Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The House That Ince Built by Dennis Daggett

Dennis Daggett. The House that Ince Built. USA (copyright 1980).

Thomas Harper Inca was a partner in Triangle Studios with D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett. Ths book focused on the history of the studio he constructed.

Ince was Director General at the New York Motion Picture Corporation. Among the films he directed were “The First Misunderstanding” with Mary Pickford in 1911. He then moved to Los Angeles to work on such films as “War on the Plains”, which is notable for hiring Native Americans to play the Indian roles. In 1915, he became Vice President of Triangle Film Corporation. As an executive, he purchased 10,000 at Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard and named it Inceville where films could be made. There, such movies as “The Battle of Gettysburg”, using eight cameras, was filmed

Ince was known for his planning and scripting ahead of time in a time where movies were more loosely constructed. He was personally very concerned with film editing. He hired experienced directors to direct.

Ince used glass stages that used natural sunlight and which kept the same light balance for interior and exterior scenes. Others filmed with artificial lighting.

Harry Culver had Ince supervise the construction of Metropolitan Studios (later MGM). Culver then dismissed Ince for an internally employed candidate to run the studio operations. Ince then informed Culver he owned part of the property, forcing Culver to purchase Ince’s property. Ince used this money to construct his own studio in 1918. It opened in 1919.

Ince’s studio introduced new lighting techniques, introducing fill lights known as arcs, baby jrs, brutes, and quartz lighting systems that remained in use until the late 1960s.

Ince directed or supervised most of his films. He also appeared in most of his films, often in disguise and using a fake name. Ince was the first, the author believes, to develop star talent. “Anna Christie” was among the successful films that resulted.

In 1924, Ince disappeared on a yacht belonging to William Randolph Hearst. It is theorized he was shot and thrown overboard. Rumor had it an actress, Louelle Parson, may have seen the murder. She was hired by Hearst and became a famous newspaper columnist. She said nothing about the incident. Ince’s death was officially declared a suicide.

Ince Studio stopped production after Ince’s death. Cecil B. DeMille purchased the studio in 1925. In 1928, Pathe Pictures bought Ince’s former lot from DeMille. Pathe, being a smaller studio, faced greater financial problems adjusting to the higher costs of movies with sound. The Mutual Film Corporation merged with Pathe. Joseph P. Kennedy gained control of Mutual and changed it to Keith-Albee-Oprheum. Film Booking Offices merged with Pathe as they sought more physical space. Keith-Albee-Orpheum went into receivership during the stock market crash. David Sarnoff of Radio Corporation purchased Keith-Albee-Orpheum and Film Booking Office and renamed the, Radio Keith Oprheum (RKO). RKO owned both the former Ince Culver lot and a lot in Hollywood.

David Selznick, son of a failed studio owner, became the head of RKO. He previously had worked at MGM, where he was fired by Irving Thalberg. He asked his father’s former rival, Adolph Zuker, for a job. Zuker was impressed Selznick would turn to him. Zuker hired Selznick to work at Paramount.

Under Selznick, Katherine Hepburn was signed to star in several successful movies, even though Selznick was not initially impressed with her. “King Kong” was a financial success for RKO, the largest money maker than ever before. Selznick decided against dropped contract actor Fred Astaire, a decision that proved wise as Astaire filmed several successful RKO movies afterwards.

RKO used heavily lighted background with actors in the foreground successfully in “The Informer”. Orson Welles used this technique in “Citizen Kane” five years later.

Director William Dieterle was known for carefully directing every single line for maximum effect. The technique made “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
very successful.

RKO hired Orson Welles to direct movies. Welles negotiated a 60 page contract that gave him full artistic control of his movies and kept executives out of rush screenings. Welles met Herman Mankiewicz and was enthralled by Mankiewicz’s idea of a film on Mankiewicz’s former boss, William Randolph Hearst. Mankiewicz wrote a 200 page screenplay over three months. John Houseman edited it. Welles added material. “Citizen Kane” resulted. Cameraman Gregg Toland used a new bifocal lens he has invented which used sharp foreground and sharp background lighting creating sharp focus in the foreground and back. The only problem was side distortion. Art Director Perry Ferguson created props in both foreground and background. Welles would often use 84 to 100 takes per scene, and even 120 takes for one scene. Robert Wise edited the film with Welles over six months with many 18 hour workdays. Music composed by Bernard Herrmann was used in nontraditional means with no title music and music beginning as the estate is first shown. Herrmann had three months, rather than the usual three weeks, to compose the music. He composed as the movie was filmed, tying the music to the scene.

“Citizen Kane” took 82 days to film, using 276,505 feet of film, and with production costs of $686,000. Welles paid for $100,000 of the production costs.

The Hearst newspapers blacklisted any mention of “Citizen Kane”. William Randolph Hearst threatened to use muckraking journalism to embarrass Hollywood. The opening date was postponed as RKO let Hearst representatives view the movie. Welles threatened to sue it “Citizen Kane” was not released. It was, but the Warner theater chain, Radio City Music Hall, and many independent theaters declined to show it. It was shown in second rate theaters and was a financial flop. It would only become successful when shown later on TV.

Selznick started Pioneer Pictures with Merian. C. Cooper and Herbert T. Kalmus, the developer of Technicolor. Their focus was on color photographs. They filmed “Becky Sharp” by renting the RKO Culver City lot. The higher film cost with required higher lighting costs caused financial problems when the film flopped.

Selznick in 1935 created Selznick International Pictures and leased RKO Pathe’s Culver City studio. The agreement kept RKOs right to use the studio. The first Selznick International Picture, “Little Lord Fauntroy”, shot in black and white, was considered a good film but didn’t make much money. The second movie used a little known Marlene Dietrich, signed for a large sum of $200,000 in “The Garden of Allah”. Filming in a desert that hit 120 degrees complicated matters, including lighting problems and sunstroke to people. The movie itself flopped.

Selznick signed William Wellman to direct movies. His first, “A Star is Born”, based partially on Wellman’s life, was a success. Wellman and Selznick fought during the movie with Selznick changing the script and Wellman changing it back. This was followed by their next collaboration, “Nothing Sacred”. Ben Hecht began writing the script but quit after fighting over it with Selznick. The script was finished by Ring Lardner Jr. and Budd Shulberg. This movie was also a success. Wellman then left Selznick’s employment. Selznick faced three flops soon afterwards with one success, “The Prisoner of Zenda”.

Story Editor Kay Brown recommended Selznick produce “Gone with the Wind”. Civil War films previously were generally unsuccessful. Russell Birdwell, in the publicity office, recommended a two year publicity campaign, including publicizing a lengthy search for casting. The book the movie was based on sold almost two million copies, increasing public discussion of the movie. The little known Vivian Leigh was selected as the lead female based on her talent.

Selznick insisted on authenticity. Ann Rutherford asked why they had to wear authentic underwear, noting “nobody will know that I’m wearing this fancy underwear”. Selznick responded “but you’ll know it’s there.”

In one scene, 1500 people and 600 dummies portrayed dead and dying in a battlefield. A camera was lifted 95 feet on a crame to film the scene, topping the tallest boom reach of 25 feet. After ten weeks of rehearsal, the scene was shot in one take.

“Gone with the Wind” took five months to film, using half a million feet of film, at a cost of $3,957,000. This was over the original estimated budget of $2,500,000. The next task was editing the film. One film cutting session lasted 51 hours nonstop.

Max Steiner and Herbert Strothart scored “Gone with the Wind” in three months.

The line “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” was allowed by the censors but considered an offense that resulted in a fine of $5,000 paid to the Producers Association.

Selznick brought Alfred Hitchcock to direct “Rebecca”, which started filming while “Gone with the Wind” was being produced. Selznick clashed with Hitchcock, who was used to having full control over directing. Selznick sent memos telling how to direct. Hitchcock shot only enough film as Hitchcock was guaranteed of getting his way.

“Gone with the Wind” was so successful that Selznick’s reputation seemed to require him to continue making similar hit movies. He made few movies for three years, with “Suspicion” directed by Hitchcock being sold by Selznick to RKO. Jennifer Jones and “Song of Bernadette” successfully rejuvenated Selznick’s successes. Selznick believed “Since You Went Away” was better than “Gone with the Wind”, and while most critics disagreed, the movie was a financial success.

Selznick took over sciptwriting to “Duel in the Sun” with Jennifer Jones and spent over a year and over $5,000,000 producing it. Selznick fell in love with Jennifer Jones. Selznick became so involved in the film that director King Vidor walked out. Dimitri Tiomkin spent six months composing the score, being told by Selznikc to “score an orgasm”. Selznick demanded the score be rewritten, stating “that’s not an orgasm”. Selznick declared of the revised score “I like it, but it isn’t orgasm music. It’s not the way I fuck” to which Tiomkin responded “you fuck your way, I fuck my way”. Selznick approved the score. Selznick later married Jennifer Jone but ended up overextended in $12 million of loans. He resolved his debts but left the film business.

Orson Welles directed “The Magnificent Ambersons” and insisted on using real snow, which was created in an ice plant in Los Angeles. A problem developed as the hot lights melted the snow.

Welles directed a documentary “It’s All True” at the request of RKO stockholder Nelson Rockefeller, who was then in charge of the U.S. State Department’s Inter-American Affairs. The hopes were the film would help improve diplomatic relations. A crew member died during underwater filming, causing the crew to be returned to the U.S. in fear of straining diplomatic relations. The film was never completed.

In 1942, Floyd Odlum gained control of RKO stock. Joseph Breen, David Sarnoff, and Nelson Rockefeller left RKO. In 1943, RKO had a $7 million profit. It showed profits for six years afterwards. Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan were big RKO stars. Orson Welles directed “The Stranger” for RKO and followed all RKO orders in an attempt to restore his successful image.

During the Red scare Odlum sought to sell his share of RKO for $9 million. Howard Hughes bought control of RKO. Dore Schary couldn’t get along with Hugh. Schary became in charge of MGM’s production where he made many successful movies, including many war movies which had disinterested Hughes.

Hughes gave almost complete artistic freedom to producers and directors. Unfortunately, Hughes retained final control, and Hughes often clashed with others over his ideas of artistic quality. In addition, Hughes was busy with companies in multiple industries and it could take months for Hughes to provide his input.

Robert Mitchum was arrested and convicted for marijuana possession. He served 50 days in jail. Hughes lent Mitchum $50,000 to pay for his lawyers.

Hughes hired Jane Russell to star in what was eventually called “Double Dynamite”. It began filming in 1948. Hughes’s interventions in the film delayed the film being finished until 1951. It was not very successfully. Other Jane Russell films failed to attract the audience Hughes sought.

The “Superman” TV series ran 104 shows from 1951 to 1957. The 1951 episodes were filmed on the Culver City lot. Some were filmed in two days. This was the firs episodic TV series.

RKO did not make the money Hughes expected. He decided to concentrate on his other businesses so he sold RKO. Hughes bought out some other RKO shareholders and then sold RKO for an estimated $25 million to Thomas Francis O’Neil, who owned General Teleradio as well as General Tire and Rubber. O’Neil covered his costs by selling the backlot for $15 million and future TV rights to RKO movies for $10 million. Daniel O’Shea was hired to preside over RKO. O’Shea had been one of Selznick’s studio attorneys. O’Shea moved to concentrating on producing high quality films.

Hughes retained RKO’s theater chain. All other movie companies were later required to divest any interests they had in theaters.

“Star Trek” was initially rejected by NBC for being too good for a wide audience to appreciate. Desilu spent $700,000 on the rejected pilot. NBC requested a second pilt. Since the set already existed, a second pilot cost $300,000. The lead actor, Jeff Hunter, was filming a movie in Spain, were he had an accident falling from a horse that contributed to his death later on. William Shatner was cast to take Hunter’s place. The lights attracted waps that stun actors Shatner and Sally Kellerman.

Desilum ran out of money in 1968.

The author claims the film business puts business first and “if there is room for a little art, it’ll be a coincidence, but so be it.”

Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor sued Warner Brothers over failing to publicize their independent film “Billy Jack” and for not paying the producers. They contacted theaters on their own. They then filmed the sequel “The Trial of Billy Jack” at the Culver City studios.

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