Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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This tongue-in-cheek piece by
Michael Powell was started by the
article in Film Weekly; Nov, 1931.
MAKING FILMS for 4D !
by Michael Powell
Michael Powell and his partner, Jerry Jackson, are two young British
producers who have the reputation of making their pictures with brains
rather than with money. How they manage to produce pictures at a
quarter of the usual cost is a minor mystery of the British film business.
In this light-hearted article, which was written at the invitation of
"FILM WEEKLY," Mr. Powell discloses his secret - without, however
giving anything away.
Film Weekly July 8, 1932
"Film Weekly" has always been cordial to the flickers produced by Jerry Jackson and myself. Even when they didn't like them they tolerantly assumed that some people would - not many, but some.
But Herbert Thompson, the Editor of FILM WEEKLY, has an analytical mind. In our first year of production he has seen us produce eight pictures, mostly four-reelers (we prefer to call them condensed features). These were all sold.
How Much Did It Cost?
To make us a profit these pictures must have cost very little reasons, Mr. Thompson. Were we making a profit? He sent out spies who reported that we were both still eating lunch, and paying for it ourselves, a rare thing in this business. It was also disclosed to FILM WEEKLY that I'd bought a second-hand car. Mr. Thompson started sums. Obviously the films hadn't cost much; the question was, how much? Making all allowances, he arrived at a figure. He then wrote me a letter requesting an article on "How to Make a Film for Fourpence."
Now, with the best intentions, Mr. Thompson under-estimates. our films cost more than that. In fact, sometimes we don't get any profit at all, but just glory. We like glory, but we prefer cash. But he has hit on a very dear theory of mine, which I am saving for my old age. This is how it's done, Mr. Thompson.
First you need a story. This is easy. You write it yourself. The best way of securing a plot is to gate-crash a couple of Trade shows and borrow the best ideas of each. Failing that, ask a film critic who has attended the show to give you a synopsis. This will provide you with an entirely new story. Alternatively, you may revive one of the classics - any one so long as the copyright has expired.
Next you need a continuity. The most popular method is to take your story and split it into a couple of hundred different-sized chunks, each of which you number.
The dialogue you make up yourselves. This is the greatest fun.
Actors are now necessary. To obtain them is, of course, an easy matter. You must ask them to work for Art's sake. No actor ever wants money if it's a question of Art. They are like that. Some more than others.
Cameramen, electricians, studio managers, are the same way. They'll all do anything for Art. They can't resist it. Try them and see if they'll take money from true artists. But don't try it for too long.
All you want now is a supply of film and a laboratory in which to develop and print it. Need I go farther? Before you can say "Artistic production" to the manager of Kodak's he is covering his eyes and handing you the key to the magnetic vaults. If the laboratory isn't sympathetic it's time you changed it anyway.
Now you can start shooting. Do yourself justice. Rome wasn't built in a day. Allow yourself a week. Remember that your people need at least four hours' sleep and that nobody can stand more than seven days of studio sandwiches and coffee. This should see you through nicely.
Don't Hurry the Cutters
Cutting is a specialised job. Don't hurry the cutters. It takes at least two days to cut the clappers off the beginning and end of each scene and join all the scenes together. Then your film is ready.
Selling the picture is a simple job. Take it to any one of the big distributing firms, and they'll write you a cheque at once.
The most difficult part of the whole production comes when you have to cash the cheque. The best way is to pay it in to your own bank and quickly draw the money out of your account. This costs twopence, but it's worth it.
The twopence left in your production budget you carry forward.
So you see, Mr. Thompson, it's easy.
Note: Fourpence or 4d was four of the pre-decimal pennies. There were 12 pennies to a shilling & 20 shillings to a pound so 4d is 4/240 or £0.01667. Even allowing for inflation that's only about 71p today. Not very much.
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