CANADA Has a “MOVIE” FUTURE
But Certain Restrictions Must First Be Removed
NOTE.Allan Dwan has become one of the most famous of motion picture
directors, having produced many of the best pictures featuring Douglas Fairbanks, and also some Mary Pickford films. That he is a Toronto boy makes his work of special interest to Canadians. In
the folloiving article, in which he tells something of his remarkable career, Mr. Dwan deals in a practical ip ay with the possibility of making 'Canada a prominent field in the profitable business of film production. He sees great possibilities but points out certain difficulties and restrictions that must be removed first. It is certain that, if the difficulties he enumerates were removed, the production of pictures would begin on a large scale in Canada.
THERE comes a time in the life of every man when he feels impelled to reminisce. And the germ has bitten me. I think the reason for the infection lies in the fact that I recently indulged in a lengthy discussion regarding my Canadian home-land and its motion picture possibilities, during which discussion I discovered several incidents which I thought would look well in print, but then, again, it may be that I am growing vain, and anxious to talk. We all of us pass through that stage, you know.
I suppose that it is not being immodest, or conceited, to start with my birth, and make use of the personal pronoun. I was born in Toronto, April 3rd, 1885. There was nothing particular about my family —we were just people—and I was the child of the household. I rather imagine
that I was a fairly normal kid, for I liked all of the out-of-door sports, could make a great deal of noise, and had a more than normally healthy appetite. There was one point, I remember, that may have branded me as “odd” among my associates—I was always infatuat-
ed with the theatre. I do not remember when I first saw a play, but while I never had many such opportunities, I knew a great deal of the stage. Yes, call it “stage-struck” if you wish. It really classifies my mental attitude.
And I wrote plays. I remember one written and produced when I was about seven. I learned that my companions did not particularly care for the work of rehearsing in my shows, so I played all of the parts myself. I was my own publicity agent, and incidentally the ticket collector. The admission was, I think, two marbles, marbles being my great need the forenoon of that particular performance. When the table cloth curtain was lifted I began my show, and I was playing all the parts. I went very well until one of the audience said that he did not think I talked like an actor, and the fight started. When my mother untangled us the show was over. Looking back on the incident it seems prophetic. Possibly I was born for the voiceless drama.
From that time on my ambitions were unlimited. I was the star “kid actor” of the school, and when my father’s business interests demand' d that he leave Toronto for Chicago, I carried rry ambitions with me. Also I took them to college. As tie family was in Chicago it was decided that Notre Dame was handy, and I went to that university to study electrical engineering, but I also managed to get in a course in English. When I finished they sent me to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology .in Boston for post-graduate work. The family were certain that I had an engineering future. Poor family! If they had only known that my studies were always hurried, and my best thought dwelled constantly on the theatres in Boston, or on the latest production of our Dramatic Society! I really did approach stardom in my college work, and I looked many times at the letter which offered me a position as professor in Mathematics and Physics in the engineering course in Notre Dame— looked at it because I wondered if I really wanted to be a teacher. In the end I went resolutely towards what I thought was duty.
D ESOLUTELY? Yes, but before I had been in the university twenty-four hours I was reading a play to refresh my memory of the technique of dramatic presentation. I was going to write a play! It was easy work, quite so. And when it was finished I read it tenderly. Then I went down to the office, resigned my position, started for New York. I felt that a theatrical manager was due to make another fortune. He did not know it, but I did. By the time I reached the Grand Central Station I had decided whom I would allow to see that drama. I went in that manager’s office, waited an hour while the office boy found the head of the theatrical firm, and finally left the play with the head porter. He read it and sent it back. 1 tried another firm. The hello girl at the switchboard decided the play was rank. So it was. One firm after another rejected the manuscript, and believe me, when I solemnly say, that they were right. It was a very, very bad play.
Something a great deal worse than the play, was the fact that my money was going fast. I might have written home for the price of a meal and a ticket to Chicago, but youthful pride was against me. Besides, I had told the family when they asked me not to leave my college position, that they were hindering talent. I slept in Bryant Park—a sure sign of arriving fame, only I did not know it then—and decided that I would lower my ambitions. I would be an actor. I started on a round of the managerial offices, but they had never heard of me. I told them that at college everyone had said I was a wonderful Romeo, but they were looking for good rag-time artists. And as I needed to eat, I went a step further down—I hunted a cheap vaudeville agency. Yes, they needed a man, a “heavy,” in a dramatic act. Do you know what a heavy is? No? Well, neither did I. I discovered, however, that it had reference to the villain in the piece. So I became a villain—and made eyes at the leading lady.
The leading man and the leading lady used to do an acrobatic act earlier on the bill, by way of earning a few more dollars, and many a night when I needed the money I used to stand in the wings and watch them at work, wondering if she should fall, whether we would get our salary.
Finally, we reached Passaic. No, the lady did not fall, but the manager did. He looked us over, and down came a heavy hand.
“It’s rotten,” he remarked, poetically, “rotten. You’re closed.”
“You mean that we are not going to act any more?” I questioned.
“I mean you never did act, any of you. You’re rotten,” and that was all there was to it.
By this time I was cured of pride. I went home On the family money.
I Break Into the Movies
/"tDD, isn’t it, how a little thing like a failure can ^ cure a fellow temporarily? The day after I reached Chicago I went out for a job as an electrical engineer. The family breathed a sigh, for they had really spent considerable money in educating me. And they sighed a second time, as if it was a lost hope, when they learned that, my position -was to inspect the installation of an arc light system for the Essanay Motion Picture Studios in Chicago. I was right back in the theatrical game-^only, horrors!—I was working for the motion picture^. Remember, this was in 1908, and pictures were quite taboo.
At the end of the first month’s work I met a fellow named Tom Ricketts, who was a director of the studio.
“Say, your name’s Dwan, isn’t it?” he asked. “Have you ever acted?”
That was the end of the electrical career. •
“I’m the best actor in the world,” I assured him.
And I am afraid that I believed it.
“All right—I’m looking for a fellow to play the heavy villain in a one-reel picture.”
It was an awful blow, for I had seen the leading man strutting about the studio, and had pictured how I would look when strutting, but I did want to play, and what matter if I ,was a villain, or a scrub-woman.
Before I was engaged with this picture—and in those days, a one-reeler was as important as the five-
reel production of to-day—I had a decidedly snobbish disregard for motion pictures. That first picture taught me a great deal regarding the film industry and its future. To begin with, I thought that they needed better stories. That was why I wrote one. I took it around to the office, and they gave me ten dollars for it.
I went home, much elated, sat up all night writing the second film story, and sold it for twenty-five dollars.
When they sent me the cheque for the second story, they offered me a staff position in the scenario department.
All I had to do was to keep the directors busy by turning out sufficient stories.
The scenario department taught me a great deal. One of the things I learned was that very occasionally you could find a n original manuscript — and buy it Stories were submitted to us by the bushel basketful, and they were nearly all so bad, or such a flagrant steal from printed material,
that we shipped them back after a hasty glance and it was true that most companies stole their stories at that time. However, I must say, in their defense, that their psychology was, “What wisdom is there in buying something that somebody else has stolen?”
I was a great magazine reader myself, I always have been, and it is an actual fact that one day the same mail brought me five different scenario versions of a serial story I was reading in a current magazine.
The always restless spirit of the motion picture industry, linked with the fact that capital was, and always fias been, willing to gamble with the pictures, caused a break among the Essanay people, and when
part of the organization withdrew-to form the American Film Company, I went with them.
I Become a Director
1V/TY first job was an errand to Tucson, Arizona, where I was to discover why one of the company’s directors, located there, was not making more pictures. I discovered the company was in a high state of incompatibility; nobody spoke to anyone else, and consequently good work was an impossibility. I sent a wire to Chicago, telling them what I found. They told me to discharge the crowd, and not pay any car fares home. I thought this over, and it seemed like a pretty sneaky stunt, so, as I had the power, I drew a slight draft on the company, paid their fares back to Chicago, and was fired for my trouble. I was not exactly worried over the situation, for I wrote and sold scenarios with fair regularity. Then, one day, the American people wanted me back. They had a Californian producing unit which was not turning out pictures because the director said he could get no stories. I was sent to San Juan Capistrano. The director was a fit subject for a Prohibition lecture. John Barleycorn had beaten him to a pulp. He didn’t resign, he just couldn’t work, and the home office said they would send on another director. A week or ten days passed, and the order came through that as no one else was available I had to direct.
I was not exactly keen about directing. I had decided literary aspirations, but I was down there for the company and supposed to take orders. I sat up most of that night, wrote a one-reel story, and produced and finished the picture the following day before sunset. In those days a negative had to be developed at the home office, and I waited most anxiously until I got a wire announcing the result of my work. The home office mentioned something about congratulations, also that I was manager of the company, but more than
that, announced that I was to have the free hand in the spending of nine hundred dollars a week, this amount to cover the entire cost of producing three onereel pictures every week.
We used to make pictures Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the whole company would go down to Los Angeles, and loaf around the beaches until the next Monday. J. Warren Kerrigan was my leading man; Wallace Reid, Donald Crisp and Marshall Neilan were members of the company. And many a time we have laughed at the old-time stunts. We never rehearsed a motion picture, we never used an interior scene. If it was necessary to show a man doing busi-
ness, we always had a chance meeting outside the office building. If anyone died, they passed out on the front porch, or the back yard. Monday morning we would pile into automobiles, and make for the woods and hills back of San Diego. When we saw a nice cliff that we had not used the week before, we used it to push the villain off, if a flower garden attracted us, the leading lady was always discovered walking about the grounds.
This kept up for two years. The work progressed, and also my salary. I was raised from seventy-five a week to ninety. Kerrigan was getting the same sum, and my work had so impressed the home office that they actually consented to build a studio at Santa Barbara, and allowed 20 feet square for stage space.
By this time the moving picture industry was advancing with huge strides. The American Film Company was not progressive enough for me, so I went to the Universal, took my cast with me, and then after a year, to the Famous Players Company. Then came the hey-day of the Triangle Corporation, and I was engaged to put on pictures for Douglas Fairbanks.
I Meet Doug, and Mary
VyHEN I met Fairbanks, I knew I had pretty good ” material to work with. I have always been a believer in clean stories for the screen, decidedly of the impression that American audiences were fond of punch. Fairbanks seemed to me the type of fellow who would register rough stuff with a clean comedy vein. I had learned to do a little scrapping in college, as well as having done some wrestling and played football. I told Fairbanks that I thought I could teach him how to do the stunts which have since made him famous, and he was willing. He worked like a trooper, never cried quits. What happened, is history.
It was when I went
to the Famous Players that I directed Mary Pickford and Marguerite Clark. Miss Pickford was a girl from my home town, Toronto, and, while I could notteach her how to rough it, she quite agreed with me in several of my suggestions, and certainly our pictures “got across” with the public. Then, as more or less of a wind-up, came the opportunity to head my own producing company.
You see, I never have believed strongly in the star system. I have always had a great deal of faith in the motion pictures, and it seemed if I were ever to arrive, it would be necessary to give audiences good plays characterized b y competent actors who fitted the parts assigned to them. Too many times I have seen stories distorted for the sake of a star, and when I found that my belief in what constituted a good picture was becoming general, I thought I had pretty well reached the ambition of my
my existence. I chose Richard Harding Davis’ “Soldiers of Fortune” for my first picture, and they allowed me $150,000 to make it. That is the way they do things in the motion pictures nowadays—some contrast to my $900 for three pictures. But then, the whole industry is in sharp contrast. Two or three years ago a director would never dare to disclose human attributes in his leading characters. They were always strong and resolute, which was unnatural. All of us do weak and wrong things, even though we follow an ideal, and that is the way the screen—the mirror of the real world—should picture character.
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To Produce in Canada
I SAID a few lines back that when I was placed at the head of my own producing unit, I had reached my ambition. That is not exactly true. To be perfectly frank with you, I have another ambition, and that is, to go home, back to Canada, and make some big pictures there. I am still—always will be—a Canadian, never having given my allegiance to any other country. I have wanted to see Canada as a motion picture centre for years, and one day I am going to have my desire fulfilled, in spite of a decided obstacle, which is in my way.
A good many people, realizing the glorious scenery of the Dominion, have asked why there was no motion picture industry in Canada. The trouble is, the duty, going either way, is too high. In these days motion picture producers work with very heavy equipment, and just as a little example, it is only a few months ago that Fred Stone decided that there was no country quite like Canada in which to take certain scenes in his new picture. He hatl a special automobile that he needed in the picture, and it cost him five hundred dollars to bring the car across the line, and' five hundred dollars more when it was necessary to bring it back to the United States. I made some inquiries regarding a picture not long ago, and I found that what I would have to pay at the frontier imposed such a burden upon my cost of production that I had to give up my plan. I really know what I am talking about, for I made some of the scenes for a picture “For Valor” at Camp Borden. I know of at least a dozen motion picture directors who feel as I do, about the worth of Canadian scenery, and the severity of import and export duties—
not quite so keenly, of course, because they are not native Canadians. My idea is that the Canadian Chambers of Commerce and the Government ought to make more or less of an inducement to the motion picture producers to use Canadian scenery. If they would make it agreeable to us, we could bring in a great deal of money. The motion picture industry put Southern California on the map, and it would build up locations in Canada the same way. I don’t think it is any secret that the Mayflower Corporation, with whom I am affiliated, is a financial investment on the part of a group of Boston business men, and their returns on their investment run several times the usual rate of interest.
Why, I could do the best movie I ever put on if I could work around Lake Louise, or Banff. Montreal and Quebec offer the best backgrounds on this side of the ocean. They have been used, but not as often as they deserve. Many a time I have looked up at the buildings on the top of the bluff at Quebec, and thought what a wonderful location it would be for the story of a mythical kingdom.
And there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of splendid film actors, who have come out of Canada. Mary Pickford, of course, heads the list, and Julia Arthur is an actress who had enhanced the value of the film. AÍ Christie, and Mack Sennett, both masters of comedy, are Canadians, so is Hobart Bosworth, Barbara Castleton and Raymond Hatton. These are only a few who come to my mind—there are others.
I really think it is only a question of time before Canada reaps her harvest from the motion picture industry. I hope that I am able to do my share.