ARTICLE FOR DISCUSSION
MICHAEL CARL O'NEIL's
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND.
Michael instructing a workshop.
Click on image to enlarge.
Article for Discussion in Workshop
Exceeding the Speed
by Mack Sennett
Chief of Comedy Productions for the Keystone Film Company
The secret of the successful film-comedy lies in a not-too-clamorous
getaway with a whirlwind finish. In other words, speed, constantly
increasing speed, right up to the climax of the picture, with
everybody going on "high, must be an axiom with the producer.
Speed is no secret in the world of comedy although, to insure
success it must be properly regulated by experienced hands. People
demand in a comedy picture a good measure of humour together
with an ever-increasing tension, the latter injected for the
purpose of keeping the attention of the audience constantly at
The production entitled "Tillie's Punctured Romance",
which is having a very successful run, is an example of what
"exceeding the speed limit" means in screen comedies.
In this particular film which was the first six-reel comedy produced,
the question of speed was given much thought and consideration.
In keeping with the temper of the audience, the first reel is
launched in matter-of-fact fashion followed by a gradualng
of the throttle, until when the film is half run the audience
is jogging along with it at a fairly good gait, perfectly content
with the measure of humour ladled out to it and still keen with
anticipation over what is to come.
In the remaining three reels it is a case of "let'er
run widequot; with the result that, at the climax, everything
is at high voltage, the air is alive with mirth-producing electrons
and the audience is in a state of uncontrolled convulsion. Anyhow,
this was the goal sought while the film was in course of production;
speed and humour being the dominating factors.
The idea of constantly increasing speed in film-comedies
is not a new one. All comedies should commence in an easy manner
and without fanfare of trumpets. No modern audience will stand
for a man shooting off a bomb from the proscenium immediately
after the first curtain-raise. The audience is in no psychic
or physical condition to applaud the noise. There should be a
constant application of the current of humour right from the
start, with nothing injected to disturb the nervous equilibrium
of an audience.
When an audience is keyed up to the desired receptive mood,
then all the thunder may be turned on without fear of serious
consequences. This is the psychology of modern stage and screen
humour. It is a hard and set rule with successful producers who
will change it no more than a magazine will supplant the pretty
girl on the cover. The public prefers the pretty girl, so why
bore it with something "just as good?".
Though speed is essential to the successful comedy there
are other elements which must receive due consideration, among
them the players themselves. You may term the average film-comedian
a mere automaton, wantonly abused at times by inexorable directors,
but such is not the case. He must be possessed of enough "sand"
to do what he sets out to do, without wasting film and in a manner
that will net him a credit mark for producing one laugh. He must
have a post-graduate knowledge of the word "speed"
and its discretionary use to film-comedy. These are matters the
director can not tell him.
"Watch the laugh speedometer" is getting to be
one of the most oft-used studio expressions in comedy-land. The
risibilities of an audience must be kept at high tension at all
hazards. There is no such thing as a whimpering laugh. It must
be a whole-souled, right-from-the-sides chuck and not a weary
affair parading under false pretences.
The audience must chuckle from the start or the film will
be a chuckle-less affair. Don't make too much mileage at the
start but keep going well, and, above all things, don't get ahead
of those receipt-builders out there in front. After the half-way
station shall have been passed, get a severe attack of speed-phobia
and never let up until the climax. This is one side of successful
comedy and a very important one, without which a film would have
a very mediocre run indeed.