With Sound Craft Mastered, Companies Again Turn to Unusual Settings
April 24, 1932
Once again through the gray Hollywood dawn, caravans of trucks loaded with sound equipment, lights and cameras, bound for location, are heard rumbling on their way. The ban on work outside studio walls that came in with talking pictures has been lifted, and the various production companies have issued orders requiring even more unusual “atmospheric” scenes than were used in the silent picture days.
For several years talking pictures reversed many production procedures of the major studios and locations were seldom required or filmed. This was not due to a lack of ambition or any deliberate picture-making restraint, but was caused by the limitations of the early sound equipment.
With this now obsolete equipment it was impossible to cut out extraneous unwanted sounds that ruined many scenes. If outside atmosphere was wanted it required a very expensive expedition with cumbersome apparatus. After time and money had been spent to film a scene in a distant location, results were often so unsatisfactory that the entire footage would be discarded. Portable sound apparatus could only be carried in heavy trucks on paved roads, and was continually getting out of order, due to the jolting of the truck.
With the recent development of the “directional microphone,” making it possible to record sound practically anywhere, location obstacles have been gradually overcome. New and lighter portable recording equipment was designed. This could be put on a light truck – or even on the back of a mule – making it possible to transport that apparatus any place. Thus, technical restrictions were removed, and many new possibilities opened up.
At the present time, according to Louis Strohm, the location manager for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, trips to unusual districts around Hollywood and southern California are more frequent than before talking films arrived.
“Our production executives hold that as motion pictures are a pictorial art,” said Mr. Strohm, “New and refreshing localities as atmosphere are a necessary part of a well-balanced picture.”
“Among the most popular near-by location spots is the Malibu mountain country, the Chatsworth hills and Bel-Air hills, Laguna Beach and the Arrowhead mountain country. All these places are so near Hollywood that a director can take his troupe out for an afternoon’s location excursion, and all are off the main airplane routes and traveled highways.”
One of the newer locations used in recent talking picture productions is the “Lake Sherwood” region or the old Canterbury Ranch. This comprises an area of about eight thousand acres, and is six miles south of a main highway and fifty miles from Hollywood. This section has also been called “Sherwood Forest” because of it was used in the silent picture “Robin Hood” by Douglas Fairbanks.
There are hundreds of large oak trees in the area and a large lake near by that was used recently for water scenes in “Tarzan, the Ape Man,” mountain cabin scenes in “Private Lives,” woodland scenes in Buster Keaton’s “The Passionate Plumber,” and lake scenes in “Emma.” An immense pasture located on this ranch was used as the locale of the Indian fight in “The Great Meadow.”
The 16,000-acre Aggoure ranch in this same region was used recently for execution scenes in “Mata Hari,” dueling sequences in “The Passionate Plumber,” and for a fox hunt in “The Squaw Man.”
A portion of Santa Monica Canyon, a few miles from Hollywood, is another spot used frequently when extensive sets have to be built. A Cuban village was constructed in this region for use in “The Cuban Love Song.”
Some of the small coves about Laguna are valuable as ocean and waterfront backgrounds. But the new highway that has been constructed to follow the coast line has made it necessary to abandon several of the pictorial coves used in the days of silent films. It was possible to utilize several of the natural arches and rockways off the highway in “Hell Divers,” for scenes of the wrecked pilots on the beach.
The Los Angeles city reservoir, known as Lake Franklin, is often used for scenic backgrounds and is very convenient to most coast studios, since it is only a few miles from Hollywood in the Bel-Air district. Beautiful willow trees ornament its banks and the fishing scenes in “Susan Lenox” were photographed there, as well as the ferry-boat scene in “Private Lives.” Passenger airplanes pass far to the east of this area and there are no public auto roads within miles.
According to Mr. Strohm, a few locations that might be desirable have been dropped because of the proximity of noise which cannot be eliminated. A woodland spot near Glendale – a few miles north of Hollywood – was at one time a popular rendezvous for silent picture companies. It has a running stream, beautiful trees, ferns and a varied floral display, only twenty minutes from some studios, and looks as if it were in the heart of the mountains. The two substantial reasons why this spot could not be used for talking films was the street car line and a heavily traveled main highway a few hundred feet away.
Another location that was background for many a silent melodrama was the old Providencia ranch, north of Hollywood near Burbank. Much of Rudolph Valentino’s “Blood and Sand” was done there, also scenes for “The Covered Wagon.” It is seldom used now because it bisects the air routes of planes leaving two big Los Angeles airports (Grand Central and United) only a few miles away.
In line with the new location policy requiring more unusual pictorial backgrounds than formerly, location trips are frequently made from the different studios to distant locales. Favorite film sites include Yosemite National Park and Sequoia Park, where part of “A Free Soul” was screened; Dardanelles, near Sonora, Cal., in the Sierra Mountains, and North Island, the naval aviation base in San Diego, where a “Hell Divers” location unit established headquarters for several weeks.
“The motion picture industry has not only overcome its difficulties in location trips, but through technical improvements and intense competition ought to surpass all previous efforts in outdoor scenes,” is Mr. Strohm’s summary of the “back to nature” movement on the part of the California studios.