Book Review: “How To Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s” by Darren Nemeth


I’m happy to say that the author of 1907 Chicago Projecting Co’s Entertainer’s Supplies Catalog No. 122: Deluxe Reprint Edition has done it again! (Have you not read 1907 Chicago Projecting Co’s Entertainer’s Supplies Catalog No. 122: Deluxe Reprint Edition? You should!) This time, as part of his newly-dubbed “Moving Picture Reprint Series,” Darren Nemeth is offering How To Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s. Much like his first book, it already promises to be an important part of my film history library.

Nemeth offers high-quality reprint of rare catalogues, instruction manuals, and other early film ephemera that most people could never view otherwise. So instead of having, say, a century-old catalog accessible only to the occasional researcher at a far-off archive, Nemeth makes copies of it accessible to anyone interested in film history. (And I don’t know about you, but after so many hours staring at scans of old documents online it’s refreshing to hold tangible paper copies!)


And this means that a whole wealth of forgotten technical details, diagrams, instructions, advertisements, etc. can once more be poured over by cinema enthusiasts, often for the first time in many decades. Nemeth’s latest book includes a reprint of the 1914 How to Take and Make Moving Pictures, ephemera from the Ford Optical Company, pamphlets and booklets published by forgotten inventor Eberhard Schneider, 1914-and-older articles on camera equipment and techniques (one is from the very early date of 1896!), photos of original camera negatives, and many other unique finds. Notes and illustrations help clarify parts of the text, which is grand.

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There are fascinating details in this book that would be hard to find anywhere else. For instance, How to Take and Make Moving Pictures eloquently advises how to turn a camera crank properly: “Most operators have the line of travel in an oval form instead of in a circle with one end of the oval downward. To overcome this defect…one should have considerable practice as explained heretofore, or to elevate the elbow to the height of the center round which the handle turns, and to try and do the work by the use of the wrist only.” There’s also details that sound awful silly out of context: “The other intermittent movements are as follows: The beater, the grip, the drunken screw, the snail and the star and cam types.” (“Movements” refers to the mechanical ways the film gets drawn through the camera.)


And then there is detail so intricate that it’s staggering–even the projector nerds (as I fondly call them) in lengthy message board discussions about carbon lamphouses and reflectors might balk at explanations like the following, about photographing moving objects:

To find the shutter speed required to photograph a moving object, take the distance in inches from the object to the camera, divide this by the distance in inches that the object moves per second times one hundred times the focal length of the lens used: for instance a subject moving at a rate of one mile in five minutes or two hundred and eleven and one-fifth inches per second, fifty feet or six hundred inches from the lens whose focal length is two inches. The shutter speed required would be 211 1-5 inches times one hundred times two inches the focal length of the lens equals 42240, divide this into the distance the object is from the camera which is fifty feet or six hundred inches. The answer would be 1-70th of a second, if taken at right angles, and arjakls ajdks jklsa;d jipieaj. 

Okay, the last few “words” weren’t from the manual–they were just from my brain as it was melting (it did manage to solidify again, thanks for asking!).

watkins b&w.jpg

Since the included materials all date from the mid-1910s or earlier, just as film was becoming a booming industry, these rare documents are important windows into the development of our beloved art form–with all the detail our hearts could desire, and then some. And I might add that this book would be fascinating for anyone who collects antique cameras and equipment (heads up for anyone planning their Christmas list for such a person).


How To Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s is perfect for any cinephile’s book collection, and would be at home on any library’s shelf. (I’ll note that it also has a beautiful cover, which seemed familiar to me somehow. And indeed, it was designed by the talented Marlene Weisman, who designed the covers of several Undercrank Productions DVDs and many other silent-related projects. Silent-ology loves Marlene!) You can buy a copy of the book here for a mere $12 for a softcover, or $18 for a hardcover.

jr camera motionpicturenewsJan3 1914a.jpg

Note: All images in this post are credited to Darren Nemeth.


4 thoughts on “Book Review: “How To Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s” by Darren Nemeth

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