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Films and Film-Making

Films and Film-Making

Feature films such as Star Wars and The Terminator last just a couple of hours, but they take months or even years to make. Huge teams of people are involved in preparing for the action and then capturing it on camera. Then, when the acting has finished, more hard work begins on turning the action into a film fit for cinema and TV screens.

Films and Film-Making
Beautiful image of Amelia Hamlin and her friend


The first people to invent equipment for making films where the Americans W. K. L. Dickson and Thomas Edison, in the early 1890s. Their apparatus consisted of a camera called the Kinetograph and a viewing box called the Kinetoscope. Only one person at a time could look into the viewing box to watch the film, which was in black and white, had no sound and lasted just a few seconds.

Two French brothers called Auguste and Louis Lumière first devised a way of projecting film images onto a large screen for an audience. The Lumière brothers called their apparatus the Cinématographe. They carried out their first demonstration in a Paris café in December 1895. People were stunned to see the large, moving pictures. Other inventors immediately began creating new types of projectors and experimenting with making their own films.


Film cameras do not record movement. The moving pictures we see on screen are actually still photographs, taken so quickly one after the other that they seem to merge. Each still photograph is called a frame. Most film cameras today take 24 frames every second, on a big reel of film that is wound steadily through the camera. The first film cameras, though, could take only 16 frames every second. The length of the film on the reel was 20 or 25 metres, which gave just about one minute of screen time. So the first films usually showed just one, short scene. For example, L’Arroseur Arrosé (A Trick on the Gardener) by the Lumière brothers, made in 1895.

The first film with more than one scene was probably Come Along Do!, produced by the Robert Paul company in Britain in 1898. The company joined a scene outside an art gallery with a scene inside. A film-maker called George Méliès began to produce multi-scene films, such as Cinderella (1899). Méliès also experimented with interesting ways to join the scenes together. He often used equipment, such as slides and magic lanterns, to create special effects.

At the turn of the century, two British film-makers working separately in Brighton came up with creative ideas for shooting the scenes themselves. George Albert Smith invented a technique for filming a scene from different camera positions. In The Little Doctors (1901), a scene showing somebody feeding medicine to a kitten is shown first from a distance, then in close-up, then from a distance again. James Williamson had a different idea—to shoot a piece of action across several scenes, instead of just one. In Stop Thief! (1901), the lead character runs out of one scene, then the film cuts to a new scene elsewhere and the lead character runs into the scene, continuing the story. An American film-maker called Edwin S. Porter used ideas like these especially effectively in a 1903 film called The Great Train Robbery.


In the early days of film-making, there were no cinemas. Film-makers used specialist sales organizations to sell their films to entertainment organizers, who projected them as part of variety shows intent theatres. From 1905 to 1908 in the United States, thousands of theatres (known as nickelodeons) were set up especially for the film. Permanent film theatres were also established across Europe, and film-making became a booming business. From 1908 a leading centre for American film-making developed in an area of southern California called Hollywood. Established British and French film companies were joined by flourishing film industries all over the world. An Italian film company produced the first large-scale film in 1912. It was called Quo Vadis? and used massive film sets and more than 5,000 actors.

Film-going became so popular that from 1914 many lavish cinemas called picture palaces were created. They could seat thousands of people at a time. Film-companies began to make films that lasted for several reels instead of just one. Picture palace audiences had to wait in the middle of a film while the projectionist changed reels. Films in those days were silent, so picture palaces usually had a pianist or organist who played music to accompany the action. Film-makers also included short written sentences in the film to add to the story or explain what the actors were saying. One of the most famous silent film stars was the British actor Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), who created the loveable character of the “little tramp” who had a funny walk.

Many film companies experimented with animated drawings and models, as well as human actors. European film companies introduced the idea of making information films about events in the news, as well as films for entertainment.


From the early 1900s, inventors had worked on films with colour and sound. The first breakthrough with colour came in 1908 in London, when G. A. Smith demonstrated a colour film process called Kinemacolour. However, Kinemacolour shades were based on just two colours, so films continued to be made in black and white. The first colour films to be created successfully from two colours were Toll of the Sea and The Black Pirate, shown to the public in 1922.

In 1926 the American film company Warner Brothers delighted audiences with a series of short films that had sound to match the pictures. As the sound was recorded on a separate disc, the words did not always match the mouth movements of the actors. Warner Brothers’ The Jazz Singer was the first full-length talkie, in 1927. The film company Fox soon developed a more effective technique for recording the sound onto the film itself. During the 1930s, Hollywood film companies made the most of the new sound technology by making musicals with singing and dancing stars such as Shirley Temple, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Gangster talkies and romantic comedies were popular in the United States and Britain, although at this time the Japanese film industry was the largest producer of films in the world. In 1934, the Bombay Talkies studio was formed in India, founding one of the biggest film industries in the world.

While film companies had been busy creating talkies, they had also been working on perfecting colour in films. Finally, a process was developed that used three colours to create different shades, rather than just two. In 1935, the first three-strip Technicolor film was produced, Becky Sharp. From then on, moving pictures not only sounded real, they looked real too.


Since the early days, many different types, or genres, of feature film have been made. These include westerns (such as The Magnificent Seven), thrillers (The Fugitive), comedies (Home Alone), action adventures (Indiana Jones), supernatural horror (Dracula), war epics (The Great Escape), romantic comedies (When Harry Met Sally), crime and gangster films (The Godfather), films with animation (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), spy adventures (Mission Impossible), kung-fu extravaganzas (Enter the Dragon), science-fiction (E. T.—The Extraterrestrial) and modern musicals (Grease and Moulin Rouge). Sometimes films combine two or more genres.

Some films are produced with three-dimensional technology, so that if you wear special glasses, the images on-screen appear to have more depth, just like in real life. Other films are made for IMAX cinemas. These special cinemas have giant-sized screens with sophisticated sound systems to make you feel as if you are right in the middle of the action.


Film-making requires different specialist staff and technical processes, depending on what the film is about. All films go through three broad stages before they are ready for an audience.

During the pre-production stage, all the preparations are made for filming. The producer chooses the story, raises money and employs the people who will work on the film. The scriptwriter writes the words, creating an exciting plot and interesting characters. The director decides on the overall style of the film and chooses the leading actors. The art director is in charge of designers for the film sets, costumes, and makeup, and choosing locations outside the studio. Technical directors are in charge of crews who build huge film sets and arrange lighting, sound and special effects. The production manager controls the budget and makes practical arrangements for filming.

During the production stage filming takes place. Stories are not usually filmed in the right order. The actors and crew film all the scenes that take place in one location before moving on to another. The director guides the creative elements of the film, from giving opinions on the story, to instructing the actors, to choosing camera angles. The director is helped by people in different departments. For instance, a continuity person makes sure that all the details are correct in scenes that are shot out of sequence (such as the actors’ clothes and length of their hair). That way, when the filmed scenes are put into the right order later, they will run together smoothly.

The post-production stage happens when all the action has been filmed. An editor cuts sequences of action and joins them together, adding the sound. When the director and producer are happy with it, the finished film is then ready for distribution companies to sell to cinemas or TV companies.

Did you know?
• As well as producing, directing and acting, Charlie Chaplin also composed the music for many of his films.
• The first film to feature sound was The Jazz Singer, released in 1927, which starred Al Jolson.
• Film Noir (meaning ‘black film’) is the name given by critics to the type of gloomy, atmospheric thrillers, often starring Humphrey Bogart, that was made in Hollywood in the 1940s.
• A Steadicam is a piece of equipment used in film-making to create smooth, flowing shots. The camera sits on top of a pole that is attached to a vest worn by the camera operator. The camera is balanced using a specially designed system of weights so that when the camera operator walks or runs while filming, the resulting shots appear to glide through the air.
• The team that created the terrifying dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park won the Oscar (Academy Award) for Best Visual Effects.
• Traditionally films have always been shot on celluloid film but advances in new technology mean that one day film is likely to be replaced by video. Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (2002) was one of the first cinematic films to be made and shown using this new video technology.

Films and Film-Making

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