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Vintage Hollywood Movie Studios



Early Movie Studios

Contrary to popular belief, the motion picture industry did not have its roots in Hollywood or even Southern California.  This soon to be “magical” business had its origin in both Chicago and the environs of New York City.  Companies such as Edison, Selig Polyscope, Lubin, Thanhouser, Jesse Lasky Feature Play, Vitagraph, New York Motion Picture Company, Kalem, Essanay, and Biograph all had their headquarters and their first studios “back east.”  Even when these companies first sent production troupes to make movies on the west coast, the negatives were sent back east, by train, to their corporate offices for processing. has hundreds of vintage Hollywood Movie Studio photos.

Salem Photo

As more and more companies established permanent studios in Southern California, and particularly in the Hollywood area, it became clear that the center of this burgeoning industry was going to be on the west coast.  When west coast studios began equipping their plants with the necessary film processing laboratories, it was no longer necessary to send the negatives back east.  By the mid-teens, most film companies were abandoning their eastern studios and moving their headquarters to the west coast.   It didn’t take long before Hollywood was known as the motion picture capital of the world.

The first studios consisted of a hodgepodge of ramshackle buildings which were usually converted barns, stores, warehouses, offices, etc.  The motion picture industry was still in the experimental stage and most of the film producers could not afford to erect large new facilities.  Typically, an early studio consisted of a building which contained offices, storage for costumes  and props, rooms for processing film, and  the company’s laboratory.  The filming was done outdoors.  Movable walls and props were erected on wood platforms.  To regulate the sometimes intense sunlight, sheets of muslin were draped on guide wires over the platform.  By merely adjusting the muslin, the intensity of the light on the stage, could be controlled.

Lubin photo

Talking Movies

Even though “talking” movies did not come into existence until 1926, most of the early film had scripts with dialogue for the actors to follow.  Scenarios were written by studio personnel days before they were used as scripts.  Due to the hectic “shooting” schedules, actors usually received the script and practiced their lines the evening before, or the morning of, filming.  When it came time for the cameras to roll, the actors were placed on stage and when the director yelled “action”, the cameraman started turning the crank handle on his primitive camera.  Invariably, the director could be seen yelling instructions at his performers while the filming was taking place.  This luxury, afforded the directors during the silent movie era, was brought to a screeching halt with the advent of “talkies”.

Selig Photo

Unlike today’s film-making, early studios did not have the hoards of stage hands to help orchestrate the production of movies.  Usually, the  only people on stage were the actors, a cameraman, a director and one or two handymen.  Compared with today’s advanced filming technology and the plethora of people required to produce a modern movie, it is difficult to comprehend how the early pioneers produced so much with so little.  But they did!  In fact, they were far more prolific than the film-makers of today.  In the beginning, one reel comedies or westerns were the standard unit for the screen and most early studios produced one or two films a week.  As the public's demand for movies increased, so did the production capacity and the size of the studios.  It wasn’t long before many film factories had several production units making pictures simultaneously.

Thanhouser Photo

In order to accommodate the increased production, larger open-air platforms had to be constructed.  These stages were divided into sections and allocated to the production units.   On a typical day of film-making, it was not uncommon to see three or four movies being made at the same time, even using the same platform stage.  As long as an actor, director, or cameraman did not encroach onto another production unit’s section of the stage, all would go well.

During the mid-teens, several innovations occurred that advanced the quality of films produced.  The building of the glass stages allowed for larger sets and more controlled environment, while the use of lights meant that movies could now be made indoors and at night.

The largest collection of vintage Hollywood movie studio photos is on the website.

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