Silent Movie Bookshelf: “How to Make Your Own Motion Picture Plays” by Jack Bechdolt

Amateur movie making was quite the thing by the mid-twenties. Unlike other volumes of this sort published in the era, this book is less concerned with technique and more focused on story. It is a slim 130 pages in total.

Published in 1926, the book is still potentially under copyright. Copies are usually readily available online.

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What is it?: A lightweight guide to making home movies, both of the traditional variety and scripted. The first 40 or so pages cover the basics of film-making, while the rest of the book is taken up with sample scenarios. A few pages are given to each important aspect of making movies: directing, buying equipment, makeup and editing. The main appeal of the book is learning terminology and basic techniques of the silent era without going too far down the tech rabbit hole.

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Pictures: Few and far between, even for a slim volume. There are some diagrams and some images of real Hollywood sets. Other than that, this book is mostly text.

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Dubious elements: The decidedly undiplomatic character descriptions for the scenarios are… well, interesting if nothing else. Here is one from An Ill Wind, described as a farce comedy:

Bud Jones, a fat gallant. This needs a nimble fat young man with a gift for lively comedy.

And how exactly was one expected to cast this part? “Hey, Tim, old buddy old pal. You seem well-nourished, how would you like to be in pictures?” Um, thanks?

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Favorite advice: The section on makeup pulls no punches.

Rouge can be used on the lips, but the lips cannot be altered in outline unless the actress is content to see herself ridiculous on the screen. (We are assuming that the male actor will not be guilty.) If the lips are rouged, the rouge must be well rubbed in and must follow the natural modeling of the actor’s lips.

Not bad advice in any era, come to think of it, but fake liplines designed to make the mouth look tiny were particularly a thing in the nickelodeon era and, yes, the guys did it too.

This book should be of particular interest to anyone studying up on silent era scenarios, though the ones shared in this book aren’t exactly Frances Marion. Still, it’s an amusing period piece and worth the purchase if it can be obtained at a good price.


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