Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

Thomas Ince

Known as the "Father of the Western," Thomas Ince was one of Hollywood's earliest wunderkinds. His output between 1911 and 1923 was nothing short of prodigious. In 1912 alone he directed 29 pictures, topping his total of 24 from the year before. Even though most movies made during the silent film era were "shorts," making each one was still a painstaking effort. Lacking today's modern digital technology and other advantages, everything in those early years had to be done by hand with crude equipment. A 20-minute short feature could take days or weeks to shoot and just as long to edit into a final cut. In all, Ince was credited with directing nearly 80 movies in a career spanning only a decade and a half: an output that, by any standard, easily dwarfs everyone else who followed his footsteps into the film production business.

Thomas Ince at work
Thomas Ince at work

Ince is also widely considered to be the founder of Hollywood's "studio system." Among his many innovations was his ability to shoot multiple pictures simultaneously on different sets. In The Cat's Meow, Marion Davies (played by Kirsten Dunst) toasts Ince (played by Cary Elwes) as "the man who figured out how to make ten pictures at once," to which Hearst sarcastically retorts, "And he takes credit for all of them." Such was Ince's ability to inspire both high praise and jealousy among his peers in the industry.

Among the other innovations he was credited with are the usage of a detailed "shooting script," which also contained information on who was in the scene, and the "scene plot," which listed all interiors and exteriors, and cost control plans. He helped create a standardized and mechanized mode of production similar to the assembly lines that were becoming standard practice in other industries. He also was one of the first who employed a separate writer, director and editor, instead of doing everything himself.

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