Fiction Writers and Scenarios - Historical Motion Pictures
By RUPERT HUGHES
Dramatist, Novelist, and Short-story Writer
"PICTURES" have had good stories for a long time. What pictures have failed to do is to advance with their audiences. When pictures were first thrown upon a screen it was a very wonderful thing to see a man walk, or stretch out his arm, or smile. Later it was even more wonderful to see a train wrecked or a house burned or a maiden rescued. But now all those things are no longer novelties.
The smallest boy sees nothing remarkable in the mere action of pictures; he no longer thrills over the wreckage of locomotives, for he knows every little trick of the trade. He can tell you the very instant that a dummy is substituted for the actor in an accident.
The mere mechanics of the movies have lost their thrill because their novelty is gone. The one thing to do, then, is to sound the audience, and the only way to reach it is with sincerity. That is the crying need of pictures now. They must appeal to the audience as real. Their grief must be sincere, their humor genuine. Depict real life for people, as the best play and novel does, and the photoplay will hold its own.
As a rule, story-tellers know their business; that is why they are successful. And yet it is a fact that film companies pay thousands of dollars for some story by a well-known author and, when it has gone through the scenario editor's hands, the author could not recognize his own story.
Nothing is left but the title and the author's name, and the main reason is, that it is a scenario editor's religion that a storyteller can never write anything wholly suited to the screen. The scenario writer makes no effort to understand the theme of the original story, but thrusts it through the conventional actions.
For this, authors have stormed against the motion pictures, and you can't blame them. The picture producers bought their stories, and then threw away the plots, and, substituting ideas of their own, merely kept the titles, sometimes, and a few of the characters.
I have not blamed the motion pictures so severely for this as some have. I realized that they were going through a phase in their evolution. The same conditions prevailed at one time on the stage and in the publishing business. The author got little credit, and his work was distorted to suit the fancy of producers and publishers.
Now some of us have agreements whereby not a word of our writings is to be changed. And we help select the casts and attend rehearsals of our plays. We work in somewhat the same way with the picture producers. We work with the "continuity writer," with the casting director, with the director and with the film editor.
If the moving pictures are to hold the people, novelty must be introduced, and the place to do this is in the scenario end of the business. The person that shapes the mold should know his audience, should be conscious of his audience, should know the precise method of wringing tears or laughs from them. And if an author's works are good enough to purchase, they deserve to be presented with the background of the theme that the author evolved.
We must strike at the hearts of the audience, bring sincerity into pictures—then they will maintain their place as one of the arts.
Source: THE MENTOR, Volume 9, Number 6, July 1, 1921, Page 30