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Exhibition: "Slack Nite" keeps it informal

By Alicia Dietrich

Click image to enlarge. Interstate Theaters Year Book: Slack Night, 1941
Click image to enlarge. Interstate Theaters Year Book: Slack Night, 1941

Early motion pictures were presented in arcades and amusement parks. Later, they were shown as short “acts” in vaudeville variety shows. The motion picture theater industry emerged in 1907 with the establishment of the “nickel show” or nickelodeon. By 1910, nickelodeons were everywhere, and after World War I they replaced vaudeville as the country’s favorite entertainment.

Soon, the trend grew toward more opulent movie palaces. Ornate auditoriums, legions of ushers, childcare, and air conditioning attracted large audiences. During the Great Depression, economic hardship necessitated the creation of more austere theaters, often built in the art deco style in urban centers and smaller cities and always “wired for sound.”

During and after World War II, theaters used all manner of promotions to bring in audiences. This Interstate Theaters Year Book featured promotional ideas from theater managers across the region, including a free horse and buggy giveaway, flower seed and watermelon giveaways, and the “slack nite” shown here.

As the brochure suggests, “Today more than ever the trend is toward informality. And many theatres throughout the circuit have found a tried and proven formula to boost Summer grosses by suggesting to patrons that they needn’t bother to scrub Junior’s face and dress in their Sunday best every time they attend the theatre.”

It then suggests that the theater get the campaign for informal dress rolling with “Slack Nite.”

This is just one item from the “Exhibition” section of the Making Movies exhibition at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Cinematography: The financial effects of Ingrid Bergman's beauty

By Alicia Dietrich

Director Alfred Hitchcock frames Ingrid Bergman in a still from the set of
Director Alfred Hitchcock frames Ingrid Bergman in a still from the set of

The art of cinematography goes far beyond the simple recording of a scene or event. It is a creative and interpretive process that involves many skills and techniques, some that are shared with still photography and some that are unique to motion pictures.

The cinematographer can manipulate the image through the selection of film stock, by moving the camera, or, in the case of digital cameras, through the adjustment of color sensitivity, light sensitivity, and image contrast. Color filters can be used for dramatic effects, and lenses can be chosen for their control of perspective and spacial relations. A cinematographer may film a subject in sharp focus but leave the background blurry (“rack focus”), or he might keep the entire scene in focus (“deep focus”), as the innovative cinematographer Gregg Toland did in Citizen Kane (1941).

Among the myriad options available to the cinematographer, the most important and constant element is lighting. The art of lighting has a significant impact on the emotional response of the viewer. The most beautiful sets and most talented actors will have no impact unless they are lit and photographed effectively.

Click image to enlarge. Memo from David O. Selznick to production manager Ray Klune, director Gregory Ratoff, and editor Hal Kern regarding the importance of close-ups of Ingrid Bergman in 'Intermezzo,' July 11, 1939
Click image to enlarge. Memo from David O. Selznick to production manager Ray Klune, director Gregory Ratoff, and editor Hal Kern regarding the importance of close-ups of Ingrid Bergman in 'Intermezzo,' July 11, 1939

A close-up connects with the viewer in a very different way than an establishing shot of a setting or a full shot of a group of people. A close-up is meant to focus the viewer’s attention. And in the case of a glamorous close-up of the lead actor it is meant to establish an emotional connection between the viewer and that actor. In this memo, producer David O. Selznick carries the idea further, into the financial returns a good close-up can provide—specifically good close-ups of actress Ingrid Bergman.

“As I have said so often, I think the success of ‘Intermezzo’ is to an unusual extent dependent upon how beautifully we can photograph Miss Bergman,” Selznick writes. “Every beautiful shot of her is a great deal of money added to the returns on the picture and I urge Mr. Kern and Mr. Ratoff [to] start to work on a list of where re-take close-ups might be made.”

This is just one item from the “Cinemetographer” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Writer: "Shakespeare in Love" screenplay shows Tom Stoppard's edits

By Alicia Dietrich

Click image to enlarge. Early draft of the screenplay for 'Shakespeare in Love' by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, 1998.
Click image to enlarge. Early draft of the screenplay for 'Shakespeare in Love' by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, 1998.
Of all the elements of filmmaking, the screenplay is arguably the most important. It is also the element most debated, discounted, discarded, and arbitrated. More often than not, the screenplay is an adaptation of another work—a novel, play, news story, biography, or even another screenplay.

The screenplay expresses character and narrative and is therefore the focus of interpretation by the director, actors, and designers. Furthermore, the screenplay is the foundation on which all the other artists and technicians base their work. Whether a scene takes place indoors or outdoors, for example, may affect the sets the art director designs and builds and the clothes the costume designer creates for the characters to wear. A scene set at night will have implications for the cinematographer and might be played differently by the actor than a scene set during daylight hours. Special effects, exotic locations, and action scenes will also have implications for the budget, the shooting schedule, and for everyone on the production team. All these elements must be spelled out in the screenplay in order to budget, plan, and successfully incorporate them into the film.

In this early draft of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay for Shakespeare in Love (1998), handwritten notes and edits by Stoppard are visible. Scripts from 16 films are featured in the exhibition.

This is just one item from the “Writer” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which runs through August 1 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us February 12 on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Film editing: How the script supervisor tracks and controls the editing process

By Alicia Dietrich

Click image to enlarge. Continuity supervisor’s copy of The Prize, 1963.
Click image to enlarge. Continuity supervisor’s copy of The Prize, 1963.

Film editing is the selection, arrangement, and combination of shots into sequences, sequences into scenes, and scenes into the final film. Editing is where a motion picture takes its final shape.

The editor controls and often enhances the emotional and narrative aspects of a motion picture. Through the selection of “takes” or alternate versions of the same shot, the placement of “cuts,” and the layering of images, sound, and music, the editor manipulates time and space, controls the pacing and rhythm of the story, shapes the actor’s performances, guides the viewer’s attention, and creates an emotional connection with the viewer. Indeed, the editor can, in some cases, effectively rewrite and redirect a motion picture.

The continuity supervisor, known as the “script clerk” in early industry parlance, records information about such details as which costumes are worn and whether or not a collar was turned up. The continuity supervisor also records the “takes” that were filmed, whether they were long or medium shots or close-ups, and any associated action—information that is especially valuable to the editor.

Shots or “takes” are recorded as vertical lines through the text of the script. The shot number is noted at each end of that line. A wavy part of the line indicates action or dialogue that takes place off screen, and notes are often written near the shot number.

In this script for The Prize (1963), we see that shot 106A is a close-up of Inger Lisa (Elke Sommer) and 106B is a close-up of Craig (Paul Newman). This part of the scene consists mostly of intercutting between these two close-ups. The cuts are numbered before each character’s lines of dialogue. Shots 106F and 106J near the bottom were panning shots of the characters’ feet. These shots were not used. Shot 106D, however, a pan from right to left following Craig into a two shot with Inger Lisa, was the shot the editor selected.

This is just one item from the “Film editing” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Production Design: Alfred Junge's Oscar-winning design for "Black Narcissus"

By Alicia Dietrich

Arguably Britain’s greatest production designer, Alfred Junge was born in Germany and spent his teenage years working as an apprentice to a painter. At eighteen he was “kissed by the Muse” and began working in theater, painting sets, designing costumes, and operating special effects. In the late 1920s he began working with British International Pictures and later Gaumont British where he gained a reputation not only for his brilliant designs but also for his organizational skills in running a large staff of art directors and craftsmen.

Junge’s best known film work is on Black Narcissus (1947), the story of emotional tensions among a group of Anglican nuns who try to establish a convent in the remote reaches of the Himalayas. Director Michael Powell gave Junge unusual freedom in terms of color, composition, and technique, and Junge received the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for the film in 1947. Audiences are still surprised to learn that the film was not shot on location in the Himalayas but on sound stages in England.

The scene painting shown here of Mother Dorothea’s office not only sets up the color and composition of the scene, it also provides important cues for set construction, set decoration, lighting, and cinematography.

This is just one item from the “Production Design” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Hair and Makeup: Test photos from "Gone With The Wind"

By Alicia Dietrich

Makeup reference photo of Vivienne Leigh
Makeup reference photo of Vivienne Leigh

Like costumes, hairstyles and makeup can reveal nuance and place characters in an emotional, geographical, or historical context. Certain hairstyles, for example, are instantly associated with certain periods, such as the bob cut in the 1920s or the ducktail haircut of the 1950s. Film makeup must look natural and appropriate when magnified on the big screen. It must also be durable enough to survive multiple takes and reproducible in case retakes are needed at a later time.

This makeup reference photo of actress Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind, for example, suggests not only character Scarlett’s O’Hara’s emotional state, but her current economic situation—her face is dirty from working in the dusty fields. Real tears would evaporate, and tear tracks would be different every time Leigh cried, so painting these tear stains on her face with makeup proved to be much more effective and reliable. View a full slideshow of photos of various actors from Gone With The Wind.

As the production of Gone With The Wind fell behind schedule, as many as three scenes were shot simultaneously. In order to maintain “continuity” (the seamless appearance of characters and settings across different shots), it was normal procedure to shoot makeup reference photos of every significant character.

This is just one item from the “Hair and Makeup” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Producer: Balancing censorship issues

By Alicia Dietrich

Click on image to enlarge. “A Code to Govern the Making of Motion and Talking Pictures” by the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America, Inc., June 13, 1934.
Click on image to enlarge. “A Code to Govern the Making of Motion and Talking Pictures” by the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America, Inc., June 13, 1934.
The process of making movies involves thousands of decisions. Each decision is a turning point with rewards and consequences. Every detail matters to the success or failure—artistically and financially—of the final product. While filmmaking is fundamentally a collaborative effort, one person often dominates that process: the producer.

This document, “A Code to Govern the Making of Motion and Talking Pictures” by the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America, Inc., is an example of one issue that producers have had to deal with throughout cinema history: censorship.

Since the earliest days of commercial filmmaking, producers have had to manage the tension between what they think the public wants (which often involves sex and violence) and what they think the public will accept. In the late 1920s, the motion picture industry began self-censoring content in an effort to thwart intervention by the government. Over the years, that effort has evolved into the film rating system in use today.

This is just one item from the “Producer” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

View a video preview of "Making Movies" exhibition

By Alicia Dietrich

In anticipation of the opening of its exhibition Making Movies, the Harry Ransom Center kicks off the promotional campaign “Script to Screen,” featuring online content that highlights the creative work that takes place behind the scenes in filmmaking.

Today, you can view a video preview of the exhibition, which opens February 9.

Featuring items from the Ransom Center’s extensive film collections, the exhibition reveals the collaborative nature of the filmmaking process and focuses on how the artists involved—from writers to directors, actors to cinematographers—transform the written word into moving image.

Highlights include original scripts, storyboards, production photos, and call sheets, in addition to screenplays from The Third Man, North by Northwest, and Shakespeare in Love and costumes from Gone With The Wind, An Affair to Remember, and Taxi Driver.

During “Script To Screen,” the Ransom Center will share unique content related to the exhibition every day through its social media channels on this blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Each day, the Ransom Center will highlight an item from a different section of the exhibition, which is organized by filmmaking jobs (director, producer, cinematographer, and more) and by iconic film scenes with materials that show how those scenes were created.

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Fellow’s Find: Screenwriter Warren Skaaren

By Alison Macor

What do Batman, Top Gun, and Beverly Hills Cop II have in common? All were rewritten by versatile screenwriter and “script doctor” Warren Skaaren. As a fellow at the Ransom Center last summer, Alison Macor, independent scholar and former film critic for The Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman, immersed herself in the Ransom Center’s Warren Skaaren collection. Macor shares her experiences working in the collection in preparation for her upcoming biography of Skaaren:

This summer I spent five weeks at the Ransom Center with the support of a Mayer Filmscript fellowship. I worked in the Warren Skaaren collection in preparation for my new book, In Batman’s Shadow: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Warren Skaaren.

In addition to writing original screenplays, the Austin-based Skaaren worked as a script doctor—rewriting screenplays by other writers—on many 1980s blockbusters, including Top Gun (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), and Batman (1989). By the time of his death in December 1990, he was one of the highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood.

I approached the collection chronologically because I thought it was important to trace Skaaren’s development as a writer. In some cases he spent years nurturing projects like The Freddie Steinmark Story, a biopic about The University of Texas safety who lost a leg to cancer, only to see them never get made. But with each new project Skaaren perfected his writing process and style. He drafted finely detailed character sketches and elaborate “intensity” charts that measured a story’s dramatic highs and lows. Ultimately it was his ability to create multifaceted characters that caught Hollywood’s attention.

I spent most of my time reading multiple drafts of each screenplay. This can be an exciting but also painfully slow process, and the beauty of the Ransom Center fellowship is that it gave me the luxury of time in an environment conducive to such work. Because Skaaren was often hired as a script doctor and reworked screenplays initially created by others, the assignment of writing credit became a particularly delicate issue and influenced his future assignments, pay rate, and reputation. Every studio project that Skaaren worked on went to arbitration, and he kept voluminous notes and copies of all correspondence pertaining to each case. The arbitration of Beverly Hills Cop II, for instance, was especially heated because, as a sequel with a built-in audience, the film was expected to do very well, and literally millions of dollars were at stake for the writers. Indeed, the writer who worked on the screenplay prior to Skaaren (and who received a shared credit with Skaaren) sued the Writers Guild over its decision to split the writing credit. The case was still being appealed at the time of Skaaren’s death—three and a half years after the film’s initial release.

Thanks to the Ransom Center’s Steve Wilson and Katie Risseeuw, who oversaw the digitization of some of the collection’s sound recordings, I was able to hear Skaaren on tape interviewing retired British and Nepalese soldiers and even a witch doctor in preparation for his original screenplay Of East and West, a sweeping coming-of-age story set in England and Nepal. Not only did this provide the opportunity to “hear” Skaaren for the first time, but it also gave me a sense of the intense preparation that he cultivated throughout his writing career. These recordings offered a glimpse of the charm and confidence that so many of his friends and colleagues have mentioned when describing his personality and, ultimately, his success.

Watch this video as Macor further discusses her work in the Skaaren collection:

Hearing Music in the David O. Selznick Collection

By Elana Estrin

Occupying almost 5,000 document cases, the archive of film producer David O. Selznick is the Ransom Center’s largest archive. Nathan Platte, a Musicology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, navigated through this enormous collection last year with a dissertation fellowship jointly sponsored by the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin Office of Graduate Studies. Platte shares his experiences conducting research at the Ransom Center for his dissertation, “Musical Collaboration, Coercion, and Resistance in the Films of David O. Selznick, 1932–1948.”

While writing a dissertation on the films of David O. Selznick, I had the fortunate opportunity to conduct extensive research in the Harry Ransom Center’s gargantuan David O. Selznick collection. When one thinks of a film producer’s archive, images of contracts, correspondences, scripts, photographs, storyboards, and costumes might come to mind. The Selznick collection contains all of these items, but my project focused on a different facet. As a musicologist, I was most interested in the musical scores of Selznick’s films—the famous “Tara” theme that plays as Scarlett and her father watch the sun set in Gone with the Wind (1939), the eerie electronic sounds that waft through spooky sequences in Rebecca (1940) and Spellbound (1945), the brass fanfares that gild scenes of pageantry in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), and even the piano piece performed by the icy murderess of The Paradine Case (1947).

What exactly is the archival footprint of film music? The list is actually quite daunting: instructions from Selznick detailing musical ideas and impressions, pencil sketches made by the composer, full orchestral scores arranged by orchestrators, orchestral parts and “short” scores rendered by copyists, recording logs that state when the score was recorded, who played in the orchestra, and how many performances it took before the conductor was satisfied… There are also standard studio documents related to music: contracts for composers, correspondences between Selznick and music directors, and occasional photographs of the musicians who worked behind the scenes. Put simply, the Selznick collection is a treasure trove for the film musicologist.

My dissertation examines the process of scoring a film. This involved documenting many steps, including the collaboration (and arguments) between Selznick and composers. I also studied the input of directors like Alfred Hitchcock and John Cromwell, whose ideas on music differed from Selznick’s. Music editors also influenced the musical content of Selznick’s films even though they did not compose new music. Audray Granville, for example, reshaped Miklós Rózsa’s score for Spellbound through artful cutting and pasting. Reading her correspondences with Selznick is illuminating; the producer trusted her judgment more than the composer’s!

I was always excited to find music not used in the final film. These rejected passages tell stories of their own, and the reasons for their exclusion reveal more about the musical effects intended by Selznick, his composers, and music staff. At times like these, the process of film scoring changed my understanding of music’s relationship to story and visuals. With the rich sources of the Selznick collection and the generous support of a Ransom Center dissertation fellowship, I found this research to be both exhilarating and revelatory.