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The New York herald. [volume] (New York, N.Y.) 1920-1924, May 14, 1922, SECTION SEVEN, Image 92

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045774/1922-05-14/ed-1/seq-92/

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The scenario writer may jump
from the present back to
"Old England," as suggested
here, without effort.
This old castle wall is part of
the newest and most imposing
Fairbanks-Pickford picture.
By One of Them.
IT is doubtful if there is any one profession
in the world at the present
time that is more discussed and envied
by the multitude than that of scenario
There are three distinct types of professional
scenario writers?there are
many types, but I am going to ennmerate
only the three that are really the recipients
of the fame and fortune one hears
fo much about. First, there is the well
known author or playwright whose novels
or plays are celebrated. He does not find
the road to celluloid fame especially dif
ncuu as nis repuiauon win carry mm
over the top wherever he goes.
This type usually became famous long
before motion pictures were heard of,
and he is indeed a fortunate individual
ir. many ways. He can delve into an old
trunk in the store room and bring forth
manuscripts that were rejected by every
publication in the civilized world before
bis name became valuable, and he can
actually sell his drivel for very large
sums of money.
The second type is not quite so fortunate
as he really is obliged to work
for all he gets and it Is necessary for
him to have a more advanced knowledge
of screen material. This is the type who
can write original scenarios. He does
not necessarily have to be a writer in
very sense of the word, in fact as a rule
be is not a writer at all, and it does not
matter. If he is familiar with what is
known as "picture sense" and can think
along the lines of "pictures" rather than
words ms products are mametapie. He
must, of course, have a knowledge of
drama, and by this I mean drama as
It is known on the screen, and he must
know plot, technic and possess an uncanny
ability to create suspense and be
able to characterize his imaginary puppets.
The third type is more numerous but
not perhaps as well paid, except in unusual
instances. His occupation consists
of revising, or rather adapting, the story
some one else has written and putting It
into proper form for screen material. Of
course it is also necessary for this type
of writer to be familiar with screen
craft, but he is not by nature as creative
as an original writer. This work is
ailed continuity writing, or ndaptlng. ,
Occasionally the name of the adapter is ,
given credit on the screen, hut more often |
than not, in the case of a well known
author, the adaptor's work does not receive
much attention. ,
The favorite themes for stories are ever 1
and ever the same, haahed up perhapa In
a little different atyle, but the underlying
riot never varlea. The "fan" ran recognize
the villain, the hero, the baby vamp,
the reformed crook or the hard hearted
aoclety girl long before the film baa flickered
Its way through the aecond reel. He
alwaya knowa what la going to happen,
and no matter how complicated the plot
or how muddled the suapenae a good dyed
in the wool fan cannot be fooled. So, 1
repeat, the original atorlea received are
read carefully, alwaya with the hope that
one out of u batch will prove to contain
7 T
I How th
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specialists who t
one of the new film plays,
ager, is second from the rig
an original idea. This sometimes happens,
though rarely.
Occasionally an idea contains a germ
of originality or a phrase that is different,
perhaps a title that Is worthy of consideration,
but on the whole the plots submitted
are as trite as those concocted by
the regular staff. When an ideA is discovered
which can be used by one of the
staff writers a reliable company will pur
chase it for a small amount. There are
many unscrupulous companies who do not
hesitate, however, to steal such ideas
without paying for them.
The average prolific writer usually finds
himself destitute of plots very quickly.
During the first year of producing manuscripts
he usually manages to have
enough material on tap to keep going,
but as soon as this is exhausted he becomes
desperate for plot germs. If he is
so fortunate as to hold a long term contract
with a production company he llvls
on his reputation. A company that has
spent a great deal of money in making
an author's name popular hesitates to
lose him, and will go to almost any extent
to retain his services because of his
name, which is. In a way, a trade mark.
In one instance a well known woman
scenario writer in desperation for plots
appealed to the producer to give her assistance.
She declared that she could not
write another photo play, and the producer
was loath to release her. It was
suggested that some one be obtained to
help her with original Ideas. A yqung
woman who was employed In the company
and who had betrayed unusual skill
tor adapting and suggesting changes in
stories wns consulted. It was agreed that
she should accompnny the scenario writer
an a trip abrond nnd that she should
provide to the hest of her ability Ideas
snd suggestions for new plots.
She seized this opportunity, as It
meant a larger salary and a chance to
(ravel, with the expectation that if she
was successful she should eventually he
given a chance to write original stories.
Hilda, a she wag known, did not receive
e Plots Which .
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Story of the Stu
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rpnslate the scenario writer's plot into <
Allan Dwan, Miss Pickford's director, is
credit for her part In the work of the
writer, but at the end of a year's tour
the stories the woman scenario writer
produced were better than she had ever
been able to do previously. The enthusiasm
and youth of Hilda, combined with
her quick brain, was sufficient Inspiration
to the woman to create some worth while
Scenario writers d6 not lead the life of
ease which is usually attributed to their
profession. The work is tedious and involves
more routine than almost any
other occupation. They are sometimes
commanded to produce a manuscript at
?nj diiui i nun re, |HTimpH niree nays, ana
this means that they must work day and
night In order to finish It. After they
have submitted It at the appointed time
It very often lies around on the editor's
desk for a month, and when It is finally
read It is discovered that the company
has either made changes in Its plans
about producing It or that It does not
like the script at all.
A scenario writer will often resort to
desperate measures when he la seeking a
new plot. Without intending to he exactly
dishonest, he will often purloin
ideas which suggest themselves in reading
old classics or even modern literature.
Everything within range of his immediate
vicinity?police reports, confidences
of friends?becomes potential plot
material ror his worK, ami although the
guileless public believes that the scenario
writer Is nn Inspired creature dwelling
on a higher plane, if It could but know
the hours of agony the writer suffers
while seeking ways and means to work
over an old plot In a new way, I dare say
it would be amused rather than awed.
Thero Is also a great deal of "graft"
Involved In the scenario business, as in
almost every other field. There was an
Instance not so long ago which was never
made public because of the prominent
persons Involved In It. A production
manager In one of the largest companies
contrived to carry on a system over a
period of years which was enormously
D, SUNDAY, MAY 14. 19
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Irama. They are "working out" "Robin
fifth from the left, and W. W. Kerrigan, 1
profitable. Several scenario writers he
knew well entered into the conspiracy
with him in order to sell inferior stories
to the company at large prices. As his
position was one of authority he was at
ffhurtv tn Enrico rm material nnrnhn?pri
without Interference. His Bcheme was
this: He would purchase from a writer
a story for about $10,000, with the understanding
that the writer would pay
back to him half the amount, and the
company bore the burden of the excess
The scheme worked well until one of
the writers became unduly avaricious and
threatened to expose him. A quarrel resulted
and the matter was brought to the
attention of the owners of the company.
Of course the man was dismissed, but no
further action was taken because of the
notoriety which would have ensued.
I, like many others, was fortunate In
choosing an opportune moment to enter
the field of scenario writing. It was not
difficult at that time to gain admittance
nor to convince the company that I was
worth a great deal of money to them.
They welcomed me with open arms. I
will frankly admit that had I not made a
place for myself In the days when the opportunities
were many I would never
have attained admittance at all, ns conditions
have changed rapidly since then.
I knew little or nothing about scenario
writing, but that ,did not matter. I soon
learned that few of the great staff employed
knew more about It than I. I
met all sorts of persona, from all stations
In life, who were turning out scenarios
at a rate of one special feature a week,
and those who had a sense of humor admitted
that their occupation was a stroke
of luck and that they laid no claims to
My next desk neighbor had been a saleswoman
In a department store who had
cherished dreams of becoming a writer.
She had Invested In one of the mall order
courses and the thing had given her so
much courage that she had Immediately
<juit her occupation and had applied for
s Are Made am
p Becomes a Th
i One Who "Brc
/ho Rose to Far
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I? twentiel
a be a
done ?
had succeeded in
getting away with
a secret
Ideals. I had
read articles supMi
posedly written
^^Kki hv the creat mo
tion picture roagwhich
, they stated that
_ they wanted betPPRSfc
SB. ter stories and
vsfr> m?U?l ..$ less maudlin trash
and sickly sentiBSPBHr
*.. ment. I had agreed
* ** with them when
I read their wor
thy ambitions and
Hood," had hoped to revoicr
man* lutlonize the entire
works. I
actually believed
that I would be
instrumental in uplifting the silent drama
from the slough of piffle if ever I were
given the opportunity to be taken into
its fold. Now I had that opportunity, and
I must confess that my chances to uplift
nnvtlilntr hut ti fat unlarv nnvolnno worn
My first assignment to write a strong
drama for a prominent woman star
convinced me that I would have to delay
my altruistic purpose. I was told to
study the characteristics of the star In
question and to discover all her salient
qualities. After spending several weeks
around the studio I discovered the following
details: She had been a waitress i
in a lunchroom In Chicago previous to i
her advancement as a celebrated star.
This was not to her discredit, but the
circumstances surrounding her rise to
fame caused a few of my illusions to
disappear. ]
She was a vain, patronizing and slangy '
young person when she was quite her- '
self, and she had no more Idea of the art
of acting than a kitten. As it Is in the
case of most motion picture stars who
have risen from low origin to a place of 1
public #adorntion, success had turned her '
head. I learned that her position in life 1
was due to influence. This was not an 1
unusual case, as I soon learned. Almost *
every star had been financially aided. '
There were of courRP. a few wlin hnrl won '
out on their own ability, and they will
always remain as worthy screen celebrities.
but for the most part I found that
they had risen from the rank and f}le of
the muslcnl chorus or worse, with few^
claims to Intellectual superiority.
My next assignment for a- story was a
well known star, whose chief attraction,
if it can be so called, is athletic feats.
She had been reared in a circus and was
nr*ver so happy as when she was leaping
frcjm express trains or risking her neck
on horseback. She was downright cheap
and coarse in manner, and although I
had seen her many times on the screen
and had Hdmlred her girlish Innocent
face, I soon had reason to change my
i how a Little
ike In" When
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dens whom the scenario
ritcr has sent back to
the twelfth century
"Robin Hood," eating
th century lunches between
elfth century climaxes.
opinion of her after I had heard her In a
burst of temper.
I wondered at this time If this were all
I should ever know of the Art of the
Screen as I had hoped to find it. I soon
became blase, however, and forgot about
art as It is recognized In literature, music
and drama, and I found that when I had
sufficiently silenced all my ideals I was
on the road to success as a scenario
writer. I wrote "thrillers" and deep
dyed emotional plots and I concocted
atrvrino e\f villnina iro m na o n r\ aacrl fiol n or
mothers, forgetting my Ideals, which had
become so bruised and sore I would
hardly have recognized them, I learned
that If I wished to be popular I must relinquish
any hint of refinement or "high
brow" culture. In the studio a manner
of aloofness or too much knowledge was
looked upon as swellheadedness. One
could brag about one's work continuously,
as no one listened, but If one suggested
an air of disapproval toward
one's fellow creatures it was not forgiven.
I found that most of the directors
knew little about their art. They were
unfamiliar with the drama, literature or
even the ordinary courtesies one would
naturally expect from men who are Intrusted
with the interpretations of the
world's classics. Most of them had been
connected with theatrical enterprises in
some form or another, some were second
rate actors and others had been stage
mn no trara a# luirlnunn/ui n *? A n1?n I nlr
iiiaiiap?ci o ui uui icovjuco auu map oviua
vaudeville. I might also state here with
all truth that some of the prominent
ones had not even been connected In any
way with theatricals previous to their
entrance into the movie field.
A certain well known producer who
Is worth millions of dollars Is so illiterate
thnt he employs a,secretary to write
and rend his correspondence, because he
is not quite capable of handling these
details himself. The articles he supposedly
writes for the magazines in
which he bases his belief that we will
have fewer and better pictures are written
by press agents. Likewise most of
the articles signed by stars are written
by persons employed by them.
Now that the censorship laws hare
taken things In hand It is even more dlflls.iU
foe noenneiA utt-Uoe Uo 4. no
i.uiv ivm inr n\ ruauv ni iici. in: is uu
longer a free Inrllvirtual to create thrillers
rrom an addled brain. There Is no doubt
ibout it that If "fewer and better pictures"
ever become an nctuallty It will
be because the censors have brought It
ibout and not because the producers honestly
desire to achieve this purpose In an
Industry that Is based first, last and always
on how much money can be made
iut of clever mechanical devices.
I cannot view It all from any other an?le
than purely commercial production.
SVhen a writer Is governed entirely by
tootage, not by words, he becomes a ma'hlno.
There is always footage to consider,
three feet for a kiss, so many more
'eet for a death scene, and so many more
tor a close up. The star, her clothes, her
irersatlllty, or lack of It, the limitations
>f the camera (which are .many), ths expense
and numerous other datalls must
constantly be borne In mind in whatever
mood the author finds himself during
reative work.

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