Saturday, 17 June 2017

Making Shorts

What did you think of the Mirthquake Comedies? Or the Vagabond Adventure Series? Or Going Places With Lowell Thomas? They were among the “selected shorts” that theatres were offering in 1935 along with the better-known March of Time, and the Fitzpatrick Traveltalks (such as “Colorful Guatamala” and “Los Angeles, Wonder City of the West”).

Likely you’ve never seen many of the shorts produced back then (Mirthquake starred George Shelton and Tom Howard, by the way). They appeared on screen and then disappeared, with the idea they’d never be seen again. When television came around and local stations needed to fill air time, what was old and worthless to movie studios proved to be a gold-mine for TV syndication companies—at least in some cases, especially when it could appeal to kids. So those of you who grew up in the ’50s and ‘60s had your fill—and maybe couldn’t get enough—of the Three Stooges shorts, the Our Gang comedies, the Laurel and Hardy two-reelers and, especially, the animated cartoons. Alas for Junior Coghlan, his Frolics of Youth series didn’t make the cut. Neither did RKO’s Blondes and Redheads shorts starring Carol Tevis and Dot Grainger.

Here’s a little story on short subjects from the National Enterprise Association. It appeared in newspapers on August 17, 1935. A good portion of it involves making cartoons. The article lists a number of the series, with the reporter apparently unaware of the poor, disrespected Van Beuren studio. Flip the Frog wasn’t being made by 1935 but it’s nice of the writer to have noticed something by Ub Iwerks.

By the way, a number of years ago, the wonderful Leonard Maltin filled a void by writing about live-action shorts in his book “Selected Short Subjects.” You can read a bit about it on his page, where he links to Amazon on how to buy a copy from that financially struggling company.

How Movies Are Made
Industry Is Ever-Changing With Animated Cartoons, News Reels and Comedies Fast Assuming High Rank—Short Subjects Are Becoming Rivals of Big Productions of Filmdom

NEA Service Staff Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD — The primary function of the movie industry is, of course, to produce feature length pictures.
But the activity doesn't stop there by any means. Short subjects—animated cartoons, comedies, newsreels, travelogs, and novelties also are necessary to give theaters well-balanced programs.
Of these films, cartoons and newsreels are by far the most popular. In fact, they frequently attain an importance equal to that of a feature picture.
Many patrons are lured into theaters by cartoons. And newsreels now are demanded as a part of every bill.
Interesting as cartoons and newsreels may be to audiences, however, their production is a hundred times more fascinating.
Cartoons, particularly, enjoy a niche all by themselves, being the only type of entertainment that is wholly hand made. Today there are about nine different cartoons, including "Mickey Mouse," "Silly Symphonies," "Pop Eye the Sailor," "Oswald the Rabbit," "Bosko," "Krazy Kat," "Merrie Melodies," "Flip the Frog," and "Terry Tunes."
As the production method on each is virtually the same, let's take a peek at the Walt Disney studio, home of "Mickey Mouse" and the "Silly Symphonies" and see what happens.
The pictures are about 650 feet in length. And, although Disney makes only 18 of them each year, he employs a staff of 300 persons.
The first step coincides with that of a feature picture. A story must be written. Then it is put into regular scenario form, with every detail of the action explained. Different scenes are then handed to the animators for drawing. They sketch the key drawings, usually every third one, leaving the mothers for their assistants.
All drawings then are sent to the inking department, where a corps of artists goes over the penciled sketches with ink. Tracing is the next step. Every drawing must be traced in ink on a sheet of celluloid. Then it is painted.
The next job is to match the various sets of drawings which belong together. As a rule, four sheets of celluloid are combined to make one complete picture for photographing. For instance, if Mickey, Pluto, and Donald Duck are walking along a dusty road, one artist draws Mickey, another Pluto, a third Donald Duck, and a fourth the background.
After being traced, they are assembled and photographed. Sixteen of these composite pictures are needed to make one foot of film.
There's virtually no cutting or editing on a cartoon after it's finished. Since the work is slow and painstaking, that is all done before-hand.
It would be impossible to watch a single newsreel in the making, as various scenes in it may be filmed in the United States, South America, Italy, Russia, and Japan simultaneously.
Newsreel companies, controlled by various major studios, have cameramen stationed in all parts of the world. These men work very much like newspaper reporters.
They must be ready at a moment's notice to "cover" any activity, ranging from a disastrous earthquake to crowning a prize-winning hog.
All film for United States consumption is then rushed to New York, where it is assembled and the voice of the commentator added. Then it's dispatched to various key cities by the fastest planes or trains.
Next in importance among short subjects are the two-reel comedies. Virtually all of them are now turned out by two companies Hal Roach and Educational.
While handled on a much smaller scale, they are made exactly the same as feature pictures. The principal difference lies in the cost and gross receipts. The average cost is $25,000 and the average return about $50,000.
Naturally, the stars of these comedies receive lower salaries than those in feature pictures, the top being about $1,000 weekly. And the pictures are usually made in 10 days.
One-reel musicals and novelties, which are steadily gaining in popularity, are now being produced by nearly all major companies. Generally speaking, their production follows the same line as that of a feature. But they seldom use more than two sets and are made in two or three days.
Usually their actual production cost is around $5,000, although the total cost is jumped considerably when high-priced persons must be engaged for them. The Pete Smith aborts come in this category, with Pete probably receiving more than is spent on the rest of the picture.
The same holds true when an important orchestra or vaudeville headliner is featured.
Travelogs are of value principally because of the bit of wanderlust that lurks in most hearts. An imaginative person can watch them and actually believe he to going right along with the cameramen.
Very often the cameramen on these little pictures have no definite assignments. They roam at large, seeking unusual locales or places of great scenic beauty.
Since the expense of taking sound equipment with them would be too great, they shoot with silent cameras. Explanatory remarks and background music are added later in the studios here.

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