Development of Filmmaking in America

Table of Content

In the period before the 1930’s, filmmaking mainly involved the use of crank cameras, although motor-driven cameras were available. However, the motors required to advance the film were too large and impractical. Therefore, it was the cameraman’s responsibility to crank the film at a consistent pace for exposure. Conversely, motor-driven projectors were convenient for screening films, and by the 1920’s, a standard projection speed of 24 frames per second was established. Filming, however, lacked standardization due to variations in recording speeds, which depended on the cameraman. While an experienced cameraman could film at a nearly uniform speed for an entire movie, deviations in recording speed were often made for dramatic effect. For instance, reducing the number of cranks resulted in fewer exposed frames. When projected at the standard 24 frames per second, this created an intense action that characterized much of Vaudeville cinema.

The French filmmaker Georges Melies was one of the first to use changing backdrops and costumes in his films. This was different from the previous norm of short films that took place on one set. The introduction of changing sets and costumes opened up a world of possibilities and helped the film industry grow. As the film industry expanded in America, filmmakers saw the need for a single location where they could build sets and film without interruption. California, with its bright sunlight, stable climate, and diverse terrain, became the perfect place for filming, which is why the industry concentrated there. At that time, films were shot on a single reel, resulting in filmstrips that lasted only 15-20 minutes. Independent producers were the ones who first used double reel filmmaking before World War I.

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The introduction of longer films opened up new opportunities in both financial and creative aspects. It also led to the development of the iconic double reel camera in movie production. In the 1930s, a significant advancement occurred with the implementation of synchronous sound and dialogue, which had been invented and demonstrated in the 1920s. This technology became the standard by the early 1930s, thanks in part to a device based on radio that effectively amplified sound in theaters. Initially, there were two available systems for recording sound. One system was similar to a phonograph and used a separate disc to capture sound. The other, more popular system recorded sound directly onto the celluloid strip. At first, the inclusion of sound presented challenges in filmmaking; cameras had to be enclosed to reduce motor noise, and actors had limited mobility due to stationary microphones. However, technological advancements quickly addressed these issues, and sound became an essential component of filmmaking.

The incorporation of sound into movies and the subsequent rise in popularity of theaters resulted in a series of mergers in Hollywood. These mergers led to the creation of the first major studios, such as Fox Studios (later known as 20th Century Fox), Leow’s Incorporated (later known as Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer), Paramount, RKO, and Warner Bros.. By vertically consolidating, these studios gained control over all aspects of film production – from writers, directors, actors, equipment, crew members to even theaters. This dominance continued until 1948 when the U.S. Government declared their monopoly illegal.

Additionally during this time period, color was introduced to movies thanks to the Technicolor system. Technicolor utilized a specialized camera that used three film strips – red, blue, and yellow – to achieve color reproduction.

The combination of the three strips resulted in the creation of a full-color image, although the colors were often exaggerated. This can be seen in films like Gone With The Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939). In Italy during the 1940s, a movement called “neorealism” emerged with the goal of portraying realistic aspects of society as opposed to Hollywood’s fantasy worlds. Filmmakers from various countries drew inspiration from this movement to depict everyday life in their own works. In the 1950s, new advancements such as 3-D movies and wide screen formats were introduced. Approximately 35 3-D films were released during this period, but their popularity quickly declined. Additionally, wide screen format gained popularity in this decade.

It was introduced largely to distinguish movies from television in an effort to lure dwindling audiences back into theaters. Cinemascope, the first technology of its kind, used a special lens to compress the wider image onto a 35mm film reel. A second lens on the projection piece would later decompress the image to create the wide screen format. Later, the Panavision system replaced Cinemascope, eliminating the need for special lenses. In addition, the 1950’s witnessed the rise of the French “New Wave”. The New Wave originated from a group of French film critics who believed that most French cinema focused excessively on the written aspects of a film. They advocated for placing the director, as the creator of the final visual image, at the true center and thus went on to direct their own films based on this new theory. Furthermore, the French New Wave aimed to reconceptualize film by incorporating new techniques and styles while also being influenced by popular culture and striving to emulate Hollywood’s success.

One example of disrupting the continuity of a scene is Jean-Luc Godard, who introduced jump cuts and temporal cuts. In the 1960’s, Germany had its own movement known as “das neue Kino” which focused on history, hardship, and the impact of American popular culture on German society. This movement also incorporated feminist viewpoints. The birth of modern blockbusters occurred in the 1970’s with the movie Jaws. Unlike traditional blockbusters, Jaws featured mostly unknown actors and utilized shocking special effects, like a large mechanical shark, to captivate the audience.

The introduction of special effects in films revolutionized the industry, leading to the era of blockbuster movies. This shift was reinforced by the immense success of Star Wars, a widely popular film that captivated audiences with its mesmerizing special effects. These groundbreaking visual effects, combined with idealized and uncomplicated characters, became synonymous with blockbusters and breathed new life into Hollywood by attracting larger audiences and generating substantial profits. By the mid-1970s, a winning formula had been established – instead of releasing numerous movies to theaters, films were now simultaneously shown on thousands of screens in smaller quantities. To optimize revenue, extensive promotional campaigns accompanied these releases. This successful strategy not only ended the financial downturn experienced during the 1960s but also continues to be employed today. Additionally, in 1978 an innovative device emerged that expanded possibilities for filmmakers.

Dubbed the Steadicam, the camera mount revolutionized the film industry. Unlike traditional tripods or dollies, it attached to the cameraman, allowing the camera to move freely wherever the cameraman walked or ran. Over time, the system underwent numerous improvements to enhance quality and user-friendliness. One notable example of its application was seen in Spielburg’s Saving Private Ryan, particularly during the Normandy battle sequences. Alongside technological advancements, the 80’s also witnessed the rise of new mediums, such as cable companies, which greatly expanded entertainment options and paved the way for increased independent production.

Independent films previously struggled to find an audience due to exclusive contracts with major theater chains, but cable television expanded viewership and boosted the independent cinema sector.

The Digital Age brought significant technological progress in the 1990s. In the United States, people embraced digital technology as CDs replaced vinyl records and tapes, DVDs gained popularity, and camcorders and cameras improved image quality.

Hollywood took the lead in embracing digital advancements. Non-linear editing formats became widely adopted in the 1990s, even in high school programs that purchased non-linear devices for consumers. Advancements during this period progressed rapidly.

Numerous advancements in computer effects editing have made it not only feasible to modify the appearance of a film using a computer, but also incredibly cost-effective. This technology is being increasingly utilized in film production to rectify filming mistakes or enhance the magnificence of a scene. An upcoming war movie, currently unnamed, exemplifies this application as twenty extras charging across a battlefield will be digitally replicated into a thousand-man assault. The significant contribution in this arena can be attributed to George Lucas, a trailblazer in the digital realm. He released Star Wars: E1 in three theaters using solely digital projectors, eliminating the need for traditional film reels. Furthermore, he is preparing to film the next two installments using completely digital cameras and advocating for their release in entirely digital theaters. Hollywood and the rest of the world now recognize that digital represents the future evolution of cinema.

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