, are very difficult to attempt. Refinements of production, special lighting effects, improved camera shooting, and more carefully rehearsed cutting are not possible with limited camera rehearsal time.

Practically all the television programs in the small stations are format shows for which no rehearsal time is necessary after a series has once been launched. Interviews, guest panels, quiz, charade, and audience participation shows follow the same pattern every time. Economic necessity determines in large measure the type of programs that are produced. The requirement that programs must be rehearsed and produced on schedule is a limiting factor in itself. So long as television is an advertising medium, operating on the network principle, this will be true. Schedules are immovable. There is no stretching of rehearsal time, postponing of the hour of production, last-minute changing of schedule for any reason. The show absolutely must go on.

Twin obstacle to the lack of time is the lack of personnel. If there were more people in the production and program departments of a station, the lack of time might not be too serious. As things are today, the director in a small station finds himself working in all capacities. This is excellent training for a few months' time, but becomes very frustrating before long. It can prevent his producing even one show of which he can be proud.

Lack of adequate personnel leads also to extremely long hours. When this condition is imposed, creative fire is further dampened. A common complaint is that a man is underpaid. This is almost inevitable, except

where unions are firmly entrenched, because of the large number of professional people who are willing to make great sacrifices to get into the field. Since it is possible to staff stations with low-paid personnel, and most stations are operating at a loss anyway, there is no logical purpose, from management's point of view, in raising the scale of wages.

It is the lack of money, of course, which causes lack of time and personnel. But lack of adequate production budgets is the main point here. This results in relatively low quality of production, second-class talent, the use of sets and props that make-do. This again refers to the local program originated at the small station, and bears no application to the commercial network show. Some of the big shows this year have gone on such a spending jag that it is difficult for many people in the trade to understand where the money goes. High figures run between $30,000 and $70,000 an hour. The local producer in Toledo, however, must put on a local show (just following this network extravaganza) at a budget of $70, instead of $70,000. Of course, people will say his show is worse, but somehow or other they will watch it. Audience reports in small towns, where two or three stations compete in local programming, often show that the station with the smallest program budgets and the poorest facilities is holding the largest audience. Could it be that lack of enough money to do things wrong is pushing these harried producers into techniques of pure television which interest the audiences more?

It has often been said that the main thing that has kept radio from really amounting to something has been the domination of the commercial motive and the business mind. Since the economic basis of television in America is the same as that of radio—the sale of time for advertising purposes —it seems logical to expect that television will be hampered in the same way.

Within this commercial framework, however, it is sometimes possible for art to bloom. There have been cases in radio; history presents many examples among the other arts. Painting in the Renaissance, in the great Dutch school, and architecture in almost all ages were completely commercial enterprises. Court painters, musicians, and poet laureates were just as dependent on the favor and caprice of their lords as we today when we fawn upon the presidents and vice-presidents of our big sponsoring companies. Yet these conditions in the past were not exactly death to the development of art.


Of course, in those examples art was a one-man proposition, whereas today's communication media are coöperative. Creation here is the result of many people working together. It is quite probable that one mind is stronger than many when it comes to the creation of art. Often, a Hollywood film that begins with a long list of writers, producers, and subproducers turns out to be a hodgepodge, whereas a film that starts with the credit "Written, directed and produced by" is likely to be a good film. At least it will have unity.

In television production there is a plethora of agency executives, producers, and subproducers who are the commercial minds. Although they may know showmanship, these people are in a position where they must give prior allegiance to the advertising of their sponsor's product.

This results, first of all, in conservatism. Hollywood production has shown the same tendency and, of course, it has been true of radio for years. An experiment that has been tried and has failed, for whatever reason, is dropped cold by everybody; while a successful show, no matter how ordinary, is copied and recopied as closely as legal restrictions will allow.

The second result of commercialism is a policy of constant surveillance and meddling through all phases of the production. The executive feels he should know more than the directors, producers, and other creative minds that he hires, and it is a very rare executive indeed who can admit what he does not know. Since he is boss, his suggestions are followed even though they are destructive to what the director has conceived. Unfortunately there is usually such a long string of bosses. Above each boss is a more powerful boss who knows even less about the creation of a show, and who makes even more captious and even more inviolate decisions. These people are probably acting in complete good faith. Each is held responsible for what is done under him and, particularly in this new medium, he does not feel confidence enough in anyone to leave him strictly alone and stake his own reputation on the result. This hierarchy reaches up to the highest individual in the sponsoring firm, who, when he is unsure of his own judgment, refers the problem back to the audience for its reaction: he asks his wife. It is quite possible that this unscientific kind of audience measurement is behind many of the big decisions with which sponsoring firms and agencies determine the life and death of creative productions.

There is another aspect of group thinking and creating which tends to

produce a relatively uninspired and pedestrian result. In order to use a certain technique or device in his show, the director must first convince his various bosses and co-workers of its value. There is a great difference between being able to do a thing, and being able to explain, before you do it, why it will be good. An intuitive feeling that a device will work is not enough to convince others in a story conference. The proponent of an idea must prove the idea is good. He must give examples of its successful use. He is limited to what the others have seen and will understand, and limited by what he himself can put across. I know of a writer who can sell an idea in glowing words so that everyone in conference is delighted. Yet, when the idea is given form, it often turns out to be commonplace.

A major problem in television is the advertising message between the acts of a show. This interruption to a show's continuity is analagous to the intermission between reels in the silent picture days, except that those periods were made as pleasant as possible. Candy or cigar vendors didn't plant themselves shouting in front of each member of the audience. Too much creative thought today is directed toward devising new and more powerful sledge hammers to aid in sales persuasion. A few of these commercials have been almost universally pleasing, but studies have shown that it is the commercials with a high score of dislike reactions which bring in the highest percentage of increased sales.

A large number of viewers have discovered a way to outwit the commercial. They simply lean forward and turn off the sound. Immediately the irritation is gone. The televiewer has an advantage over the radio listener in this respect. He is devoting his entire attention to the television set. He is never across the room or involved in some other occupation. He is within easy reach of the tuning dial. (Tuning the television set is a skill of which new owners are proud, and they are anxious to display that skill.)

A certain number of television commercials are rewarding to watch. The classic example is the Sid Stone commercial on the Milton Berle show, which was always one of the top numbers of the program. Most TV commercials are not live television at all, but film productions utilizing production techniques impractical in television. If such commercials rise to the quality of art—and there is indication that this is possible—it will be film art, not television art. But it will be film art that owes its existence to the commercial demands of the television medium.


Fred Killian, program manager of WENR-TV in Chicago, made an interesting point in a conversation with me a few months ago. He said the public will accept and enjoy the educational, the documentary, and other nonfiction programs only if they are well sugared with commercials. His point was that the commercial sponsorship of a program lends dignity and importance to the show in the minds of the viewing audience. I know of no empirical evidence on this point, even in the field of radio, but it is an interesting consideration.

A general obstacle to the best possible production in television is the lack of understanding between engineering and production personnel. Two entirely different points of view are represented in these two departments; entirely different backgrounds are required for the people working in them. It is extremely difficult for a man who measures the quality of a production by its dramatic values, visual interest, and so forth to understand a man who measures a production with another yardstick, who is pleased by such things as "picture quality" and "low signal to noise ratio," and is distressed by a slight indication of "key-stoning" or "streaking." The same thing is true in the other direction. The fault is lack of education on both sides. It is appalling how few production people attempting to work in this highly technical medium have the background of high school or college physics on which to build an understanding of the tools they are using. Engineers, who have worked in radio, do have a general idea of the elements of timing in showmanship, especially if they have been operating engineers. But the straight technician has only the haziest notion of what constitutes a show and no idea at all about artistic merit.

The problem of cameramen is a good example and will serve to illustrate the overall problem. It is generally conceded that in motion pictures the cameraman is a key man, and must be almost as fine an artist as the director. In still photography the cameraman is all; he is the creator by himself. In television this has not entirely carried over. About half the TV stations hire cameramen for their knowledge of showmanship and photographic skill. The other half hire men with technical and engineering background. Of this latter group of stations, about half choose men who also show particular interest in or ability with the camera, train them intensively in their job, and let them slowly forget their technical background. The other half of this group—roughly one quarter of all television

cameramen—are rotated from week to week over all the jobs in the engineering department. Technical men at heart, interested primarily in circuits and electronic phenomena, they are out of their element on a camera. The cameraman's job thus becomes the lowest calling. It is sometimes described as "the salt mine," disliked and dreaded by the engineer as a boring assignment calling for none of his intelligence and training. Many an engineer sits morosely on the camera, doing what he is instructed to do and no more. Any unusual angle or effect that a production man may try to get is resented, ridiculed, or apathetically tolerated by the cameraman.

The system of rotating engineers is always maddening to production people. This is made even worse in some stations by the scheduling of engineers to fit work shifts which may not correspond at all with rehearsal schedules. Thus a director sometimes finds his engineers or cameramen changing between rehearsal and air time.

The camera operator is only one of a group of operating engineers. As such, their activities are confined to running the equipment, not to designing or maintaining it. Other operating engineers are: projectionist, audio operator, switcher, dolly pusher, microphone boom operator, record spinner, and lighting expert. I know of one station, WHEN in Syracuse, which has classified all of these jobs under the program department. I consider this a very significant move. It has made possible the assignment of "showmen" to operating jobs. The job of an operating engineer is definitely a showman's job, the job of putting on a show. It is almost entirely nontechnical. Where some technical understanding does enter in, station WHEN feels, as do WCAU and WPTZ in Philadelphia, that it is easier to teach a showman how to punch buttons and adjust a few dials than it is to teach an engineer showmanship. Furthermore, the fact that all personnel connected with production are in the same group completely eliminates group rivalry. This normal rivalry between human groups accounts for much of the war between engineers and program people.

The creative cameraman is a big factor in production quality. That in itself, however, is not enough. When the cameraman respects the director, he is eager to help him achieve any effect he has in mind. When the director respects the cameraman, he will encourage him to make creative contributions to the increased excellence of the program. Unfortunately, this ideal situation is by no means common. Many directors are unfamiliar with or unable fully to understand the cameraman's job. This is true,

to a certain extent, of station staff directors, but is much truer of agency and package firm directors, whose contact with stations is irregular and whose television experience is limited.

WBAD, the Dumont station, was faced with this problem years ago. Its solution was to follow the lead of NBC and separate the director from the cameramen, forcing him to give all his orders to a technical director, who relayed them to the cameramen. Thus the technical director (or TD, as he is usually called) worked with the cameramen as captain of a team. There is no doubt that this protected the cameramen from the aggravations of trying to work with incompetent directors. However, a good director was automatically prevented from doing his best work on the spontaneous type of program. Split seconds of reaction time make the difference between catching an action and missing it. By the time instructions were relayed through a TD to the cameramen, it was often too late to carry them out. NBC early established this "TD system" of television directing, but the shows at this network have almost always been scripted and well rehearsed, so that spontaneous instructions from director to cameraman are rarely necessary.

By far the most common method of operation allows the director to speak to the cameramen, while an engineer—who may be called the "technical director," or more often the "switcher"—operates the switching and fading equipment following the director's cues. In some operations, for the sake of more accurate cutting or merely for the sake of economy, this engineer is dispensed with entirely and the director runs the switching system himself.

The directors at NBC had long been discontented with the "TD" system and wanted to work directly with the cameramen. At one point last year they decided to do something about it. The company backed them up and announced that henceforward the directors, as well as the technical directors, would have intercom connection with the cameramen, and that the directors would be free to give directions to the cameramen at any time. This caused considerable misunderstanding until it was finally straightened out; the union objected strenuously to the reduction in importance of the TD. It was finally agreed that in the unrehearsed show the director would be allowed to speak to the cameraman, but that in the regular rehearsed production the operation would continue in the earlier pattern.

The technical director system is now in force at the ABC network studios,

but in a more liberal form that appears to be close to the ideal. Both director and TD talk to the cameramen (at least in the unrehearsed type of show) so there is no artificial limitation on quality, and at the same time the technical director is taking an active hand in helping the director run the show.

Most of television program production is in a first phase of development, which may be called the technical phase. A parallel can be found in the history of motion pictures just after the advent of sound. No one in Hollywood at that time understood audio equipment. Accordingly, experts were summoned from the RCA laboratories in New York, where the sound system was first developed, and were virtually put in charge of production. It was the day of the engineer in Hollywood. Visual quality deteriorated to zero. The camera was frozen in a sound-proof booth; actors were held to static positions under the microphone. It was not until motion picture men, such as Douglas Shearer, were sent to New York to learn sound that the reign of the engineer was broken, and the sound film was free to develop to its natural boundaries.

As long as the technical requirements of television remain a mystery to the station's program personnel, TV will not advance past the first stage in its development. Where creative men are on the cameras, however— where lighting men, for example, are chosen not only for their thorough understanding of the technical peculiarities of the medium, but also for their backgrounds in photographic or theater lighting as well—there television production is beginning to emerge out of the technical stage, and to develop as a medium of creative art.


Preferred Citation: Smoodin, Eric, and Ann Martin, editors. Hollywood Quarterly: Film Culture in Postwar America, 1945-1957. Berkeley:  University of California,  c2002 2002.