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Australian Film Co. at Work

The Old Days at Port Arthur

How "Pictures" Are Made.

Article I.-(By Our Special Representative)

When the longest of "extra special master features" occupy only two hours or so on the screen, how is it they sometimes occupy a year in the making? Why do even comparatively small pictures take four, five, or six months to make? Do film actors speak their parts, when they are being filmed? ls a story filmed consecutively, just as it appears in print?    

These, and countless other similar questions, came to the mind of a "Mercury" representative on his way to Port Arthur at the week-end with instructions to find out how films are made, and to write the story of the filming of thc novel, "For the Term of His Natural Life," by the Union Master Pictures (Australasian Films Ltd.) Company on Tasman's Peninsula. The answers to the questions provide the material for the following article, the first of a short series.

The visitor to Port Arthur at the pre-   sent time must not be at all surprised   if he sccs a convict or two, broad-arrowed   and log-ironed, sitting by the wayside  

after his day's work, knocking off his leg  

irons on a stone. There will be no need

to inform the police. He will merely be  

one of the company which is engaged in   filming "For the Term of His Natural Life" ridding himself, after the "shoot  

ing" of a scene, of the cumbersome leg  

irons by the easiest manner possible.


Nor should the visitor be perturbed as his motor-car swings around Eaglehawk Neck, and in the moonlight there, he sees three little convict boys sitting propped up against a tree, all dead. They are "dead"-because they never lived. They are merely extraordinarily life-like dum- mies of three little Point Puer boys who have to be thrown over a cliff, and they are waiting until the sea is sufficiently,   angry beneath the cliffs on the "loca


Gabbett (portrayed by Arthur McLaglen) looks savage. He is wearing a set of false teeth over his own, which adds to his ferocious look.

tion" chosen for this scene for that part of the picture to he obtained under thc best possible conditions. Obviously, it     would not do to throw over three real boys; but the ladies of any party which may come across those dummies are likely to bo more than a little scared.

There are many other strange sights to be seen around Port Arthur now. Per- haps you will see 40 or 50 prisoners toil- ing dejectedly, dragging at a heavy wooden

plough with which they are ploughing up   a field of black soil. Dark-garbed ward-

ers, all armed, walk along with the sad   prisoners, and prod one or two in the   ribs now and then with the muzzles of guns, just to remind them that they are prisoners. At the head of the human plough teams walk abreast two stalwart figures, both bearded and unkempt, thc one with a sad far-away expression in his weary brown eyes; the other, whose   gleaming .teeth protrude like the fangs of a wolf, has fierce hate and vile cunning stamped - upon his Mephistophelean coun- tenance. And well he might have, for this is Gablbett, the man-eater. The other is Rufus Dawes, sentenced to trans- portation and servitude in Van Diemen's Land for a crime which he never com- mitted. Their real names, however, are George Fisher and Arthur McLaglen.



The company has been at work on loca- tion at and around Port Arthur for over two weeks, and it is expected that all the scenes for which that locality will be used will be completed by the end of this week, when several of the principals, in- cluding Eva Novak, are to return to Syd- ney. Thc work entailed in the production of a big "feature" film such as "For thc Term of His Natural Life" cannot pos-

sibly be realised until one has seen the   company at work. Even then-though it is quickly understood why the making of films is such a long- process-one cannot realise tho whole of the work involved. In the first place, before anything else is done, there is the filmable story to de- velop from the cold print of the book. The making of a story for the screen is totally different from writ- ing for a publisher. On the screen   practically the whole of the story must explain itself. The manner in which


A general view of thc operation of filming the "convicts" at work near Port Arthur. Notice the musicians playing by the side of thc stage. An organ and violin play during every scene to help create "atmosphere." The people in the  

background arc onlookers.    

things arc done, the expressions on the faces of the principals, the movement of their lips, may be only the look in the "star's" eyes-through these things alone, perhaps, a great drama has to be por- trayed and brought vividly to people's minds. It is not an easy matter to do this. Indeed, from what must be merely a cursory glance at the "shooting" of a few scenes for one picture, one's outstand- ing impression is that there is nothing easy about film work.

There is a great deal of preparatory work. Sorting thc filmable incidents from the incidents that are not filmable; preparing the sequence of events, and making preliminary arrangements for the cast, are among the things which require attention. Sometimes thc task of choos- ing exactly which character should bc "starred" is most difficult; half-way through a film, it may: be discovered that the story is developing in such a way that the leading character in the picture story will not be the chosen film star at all. All this, of course, occupies a great

deal of time. In the picture, "For the Term of Iiis Natural Life," this has proved unusually difficult, because of thc wealth of incident in thc book: and the fact that the story is quite off the beaten track.      


Marcus Clarke's story has been filmed   at least twice previously, but the former productions bear not the slightest com-   parison with that now being made. They were made on a small scale, with greater

attention to making the utmost capital out of tha horror and the gruesomeness of the story than to any other factor, and the companies, which produced them were limited in their expenditure to a com- paratively small sum. In this case, how-   ever, it is totally different. Not only will this new screening of "For the Term of His Natural Life" be the first Aus-   tralian supcr-picture made for thc world market (with a certainty of getting there), but it is a genuine attempt to create a great historical drama from what is ad- mittedly--whatever its faults (and they are numerous)-the best historical novel that Australia yet has to show.

"For the Term of His Natural Life" stands out above all other Australian works, in the eyes of motion picture pro- ducers, as the one presenting the best features for filming. It has also thc ad- vantage that the book has enjoyed a big sale almost throughout the English-speak- ing world. Where in former productions expenditure was limited to about £2,000, in this case the limit is £50,000.


Over £10.000 was spent before a scene was "shot" for this film. In some scenes, cameras to the valus of £4,000 arc trained upon the principals. . The camera with which thc camera-man (Mr L. Roos) does the bulk of thc work cost something like £700. In one scene, 12 valuable cameras will be used. This will be the scene in   which the ship Hydaspes will be blow up at sea. The company has secured an old wooden five-masted schooner (formerly   known as the Inca), which is now being rigged as the Hydaspes in Sydney, and prepared to be blown to atoms. Whereas the majority of scenes can be "shot" twice

-or ten times-at the director's will, it is obvious that a ship which cost thousands of pounds to buy and has been rigged specially at great expense, cannot well be blown up twice. Therefore the time for making this scene will bc most carefully chosen, and practically all thc motion picture cameras in the possession of Aus- tralasian Films Ltd. will be trained upon thc sinkiug lnca from every angle pos- sible. The best of the pictures thus ob-

tained will be used.


Thc research necessary before the pic-

ture was commenced was considerable. Mr.

Dawn, the producer (a director and pro- ducer of high rank in the United States), insists upon absolute accuracy in every detail. No point misses him; the exact scenes described in thc book (some of them arc very difficult to discover; others do not exist) are discovered and used if it is at all possible; the exact kind of uniforms worn by the soldiers and the warders, even to their boots, was ascer- tained and carefully followed. For in- stance, the field in which the prisoners were ploughing for one of thc scenes the other day was exactly the field in which the real prisoners used to plough, in ex- actly the same manner. Thc scene used as a quarry in another sequence was ex- actly that used as a real quarry in the transportation days; stones broken out by real prisoners, over 70 years ago, lay about while the acting prisoners toiled before the muzzles of unloaded guns and the lens of a well-loaded camera. Miss Marion Marcus Clarke (daughter of the author) was of great assistance in the research work, while old residents ot Port Arthur have been able to give Mr. Dawn some much-appreciated assistance.


The preparatory work for "The Term of Has Natural Life" occupied three months. The fact that the film was to be made in Australia added to the difficulties, because of the fact that Australia naturally lacks the facilities and the organisation to assist film producers which are to be had in America. In Hollywood practically every kind of costume, weapon, or "prop." con- ceivable is available for hire. In Australia they have all to be especially made. (The uniforms for Captain. Frere alone cost over £100.) In Hollywood, there are establish- ments where films of sinking ships. wrecks, storms, breaking seas, war incidents, great mobs in action, stampeding cattle, horse races, baseball matches, floods, burials, weddings, and the like can be obtained from stock, and worked into new pictures. That, of course, would be useless for such a production as "For the Term of His

Natural Life," but these facilities are often very serviceable for the creation of "atmo- sphere" in lesser features. Sometimes cinema patrons, following the adventures of a hero through the horrors of the battlefield are treated unknowingly to old films of real war incidents, which are introduced with the idea of giving atmo- sphere. There are also sets ot many kinds available for hire in Hollywood, while in Australia they have to be made.


"Despite this lack of facilities, which is only to be expected in a young and grow- ing country where the film industry is in its infancy," said Mr. Dawn, "I might say that I have not the slightest doubt that this picture will have the effect of placing Australia, so far as films are concerned, on the map. The three greatest reasons why I feel positive that this picture will enjoy a great world market are: (1) On account of the large sum of money allowed for its production, thus getting the very best material available even in the smaller de- tails; (2) the names in the cast, including Australians well known to Australians, and Americans well known to Americans; and (3) because it will create a reciprocity of trade between Australia and America. The unusual theme and setting of the story will have a universal appeal to

American movie audiences, and will be the first experience of what should grow to be very pleasant and profitable trade rela- tions between Australian and American film-producing units."

Prior to coming to Tasmania, many of the scenes for the film were taken in the big studio of Australasian Films Ltd, at Sydney, where expensive sets were made. While thc company is in Tasmania the preparation of sets in the studio con- tinues, so that when thc principals return they will be ready to go on with other


In watching a story being unfolded on the screen one is not apt to give much thought lo tho actual making of it. In   fact, so life-like and "real" are some of the big pictures shown in Hobart that, seeing them, thc thought that they were ever manufactured in cold blood never enters the onlookers' heads. And others are so unreal, false, and utterly hopeless that the idea of any human mind conceiving them is not to be entertained. The Tasmanian public, like thc public of Australia gener- ally has seen a great deal of the finished product, but nothing of its making. A few details, therefore, should be interesting.


In the first place, a story is never filmed   consecutively, incident alter incident, as it appears when finished. It is filmed in "sequences"; that is to say, the producer going through his scenario, his scrip, or his book, discovers all the filmablc inci- dents that are connected with a certain location. He brackets all these incidents together-though they may not have the slightest connection apart from the fact that they occur in the same story-and when the company is on that location the whole "sequence"'' of incidents is done together. For instance, in the quarry scene in "Thc Term bf His Natural Life," in part of the book Gabbctt returns here to give himself up after a fruitless attempt to escape, while in another part, Rufus Dawes comes there to find thc place de serted. Other incidents occur throughout that are connected with thc quarry. There fore, when the company is on thc quarry location, scenes are "shot" of the convicts at work, of their marching to and from their work, of Gabbett's return, of Dawes's return, and of all the other inci- dents connected with that spot. When the company leaves that location there is

no need to return.

When thc whole story is filmed it is one of thc most difficult tasks to sort out all these scenes to make the one com- pleted whole. It is probable that in this picture something like 100,000 feet of film will be exposed. The producer will have to reduce this to the required length, cut- ting out perhaps as much as 80 per cent to get the best possible story into the eight or ten reels that are to be used.


All the "extras" used at Port Arthur are locals. Practically all the convicts, soldiers, warders, etc., are Tasmanians, and they do their work well. When it is mentioned, however, that to create a big scene they have to be drilled sometimes   for days before a single exposure is taken,   it will be realised partly why big feature   films take so long to make.

A second illustrated article to-morrow will describe in detail how the scene where Gabbet returns to the quarry, after having eaten the men who escaped with him, was taken.