Making A Movie Is Quite Involved!

By Bonnie and Bill Neely

We were happy to visit the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences soon after it opened in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard. We parked for the day at LACMA to visit three museums within walking distance because the long anticipated, unusual, modern domed structure is situated beside LA County Museum of Modern Art and the natural history La Brea Tar Pits Museum.  All the museums and most public places in Los Angeles were taking careful precautions against COVID-19, so everyone was required to wear a mask at all times.

From the first commercial film in 1895, motion pictures (including TV) have become the chief entertainment of our lives. At the Academy Museum to learn how all the magic is created is a fascinating adventure. You could spend all day seeing how various phases of the process of creating films are accomplished as still drawings and photos became silent motion pictures. Through the decades movies grew to include all the amazing cinematography and sciences that make us feel we are there in whatever age, or realm, or period the film is set. It was so interesting to see the progression of machines and cameras used through the decades as science created advancements and films became more and more realistic.

There are three floors depicting Stories Of Cinema, which gives information about many different people who worked throughout the world to develop the movie industry and create documentary and narrative shows, both live and animated, which have become more and more realistic in their presentation to the viewers.  The museum and its features will advance continually as the motion picture industry and its tools and people develop further and further with innovations through the years.

First, we learned about painted Backdrops which merge seamlessly with the sets built, so that the viewer sees it as a realistic, full dimension set through skillful talents of artists’ spatial illusions. Although these are still used, more advanced techniques include photographs for backings and computerized techniques and LED backdrops.

Bill and I usually watch the long credits at the end of a film, so we were not surprised that the museum features the many departments of talent and technicians it takes to make a film: Acting, Animation, Casting, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Editing, Executives, Makeup & Hairstyling, Music, Producing, Production Design, Screenwriting, Sound, Visual & Special Effects. Each section is presented visually and with interesting facts about well-known people and processes used to produce some of the best loved movies of the ages.

The first Academy Award of Merit ceremony was in 1929, and recipients were each given the now familiar golden statue of a man. Soon the statue was nicknamed “Oscar,” and the name was officially adopted in 1939. The awards are usually bestowed on pictures which give viewers pause to reflect on greater issues of their time. The annual Awards Ceremony has become a high fashion evening of great celebration, (and often dashed hopes,) and always draws a huge TV audience for the evening’s presentation of an “Oscar” to those deemed by the Academy to be the greatest achievers in their area of expertise for motion pictures that year. A large section of the Museum shows photos and descriptions of many of the “Oscar” winners through the years, with clips from their award presentations running simultaneously around the wall.

Significant films or moments of motion picture history are given special notice in the Museum, and these reveal how movies have reflected and significantly influenced social movements of each age. One specially noted was the 1974 movie Godfather, when Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor, but sent the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, Sacheen Littlefeather, to refuse the award as Brando’s protest of the treatment of Native Americans in films. This was the first political speech ever at the Oscar Ceremony.

One room of the museum is devoted to Racism Protests accomplished through films and their stories. There is a large tribute section devoted to Spike Lee, a noted writer, director, producer, and actor, and Academy Award winner. On display are many of his collection of historic anti-racism posters.

Storyboard was explained in another display. These are “cartoons” showing how each frame of a film can be set up, and these serve as guides for directors and actors and if carefully prepared can save thousands of dollars in the filming process. For this display the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho shower scene was used and explained. It was one of the most successful and profitable horror films ever made.

The Costume Area showed how each outfit is carefully created to authenticate the period dress appropriate for each film. Among the favorites are the dresses and shoes for Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. In many of the Museum rooms visitors can sit and watch films and film clips, so allow plenty of time, and if you can find a place to sit, it will be a welcome rest for your feet.

We particularly enjoyed the Animation room with a special temporary exhibit featuring many hand-drawn animation series of pictures by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki . Twenty-four hand-drawn pictures (frames) per second with incremental movements of each character and even each blade of grass are necessary to create the illusion of natural motion in an animated film. Miyazaki is one of the early and longest working animation film artists and greatly revered. We saw various cameras developed through decades to make the movements smoother and more natural looking. What an enlightenment: from primitive “Peep Boxes” to Computer Generated Images of today’s films. Of course, Disney and Pixar Studios and CGI are also featured at the museum.

We reveled in learning about our favorite entertainment medium in every part of the new museum; however, we hope the Museum will add a department which features the importance of music and how that creates the emotions we feel as we are transported visually into these wonderful worlds of Motion Pictures.