The Camera As A Reporter

Director-General of News Film

TWO hundred years ago there were three Estates, the Clergy, the Nobility, and the rest of us. Then Edmund Burke, the great British statesman, found a Fourth in the Press Gallery of the House of Commons. If he were alive today he would create a Fifth Estate, and would designate screen reporters as its members.

Filming A Flight circa 1920

Publishers' Photo Service

The worn-out saying, absolutely incorrect, that "The Motion Picture industry is in its infancy," can be applied with more truth to the News Reel which, however;', rapidly approaching a state of adolescence.

The wrong-doer of today dreads the searching lens of the camera even more than the vitriolic pencil point of the reporter, while the hero and the publicity seeker vigorously dust off the "Welcome" on the door-mat at the approach of both.

The News Reel cameramen of today are few in numbers. There are not more than two thousand in the United States and Canada. It takes a man of unique type to become enough of a cameraman to make a good living. A News Reel producer employs very few cameramen on salary.

Only in the big cities does he have to keep them on salary. The others are free-lance operators, known to the craft as "field men." These men get paid for the film that is accepted by, the News Reel editor. If it is rejected, the film is a dead loss to them.

There is no harder line of work in the world than that of a News Reel cameraman. Unlike the reporter who carries with him a few scraps of paper and a pencil, the cameraman lugs an outfit weighing anywhere from 30 to 60 pounds which, in many cases, has to be set up, threaded, and focused with lightning speed.

He must understand photography down to the 'nth degree. He must be somewhat of a director. He must be able to read the mind of his editor to a certain extent so as to get the most interesting news angles possible.

And he must be essentially a diplomat. Also, when the occasion arises, he must take his life in his hands. A man that has earned the degree, "First-Class," is not only a good photographer, but a man all the way through.

At first thought it appears amazing that so many strive for this position in life, with such a hard road ahead to travel. The reason is that NewsReel work demands the creation of something. A man is put upon his mettle, and a real man likes that. Perhaps the most alluring part of it all, however, is the power that his work gives him.

The news camera is a powerful weapon to be used for either right or wrong. Whereas a newspaper lives for not more than forty-eight hours, a News Reel's life is reckoned at about ninety days. Thousands of eyes see the newspaper article; millions of eyes see the current events picture on the screen.

Frequently, as in my own case, the director of a screen weekly is an ex-newspaper man. He must know, above all, what kind of news will appeal to the multitude. He assigns his local staff to cover events just as an editor does.

I prophesy that within a few years the News Reel will dominate the field as the public megaphone. The day will come when it will speak with the voice of the nation. As soon as its power is understood, it will be recognized as the most potent representative of the Motion Picture industry.

Source: THE MENTOR, Volume 9, Number 6, July 1, 1921, Page 32

Return to Top of Page