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From the Fireman's Fund Record, April 1921

The magnitude of the moving picture industry is indicated by the fact that the big producers make no picture insured for less than $50,000. Many special hazards have made this business unpopular with under-writers. The negative of a picture - the parent film from which come those used for projection represents a big outlay, and not over ten per cent of it is allowed to leave the studio's fireproof vault, which is described by Mr. Whelan. In these vaults ventilation is a prime factor and most of them have overhanging roofs with apertures which make a hazard, as heat from a nearby fire might enter through them and cause heavy loss.


The moving picture business is now one of the most important industries in the United States and the fire insurance premium income derived from the various studios runs into big figures as the rates are generally high on account of the construction and congestion that it seems impossible to get away from.

Most of the buildings, such as stages, are wooden construction or steel frame with canvas or glass. The dressing rooms in a few of the best studios are of brick construction, but in most cases they are of frame.

The property room should be of fireproof material but seldom is. It is the most interesting part of a studio to visit as it contains samples of almost every conceivable thing, from elegant antiques to tawdry tinsel, imposing facades to railroad signs, and on account of the inflammable nature of most of the contents it is easy to understand that if a fire got started in the property room, unless immediately checked, it would quickly spread over the entire building.

The inherent hazard of the making of a negative is in itself not great, except when the work is done on one of the stages and the heating arrangements are not as carefully looked after as they should be. Salamanders are used to heat the stage and they are a bad hazard unless carefully looked after and protected. In many cases most of a picture is taken outside the studio, often several miles away.

The procedure is: when the scenario has been selected, it is gone over by the scenario editor and producing editor and the cast and location decided upon; the technical director is consulted as to building sets and necessary properties and the assistant director visits the different localities needed for the picture. After all this has been decided upon and the scenario is in proper form and the company cast for the different parts, the director assembles the entire cast and reads the scenario to them and they talk the story over and familiarize themselves with the characters and their action. Each scene is rehearsed several times before the picture is taken. When the scene is one in which some great feat is performed that cannot easily be repeated, or wild animals are used, three or four cameras shoot the scene to guard against one not working properly.

When the day's work is done, the exposed negative is placed in a can and turned over to the developing department, where it is removed from the can in a dark room and wrapped on a developing frame which is a large revolving drum. This drum is placed over a bath Containing chemicals - ethol, methol and edinol, none of which is inflammable or explosive. It is kept moving in this bath for a certain length of time and then goes through the same process in other baths, the last one being aqua pura. While wet it is wound on another drum much larger than the first, taken into the drying room and dried by revolving the drum. No artificial heat is used. The power for revolving the drum is a small electric motor.

Great care has to be used in this room to keep it dust proof as if a speck of dust should become attached to the film it would show many thousand times greater on the screen. When removed from the drying drum the film is wound on a polishing drum, emulsion side down, and polished with chamois skin and denatured alcohol. It is then inspected for flaws and bad scenes are thrown out and the good ones patched together for printing. This work is done in the cutting room. Carelessness in this room would make it the most hazardous portion of the studio, for if parts of the film were left scattered around the room they could easily be set fire to by a cigarette, match or other fire. There should be metal containers in all cutting rooms for holding this film as it is highly inflammable and when burning generates a gas that is explosive. The basis of the film is celluloid, which is composed of gun cotton, ether, glycerine and alcohol, covered with a substratum of gelatine, water, alcohol and glycerine, and over that is a sensitized coating of gelatine, nitrate of silver and bromide.

After the negative leaves the cutting room it goes to the printing room where it passes in contact with unexposed positive film before a small aperture through which light from an electric globe about eighteen inches distant prints the picture on the positive film. The positive film thus printed passes through the same developing, fixing and drying process as the negative. The positive is then patched into one thousand foot reels for projection. This projection is for further inspection by the laboratory officials, the director and the cameraman.

After the positive is rearranged to the director's satisfaction as to story, it is matched picture to picture to the negative from which it was printed and the negative and positive, together with the discarded portions of the negative, are put into a tin box and placed in a fireproof vault to await shipment. Every studio of any importance has a fireproof vault built as far away from the other buildings as possible. It is divided into sections and ventilated. The sections should be so built that in case of a fire in one it would not spread to others. All vaults have to be well ventilated as the film throws off fumes which, however, are little more than a pungent odor and are not inflammable nor explosive.

Other buildings of a studio, such as the carpenter shop, planing mill, paint shop and lumber and moulding shed, are just as hazardous but no more so than the same class of buildings outside the studio.

Illumination plays an important part in this business and the myriad of lights, with all the electric wiring necessary, is one of the hazards.

[Fireman's Fund Archives: 4-1-3-4-32; 0406.]


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