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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Wings", first Academy Award for best picture, is Blue Ray and DBD Release of the Week!

With the silent film The Artist in competition for this year's Best Picture Oscar, movie critic Bob Mondello has been thinking about the pre-talkie era. As it happens, the only silent film to win for Best Picture has just been released on Blu-ray: the 1927 flying-ace epic Wings

Biplanes dive through clouds high above a World War I battlefield. Dogfights in the air, bombs on the ground, and all of it without special effects —Wings is an old-school epic, enormous in scope and basically real. The U.S. Army provided 220 planes, several thousand soldiers, tanks, artillery, and all sorts of logistical help.
Paramount Home Entertainment
There's a story, too, and it's a rouser. Two doughboys go off to war, both in love with the same girl. Rivals at first, they become friends, but then ... well, more you're not going to get from me. Suffice it to say there's a reason Wings won the first-ever Best Picture Oscar.

And that was the year The Jazz Singer brought sound to film, so Wings had to be bigger, better and louder, too. In big cities, it was accompanied by a full orchestra, with sound-effects guys in the theater to provide the roar of planes and bullets. To recreate that for the Blu-ray restoration, the filmmakers went back to the original shooting script and musical score — so they knew exactly where the sound effects should be, where the orchestra should burst into Mendelssohn for soaring flight scenes, and where the director wanted hand-painted yellow flames leaping from cockpits as planes went down. In an age of black-and-white silent film, those flames must have astonishing.

When director William Wellman started working on Wings, Hollywood hadn't yet figured out how to film an air-war story. Most World War I planes, remember, were almost like kites, made of canvas and baling wire, and they were way too small to hold a cameraman and a pilot and an actor.
So Wellman bolted cameras directly to the planes and gave his 20-something stars flying lessons. In the making-of extras, Wellman's son remembers that leading man Charles "Buddy" Rogers, had never been in a plane in his life.

"They would go up in a two-seat plane, and there would be a 'safety' pilot who would duck down, and then the actors flew the plane," he says. "But you have fly those planes. You have a control stick, and you've got to work it to keep it in the air. My father said Buddy Rogers spent something like 98 hours in the air. When he would come down after shooting for a while, he would throw up."
Who could blame him? But the results are spectacular — flying footage that makes the green-screen trickery of modern films look downright lame.

Wings offers some down-to-earth pleasures, too: Gary Cooper in the bit part that kicked off his career, and Clara Bow, the It Girl, silently lighting up the screen. No wonder so many in the film industry despaired when big, clunky sound cameras came in, forcing everyone to stand in one place and talk into microphones. Spectacle and daredeviltry wouldn't make a comeback for years, but this one last time, Wings sure sent them soaring.



Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Normal Heart

"Normal Heart" finally made it to HBO Tonight. I have the honor to have been in the first college production in the country, at UNLV in the mid 1980's, while the crisis was at its height since no one knew what was happening and President Reagan choose to ignore it because it was a "gay" disease. The film, by nature, is very different than the play, with far more graphic images and in many ways far more emotion. i remember inviting my agent to A Normal Heart when I was in it. Her husband walked out and she was very uncomfortable, but she stayed and did say the play was worthwhile and important. The production was a Royal Shakespeare Company-UNLV joint production under the director of Royal Shakespeare actor Roderick horn. I still can't believe I made the class and was in it. This past year Poor Richard's Theaster in Las Vegas staged the show for a new generation. Very uncomfortable watching the graphic images in the movie...I hope it does not turn too many people off. The message is still vital.

-Art Lynch

Monday, May 19, 2014


Watch this video on Special Effects from the start of film to Godzilla.

A homage to the great moments that changed visual effects:
Took a little while to put together but I think its conveys the evolution of visual effects quite well. I tired to the best of my ability to order these clips chronologically (except for of course the first 3)
I will put together a full list if enough people want it.
On a separate note, if anyone is looking for an editor who can work quickly and effectively please send me an email here :
(I'm currently looking for any work I can get)

Thanks for your Support!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Net Neutrality Comment Line

The place to email your comments on net neutrality.

They will make a difference.

e-mail today.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Temple Grandin

I highly recommend "Temple Grandin" on HBO.

It will win awards. Aside from that it is a great study of autism and of a woman who overcame it to become the top in her field, a PhD, a scientist and an inventor.

First published 2-8-2010 (the movie earned both Emmy and Ace Awards including Best Actress)


What would lure Hollywood to Las Vegas?


The high-paced, tantalizing world of Las Vegas is a huge draw for A-list celebrities and a mere hour flight from Los Angeles — yet we’re not the Hollywood of the Southwest. That title belongs to New Mexico, which offers a 25 percent tax incentive that has lured big film and television producers, bringing in an enormous amount of revenue and employment to what has historically been one of the poorest states.
The dirty little secret is out: Filming movies can pump money and jobs into even the most unassuming states.
With today’s technology, you can film a movie anywhere. Want a first-class Las Vegas casino? Build one in Burbank. Setting a scene in a five-star restaurant? New Orleans will work. Locations can be fudged; cash-strapped producers are following the money.
Nevada is one of only six states without tax incentives to lure film crews. So movie jobs that make sense in our entertainment-based economy are going elsewhere.
But Nevada has a plan. The Motion Picture Jobs Creation Act (Assembly Bill 506), drafted by Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, would extend tax credit to producers if they meet certain criteria.
Editors Note: I have been involved with building the case for film incentives for five years as the chair of the Nevada SAG Legislative Committee and a member of the National Legislative Committee. This years'l local chair is Scott Mirne, with Nevada Executive Steve Clinton heading SAG's efforts to attract production to Nevada. - Art Lynch

April 18, 2011 first published.

Ancient Rome Brought to Life

Rob Cain I am adding a new feature to Ancient Rome Refocused. I am taking a story that I wrote  and turning it into an audio reading / drama. I will offer it to people who give donations to the blog / podcast. For expenses. I have found out that many seem to enjoy the dramatic episodes that I do before each broadcast. I have hit over 100,000 on the first episode, and its going up each day.

Lt Col. Robert F Cain is posted at the Pentagon. He has been my friend since 5th grade when we shared a locker. Actor, writer, historian, cartoonist, designer, information specialist, journalist, and accomplished professional at all he does. Let me know what you think of his web site and his web broadcasts.


A Truly Democratic Union

On March 30, 2012 history was made with the merging of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The new SAG-AFTRA is one union with members representing many ares of the entertainment and information industries. It is an world built on the proud history of two very democratic and different union cultures. Merger means SAG did not end, but governance and the nature of the culture will never be the same. 
This is about the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA.

By Art Lynch (c 1998) 
   Actors are a unique mix of artist, craftsperson and employee. They view their needs as unique. Actors move between jobs and employers, resembling casual labor or self employed consultants, yet fight to remain classified as employees working for a single monolithic entertainment and information industry. Performers shoulder the individual economic burden of their own training, wardrobe, and an almost constant search for work. They face an increasingly competitive work force. At the same time, they rely on their unions to negotiate and enforce contracts, protecting performers' wages and working conditions within the entire entertainment and information industry.

    The Screen Actors Guild was formed in an age when things were different. A few major studios with a handful of powerful owners functioned as factories, producing entertainment and information for a world wide public. SAG was formed under pressure of large pay cuts for all actors and performers. Even though this occurred at the height of the Great Depression, from a labor perspective it also occurred simultaneously to large expenditures by management on the new technology of "talkies" and on the purchase of and building of large ornate movie palaces for the theatrical exhibition of management controlled films. The 1930s and 1940s saw record growth and profits for motion picture studios and broadcast companies. Over the decades that followed, the Guild adapted to changes in economics, politics and technology. These changes reflect Prindle's evaluation of SAG as a "truly democratic union." (1988)

     The democratic nature of governance, geographic concentration of membership and flexibility of structure allow for rapid adaptation to changes in the industry and in society, although with all change there is resistance, and not all change may be to the benefit of the membership, the community or the industry.

     The Screen Actors Guild represents a membership which may not be steadily employed (an estimated 90% of serious full time actors are out of work at any given time, with as high as 80% of the SAG membership not employed in the field their union represents), may or may not be serious about their trade, and which outside of the craft remains a part of the myth of Hollywood. Most of society fails to understand what it is to be an actor, beyond the performances they witness.  Today 85% of union actors make under $2,000 a year at their craft, with fewer than four percent living their upper middle class to wealthy lifestyles solely on their income from acting. (Prindle, 1988, see also  Published reports vary, however most agree that as many as six out of ten members of the Screen Actors Guild go without any acting related income in any given year.  

     The Guild has been called the one truly democratic union in the United States because it functions with freely elected officers who, even at the level of the national president,
are not paid or compensated for the time they invest. It is a union made up of actors working for actors, who in turn hire paid staff to carry on the day to day functions of the Guild, including legal counsel and financial consulting.  While this may sound altruistic, it is also true as a long list of presidents, officers and board members have had to put their careers on hold, spend time away from family and jeopardize their own relationship with agents, casting directors and management in the interest of what is good for the membership of the Guild (Prindle, 1988). 

    Screen Actors Guild Nevada Branch Treasurer Vickie Sutton summarized her view of why the Screen Actors Guild is unique:

This union is unlike any other union. Our union is so different. It’s about a dream, working in that dream, pursuing that dream. Members are much closer to their union and what it represents. The membership is so diverse, yet under one banner, able to vote on all contracts and be a part of every aspect of the union. I take great pride in my union (personal communication, March 2000).

Membership in the Guild differs from most other unions. In addition to full time actors, dancers, singers and other performers, SAG membership includes others who do not earn their living within the industry, yet are as proud of their union and their union card as any Hollywood star. The vast majority of SAG's membership are not ‘actors’ in the true sense. The Guild has among its members people who may have looked right for a part and were in only one movie for a few lines, actors and extras who work on movie sets more for the enjoyment than the paycheck, those who are more management in their political leanings than pro-labor, and many who never took their jobs on a movie set seriously. There too are the producer or director's friends, under the obvious influence of management, who were given a part or given a letter of intent to allow them to join the Guild. While representing professional performers, the majority of voting members of the Screen Actors Guild are not themselves full working professionals within the industry or the craft (Back Stage West, 1994).

     SAG is a national union, with a structure that centers on elected officers and a national board of directors.  Local branches assist in providing services to local members and recommending any local contracts or variations from national contracts to the national board. All funds are distributed through the national office, with general budgets and appropriate specific requests administered by the elected treasurer and voted on by the National Board of Directors (SAG, Constitution and Bylaws, 1996-2000).

A Sister Union: AFTRA
     As briefly mentioned in the review of the Guild’s history, a second union formed to provide work place protection for radio broadcasters and radio actors, later expanding to include a new electronic media, television. The American Federation of Radio Artists was formed in 1937. To reflect the inclusion of television, in 1946 it was re-named The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). This historic expansion into new media, while SAG remained a “film industry union”, set a precedence, which occasionally produces conflicts between the two usually cooperative unions.  SAG remains a performers union, primarily representing actors on film, television and in commercial or industrial presentations. 

 While AFTRA began as a performers union, it now represents a widening range of professional crafts within the broader scope of the communications and entertainment communities. AFTRA represents newscasters, sportscasters, disc jockeys, talk hosts, announcers, on camera actors, video background performers, voice artists, dancers, singers, musicians, recording artists, music video talent, interactive technology performers, a small segment of television and radio producers, a small segment of electronic technicians and professionals in specific writing fields.  While SAG’s membership moves rapidly from production to production and employer to employer, a politically powerful segment  of AFTRA’s membership hold regular ongoing jobs, most notably the on air broadcast talent who work fixed hours five or six days a week for a specific employer. AFTRA also represents another segment of the entertainment industry whose lifestyle and motivation is surprisingly similar to those of a Screen Actors Guild actor: recording artists. So, in effect there may be more in common between the unions than detractors admit (Harvey, 1996; and S. Scott personal communication, January, 1998).

    There are real issues to address if the two unions are to co-exist into the future. Will they cooperate or will there be a jurisdictional turf war?  AFTRA activists point out, with some degree of accuracy, that by rights of the original intent of the two unions, AFTRA should have jurisdiction over all video and most certainly have jurisdiction over the new digital interactive media.  A mutual agreement exists that provides case by case individual decisions on jurisdiction, sometimes decided by which union the producer / employer prefers to reach an agreement with. As an example, television situation comedies, which are produced on videotape and not film, are produced under Screen Actors Guild jurisdiction. Soap Operas, even if they are shot on film, fall under AFTRA contractual jurisdiction. Both unions agree that this scenario could one day pit the unions against each other on a grand scale (SAG Board Room, personal communications, 1995-2000).

    A major structural difference lies in the democratic concept of open membership, by which entry level membership may be purchased without meeting any work or professional credentials. AFTRA’s board and conventions have consistently refused to revoke open membership. It is referred to as an “open door” policy. (Harvey, 1996) To the actors in SAG, this means that anyone can claim to be an actor, simply by joining AFTRA. This process continues today despite pleas from the Screen Actors Guild and Equity.  It can be argued that AFTRA’s open door policy may make the broadcaster union flexible enough to adapt and survive changes (SAG Minutes, personal communication, 1998, and SAG Board Room, personal communications, 1995-2000).

     AFTRA is structured as both a local and national union. AFTRA locals have widely divergent responsibilities, jurisdictions, dues and sometimes structures. They generate and manage their own treasuries while contributing to the national fund.  National officers and a national board of directors are responsible for negotiating and enforcing national contracts while an independent union congress of members at large, including proxy voting, holds the power to override the board and create national policy, including the nomination of a slate of national officers. Like SAG, AFTRA elected officials are volunteers, without a salary or benefit package (Harvey, 1996).

     While a percentage of AFTRA members have consistent single employer incomes, most do not. SAG and AFTRA have sometimes conflicting responsibilities in representing on camera talent in television commercials, on television programs, in industrials, on interactive entertainment and in most every category of voice over.  When the two unions formed, AFTRA’s work by its nature included the broadcast and recorded voice, while SAG’s workers were employed in projects recorded on film.  As audio recordings began to be used in film production and, with the advent of video, film began to be broadcast on television, both unions had legitimate arguments for claiming representation of workers who traditionally fell clearly under the other union.  Cooperation between AFTRA and SAG is common, however there remains the potential, and indeed in some cases the reality of producers playing the two unions against each other or seeking out the contract which is the least expensive or least restrictive for their project (R. Masur, personal communication, 1996).

      An example of how the interest of the two unions may sometimes be in conflict came in early 1997, after both union boards had voted with a strong majority in favor of moving forward on merger.  Concerns on the unilateral front of the two unions were raised over the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty (WIPO) and its 1997 ratification by the US Senate. AFTRA and its national board strongly supported the ratification of the WIPO treaty, while SAG National President Richard Masur (of Los Angeles) vowed that his Guild “would actively oppose it” (Robb, February 4, 1997, p. 1).  AFTRA National President Shelby Scott (who lives in Baltimore) fired off a letter to Masur saying that SAG’s opposition to the treaty “causes those of us who spent the past five years conceptualizing and constructing a new merged union to question whether the new union really is capable of understanding and addressing the needs of its diverse but contemporary constituencies” (Robb, February 4, 1997, p. 1). The WIPO treaty was drafted to protect the work of recording artists, including for the first time, protection of their intellectual property rights from misappropriation of their work in cyberspace. 

    In addressing his membership, Masur wrote that “our sister union, AFTRA, seems to have made some headway in securing treaty inclusion of some protections for sound recording artists...however, the lack of any protections for audiovisual performers places us in a position where we have no choice but to vigorously oppose...ratification of this treaty. And we will oppose it until such time as it includes real protections for audiovisual performers”  (Robb, February 4, 1997, p.1). 

    Cooperation between the unions under Masur was never in dispute, in part because of his historic pro-merger stance and his friendship with AFTRA President Shelby Scott. Both were strong hands-on chairs, exercising parliamentary control under Roberts Rules of Order and interpreting those rules to gain the benefit for their presidential agendas. Both had been reelected by large majority mandates of their national memberships.

Equity: The Actors Union 

Actors Equity Association (AEA) Union representing stage actors. AEA- Actors' Equity Association is often called simply "Equity". Equity represents stage actors, select stage hands and live theater professionals. Equity organizes employer by employer, or by geographic area, whereas SAG and AFTRA organize by primarily by industry. 
To join Equity requires qulifying through a number of possible tracks of membership. The most common is to earn "equity points" through waiver or working in Equity productions. Internships and other avenues remain open for select areas of Equity membership. 
There is no chapter in Nevada, but there is an equity organization and there is an association of Equity talent. The Nevada Equity information line is (702) 452-4200. 
Equity for Nevada  includes regional casting calls, since there is little equity work other than “guest artist” contracts in Nevada. The fixed productions on the Strip are affiliated with Equity in New York or Los Angeles, but must have local auditions according to the most common Equity contracts. In England and much of the British Commonwealth, Equity has jurisdiction over film and television as well as theater. Most foreign Equity film or TV contracts are buy-outs and do not contain the residuals or use fees found in American union contracts.

From 1938 The Nation: Hollywood is a Union Town

    Publishing Information


    By Morton Thompson

    The Nation April 2, 1938 Vol. 146, No. 14, p. 381-383 Culver City, California, March 14
  1. Hollywood is a union town. Its actors are union men. Its pickets are union pickets. Its scabs are mobbed with union thoroughness and dispatch. Its stars are as labor conscious as its carpenters. And the stronghold of unionism in Hollywood is the Screen Actors' Guild.
  2. Five years ago a gag about a Hollywood actor being a union man would have been good for a ripple of horror in Hollywood's drawing-rooms and for a derisive laugh along the embattled labor fronts of Eastern and Midwestern America. Stars were artists. Featured players were artists. The least conspicuous extra was an artist. The hem of Hollywood's epicene skirt was lifted gingerly and superciliously as Hollywood walked over the mud puddles of its labor problems.
  3. But Hollywood is a town where the least likely things happen. The incredible has now become commonplace. The Screen Actors' Guild rules the roost. It is probably on its way to becoming the richest and most powerful labor union in America. The stars have stepped down into the ranks to fight for the extras, the bit players, the masses. Their victories have been crushing and complete. What the S. A. G. dictates, the producers do. The result has been a startling betterment of working conditions, somewhat increased pay, and the discovery that the iron heel of the studios is still a heel, but that it is not iron and that it is not, in fact, any more impressive than any other heel.
  4. The Screen Actors' Guild really started in 1929. It started with a strike. Most Hollywood actors belonged to Equity. Equity called a strike. It wanted better working conditions than the producers were willing to grant. Equity wasn't daring enough. It told its Hollywood members who had contracts to refuse to sign new contracts. It told members with pending contracts to refuse to sign. It told members without contracts not to go to work. The brunt of the blow fell, of course, on the little fellow, the chap without a contract. The strike collapsed in twelve weeks without having accomplished much more than keeping a few hundred actors out of work.
  5. In March of 1930 the producers, a little worried by the abortive Equity affair, decided to organize the actors in their own way. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was thrust forward as an arbitration board. Actors got a few assurances that conditions would be bettered and a method of lodging complaints, in return for a signed agreement not to strike for five years. Most of the actors signed.
  6. In 1932 the Eastern banks began to send out efficiency experts to stop money wastage at the studios in which they had investments. They couldn't do much about actors with contracts, but they slashed terms for pending contracts, and by one ingenious dodge after another proceeded to snip almost in half the salaries of many a free-lance player. There were other grievances. California state labor laws stipulate that women may not work longer than sixteen hours a day. But it was pretty general knowledge that the major studios were able to control the state labor bureau. Chorus girls were worked twenty-four hours straight. Extras were kept shivering in the rain for endless hours. Stunt men risked their necks; and when they broke them the studios wouldn't pay the repair bills. Actors had no place to go to complain. True, they had the Academy established by the producers. But they were afraid to go there. They were afraid they might become known as trouble-makers and be put on the studios' famous black list. As a matter of fact, almost all who did appeal to the Academy received unfailing courtesy and fair treatment. Nine out of ten of the cases brought before the Academy were decided in favor of the actors. But not many brought cases.
  7. While Hollywood's famous parties raged, little coteries of sober-minded actors conferred furtively. Their deliberations were dangerous. Any hint of them, reaching the ear of a producer, unquestionably would have meant the black list—bad pictures, bad roles, joblessness. The studios had a bland one-for-all and all-for-one policy by which unruly actors were disciplined by universally shut doors. But out of these deliberations was born the S. A. G. The original members deserve mention. They included Alan Mowbray, Ralph Morgan, Kenneth Thomson. Alden Gay, Morgan Wallace, Leon Ames, James and Lucille Gleason, Bradley Page, Claude King, Ivan Simpson, Boris Karloff, Richard Tucker, Reginald Mason, Arthur Vinton, Clay Clement, Charles Starrett, C. Aubrey Smith, Willard Robertson, Tyler Brooke, and Noel Madison. At first they fared rather badly. Many persons asked to join were shocked at the thought of joining a labor movement. Then 1933 came along. That was the year in which the studios, pleading poverty, cut the salaries of every actor in Hollywood squarely in half on the plea that the cut would avert tremendous lay-offs. When the cut was accomplished, the studios proceeded to effect drastic lay-offs anyway. And virtually every studio in Hollywood declared bonuses that same year. This was a little too much even for blithe actors. In June the S. A. G. was quietly incorporated. In July it invited every actor in Hollywood to a big mass-meeting. Only a few turned out. It got sixty members. The big shots wouldn't come in. Most of the stars were still members of the Academy. Then the NRA motion-picture code was adopted, and the Academy promptly assumed the right to represent the actors.
  8. The producers now made a code of their own, which consisted mainly of an agreement not to bid competitively for talent. A $10,000 fine was established as a penalty for competitive bidding. It was this competitive-bidding agreement that smoked out the big names. A meeting was called at Frank Morgan's house. The Marx brothers and Charlie Butterworth spent the entire day calling every actor and actress in Hollywood. The newly founded S. A. G., shaky and pitifully small, was invited along with the rest. One of the big shots made a small speech. The gist of it was that the group gathered at Morgan's should hire someone like Arthur Garfield Hays to go to Washington as their representative. There was a considering silence. Eddie Cantor stood up. "I've apparently come here," he said, "under a misconception. If this organization isn't one that's going to help every man, woman, and child in the industry, I'll say good night!" He didn't have to say good night. Some of them sheepishly, some of them angrily, every star and featured player in the room fell in with Cantor's demand.
  9. The S. A. G. unit was asked to stand up and give its views on the situation. Its proposals, explained by Ralph Morgan, its first president, were so sound and its organization so ready for use that the meeting resolved to join the group, reorganize it, elect new officers, and proceed under the S. A. G. banner. Unionism had invaded Hollywood. The battle had begun. When it became known that the stars were joining the group, the membership jumped in three weeks from 81 to 4,000.
  10. Almost immediately the new union sent its famous two-thousand-word telegram to President Roosevelt, who countered by inviting Eddie Cantor to Warm Springs. As a result, the actors won every point on which they had attacked the producers' code and the suggestions made by the producer-managed Academy for an actors' code.
  11. Next the problem of extras was tackled—the most serious problem before the union today. In 1934 the Senior Guild voted the creation of a Junior Guild, to be composed of extras and bit players, and to give it its own council and governing board. The demands of the Junior Guild are made known to the Senior Guild, which then decides whether to give them its support. Overwhelmingly the Seniors have sustained all demands of the Juniors.
  12. The abuses heaped on bit players, extras, and stunt men had always been great. They were the victims of a stupid and lazy system which originated at Central Casting, a bureau where the name and qualifications of every extra in Hollywood are filed. Rank favoritism still flourishes at Central Casting—the same extras can be seen in picture after picture—but the extras are no longer helpless. They have bargaining power now. In the old days, when a studio called Central Casting and asked for 400 roller skaters, the lazy wretch who took the call refused to go to the trouble of digging 400 roller skaters out of the files. Instead, he drove down to a roller-skating rink, lined up 400 skaters at random, and sent them off to the studio. They were paid a top of $10 a day for their work. And they kept 400 legitimate extras out of work. That wasn't the worst of it, though. Those 400, a studio pay check hot in their hands, began to ask one another: "How long has this been going on? Let's be regular extras! Let get in on some of this gravy!" And they became extras, thousands of them.
  13. Now the studios rarely spend more than two and a half million dollars a year for extras. And the S. A. G. suddenly discovered that there were 23,000 extras in Hollywood. If the work had been spread out evenly, an extra could have earned only $109 a year! Perhaps 5,000 extras could make a living wage—if there were only 5,000 extras. Today by imposing dues the S. A. G. has cut down the Junior Guild population to 6,600, and of that number 500 are dancers and 800 are bit players. If an extra doesn't belong to the S. A. G. he can't get work in Hollywood. And he doesn't belong if he can't pay his dues, which are $18 a year in addition to an initiation fee of $25. Two weeks ago the membership books were closed. The Junior Guild asked that dues be high; it asked that its membership list be closed.
  14. In 1934 the S. A. G. affiliated with the A. F. of L. through Equity and the A. A. A. A. From 1935 to 1937 it cemented its relations with labor, mended its fences. In 1937 the producers still wouldn't negotiate with the S. A. G. The Wagner Act was validated. The producers negotiated.
  15. The Painters' Union called a strike. Actors passed through the painters' picket lines and were called scabs. The S. A. G. called a mass-meeting. It was evident that the producers were stalling in negotiations which demanded a guild shop and that the time was ripe for a showdown. The officers informed the meeting that they would bring back a contract signed by the producers in a week or call a strike. Afterward they realized that it was necessary to obtain a 75 per cent vote of the membership before any strike of the Senior Guild could be called. At a meeting held at his house Robert Montgomery opened without preamble: "Ladies and gentlemen, you are here to sign a strike ballot. If you sign, you may be called out on strike. You will strike—if you do strike—on behalf of the extras. We are not asking for any privileges for the Senior Guild." By the end of the week 600 Seniors had voted for the strike and 18 against. The union began to make plans to open coffee houses and restaurants to feed those who would be hard hit. Everyone figured the strike was four days off. The tension was grave.
  16. On Sunday morning Franchot Tone, Kenneth Thomson, Aubrey Blair, and Robert Montgomery went to Louis B. Mayer's house. Joe Schenck was there. The four told Mayer and Schenck flatly that they had to have something in writing to take to the members at a mass-meeting that night or else the strike was on. They interrupted a bridge game. Mayer was a little petulant. Schenck said it was impossible to get all the studio executives together on such short notice. Then he called Harry Cohn, who was playing the races at Agua Caliente. Cohn told him what was good enough for Schenck was good enough for him and got away from the phone in time for the fifth race. Mayer next refused to call in a stenographer. "It's Sunday!" he objected. "I've got 200 guests here!" So Kenneth Thomson wrote the historic surrender in long hand. The terms were guild shop; and Mayer and Schenck signed.
  17. The four went back to Fredric March's house, where the S. A. G. board was waiting. Now that the agreement was signed, they were a little worried about some of the terms. The mass-meeting that night ended their worries. The crowd tore the roof off. In another week the hand-written surrender was reduced to formal legal phraseology and formally signed, sealed, and delivered. Hollywood is a closed-shop town, now. When the Brown Derby's union waiters walked out on strike, actors refused to go through the picket lines.
  18. There is many a Communist in the union, for the S. A. G. doesn't care what a man's politics are so long as he doesn't bring them into the guild. A minority thinks that the Senior Guild "sold out" the extras and disagrees violently with almost everything either the Junior or the Senior Guild proposes. It is a very vocal minority and even a rather welcome one. Its latest proposal, that the Junior Guild be given equal voting powers with the Senior Guild, was voted down by the Juniors, 4,500 to 50.
  19. The guild has obtained almost everything it has asked for. Ninety-nine per cent of all Hollywood actors belong. The battle is now definitely over, though a few minor objectives are still being discussed. Producers are walking the straightest of straight lines. The victories have been victories for the rank and file. For themselves the stars have asked and won next to nothing.
  20. The important thing is that the highest stars, like the lowest extras, are vigilantly labor conscious. They are anxious to identify themselves with any and all labor movements in behalf of the under-dog. They are lending their names and their talents and their time, with unabating enthusiasm. It would be unfair to single out any individual actor as the greatest contributor. For his personal courage and incisive strategy Robert Montgomery, present president of the S. A. G., has won the respect of the producers and unstinted praise from the union and the public—a public, incidentally, which not so long ago thought of him as a movie playboy. Joan Crawford, second vice-president, has been of invaluable aid in enlisting the support of actresses. Alan Mowbray, when the organization was being planned in secret, financed the embryo S. A. G. with his personal check of $2,500. Kenneth Thomson, executive secretary, has given nearly five years of hard work and health-straining devotion. Ralph Morgan, a member of the board for five years, Chester Morris, third vice-president, Franchot Tone, James Cagney, first vice-president, Boris Karloff, assistant secretary, Noel Madison, treasurer, Murray Kinnell, assistant treasurer, and directors Edward Arnold, Humphrey Bogart, Dudley Digges, Lucille Gleason, Porter Hall, Paul Harvey, Jean Hersholt, Russell Hicks, Frank Morgan, Claude King, Fredric March, Jean Muir, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Irving Pichel, Edward G. Robinson, Edwin Stanley, Gloria Stuart, Warren William, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Young, Dick Powell, Gene Lockhart, and George Murphy are only a partial list of those who might be nominated for a labor Hall of Fame in Hollywood.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Movie Wagons West


By Bill Timoney
From the Spring 2011
New York Actor
SAG Magazine

“The movie business began in New
Jersey, but moved to Southern
California because the weather was better

Most people consider the preceding
statement an accurate description of the
birth of the American cinema, but it’s not.
The wrong part is the “because” part.
Did movies begin in New Jersey? Yes.
Inventor Thomas Edison — working
in his West Orange, N.J. lab between
1891 and 1893 — took out patents on
his Kinetoscope and
Kinetograph inventions
that he claimed made
him the father of the
motion picture.

Does Southern
California have
“better” weather than
the Garden State? It
undeniably has more
days of sunshine, which
early filmmakers relied
upon to light their
scenes. And it had the haze of
campfires and mists from the ocean..smog,
which provided much of the diffusion of light
that early film cameras needed.

Edison’s motion
pictures were shown
in coin-operated
machines that preceded
the nickelodeons. His
invention became so
popular that other
businessmen entered
the booming market
seeking to profit from
a public’s insatiable
hunger for this new
form of entertainment.
But Edison fought
these new film
companies, most of
which were based
across the Hudson
River in Manhattan
and adjoining towns.

He claimed anybody who made, sold or
showed a film owed him money. If you
picked up a camera and exposed a frame
of film, you had to pay Thomas Edison.
Edison attacked the competing film
companies, such as Vitagraph, Kalem,
Selig and others, with lawsuits, which
cost them time and money to battle. So, in
1908, the heads of these companies met
to determine if they could pool enough of
their own filmmaking patents to challenge
Edison’s annoying legal threats. But they
were surprised when an uninvited guest
showed up at their meeting — Thomas

Edison offered his competitors a deal:
He’d stop beating them with lawsuits
if they’d join him. In September 1908,
Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company
was born. The member companies agreed
to make motion pictures the Edison way
— single-reel running time only, with no
artistic aspirations. They also agreed to
pay Edison a piece of their earnings. In
return, Edison gave trust members — and
only trust members — permission to make
and distribute films. The trust would not
permit new members to join, and only
licensed exhibitors would be allowed to
show motion pictures — trust motion

But many exhibitors objected to the
trust’s licensing terms, and many fledgling
filmmakers banned from ever joining the
trust still wanted to make films. So they
declared themselves independent of the
trust in open defiance of Edison.

Indie exhibitors like Adolph Zukor
and William Fox bought films from
Europe, where works of multi-reeled
artistic achievement had been made and
distributed to great acclaim. Indie film
producers like Carl Laemmle bought film
stock and camera equipment from Europe
and made their own product to sell to
independent exhibitors. 

Laemmle took
particular delight in
defying Edison’s trust.
He named his company
IMP, which he claimed
stood for Independent
Motion Pictures. But the
company’s logo revealed
the true intention behind
the company name: it
showed an impish creature
bedeviling what looked
suspiciously like the Edison
Trust logo!

Edison attempted to drive
the independent filmmakers
out of business by forming
the General Film Company.
GFC lawyers attacked
the indie filmmakers and
exhibitors with lawsuits.
The GFC also employed
thugs who enforced
Edison’s trust through
intimidation. GFC enforcers
confiscated unlicensed films
arriving at the East Coast
docks from Europe. They
destroyed equipment and
threatened actors. They
assaulted exhibitors and
burned down exhibition
halls. They terrorized every
independent they could find.
But they had to find them first.

The determined independents stayed
in business by staying one step ahead
of the GFC. Since Edison was based in
New Jersey, the independents made films
elsewhere. They forced Edison to hire
more lawyers and more thugs as they kept
moving beyond his reach. 
The independents became adept at
quickly setting up, shooting and striking
a location before trust goons could be
tipped off to their presence. They moved
so fast that it might be argued that the
nickname “movies” was coined for them.
In fact, audiences began to refer to films as
“movies” as early as 1906, and by 1912 it
was in popular use, although discouraged
as vulgar by the industry.

The independents finally settled in
Southern California because, well, the
Pacific Ocean stopped them from going
any farther. Proximity to the Mexican
border came in handy when they got
advance word that GFC thugs were
approaching. When a young director
named Cecil B. DeMille wore a holstered
six-gun while making The Squaw Man in
Los Angeles, he wore it in case he had to
defend his cast and crew from the GFC.

The Squaw Man was made and released
early in 1914, around the time the Panama
Canal opened. A large harbor was dug
in Long Beach, Calif., just south of Los
Angeles, to accommodate large ships
arriving from Europe through the canal.
Now independents could get equipment
shipped directly, avoiding the East Coast
harbors guarded by Edison’s enforcers.
Edison would need to spend even more
time and money expanding his GFC across
the entire country.

Then a San Francisco court declared
Edison’s MPPC to be an illegal
monopoly. That ruling, combined with
the independents’ five-year war of
attrition, prompted Edison’s surrender.  He
disbanded his MPPC trust and gave up his
claim to a motion picture monopoly. 

With stop overs in Chicago, St Louis, Albuquerque
and Phoenix, the industry finally settled in
southern California, where the haze and smog
native to the valley provided just the right filter
for early film movie cameras, laws were loose,
the mob had yet to settle in with its interests
and a certain level of capitalistic freedom was
possible (including low wages). The union movement,
begun unsuccessfully by Actors Equity, did not arrive
until the late 1920's. For example SAG was founded in 1933.

The independents chose to remain in
Southern California, where the name
Zukor became synonymous with the preexisting Paramount Pictures, the original William Fox Corporation gave birth in the
1930s to 20th Century-Fox, and Laemmle
built his theme park-like Universal

By 1915, when the new Universal
Studios formally opened, the war was
over. Edison retained his claim to the title
“father of the motion picture,” and the
independents now had an unrestricted
right to make movies. They also had a new
base of operations, a place that offered
more varied and exotic filming locations
than the East Coast — a place that would
soon come to be known as Hollywood, no
matter whether it really was Culver City or

So yes, the American Cinema began
in New Jersey and relocated to Southern
California. But as to why it went west,
sunshine had nothing to do with it.

A SAG member since 1978, Bill Timoney
recommends that those interested in this
topic read the essential work “Early
American Cinema” by the great film
historian Anthony Slide (Scarecrow

Also recommended is the multivolume “The History of The American
Cinema” (University of California Press),
particularly the first two volumes — “The
Emergence of Cinema: The American
Screen to 1907” by Charles Musser, and
“The Transformation of Cinema 1907-
1915” by Eileen Bowser.

Click here for Hollywood and SAG history from the start to 2000.