Some History Wilfred Buckland

All production designers are art directors, and formerly, there were no production designers at all—there were only art directors. In earliest film memory, the first creative moviemaker to be given the title of "art director" was Wilfred Buckland (see Fig. 1-2). "By 1916 when Photoplay (magazine) commented on the rise of the 'artistic executive or art director,' Wilfred Buckland had already been working for Cecile B. de Mille and Paramount since 1914 and would continue to 1927."2

Previously, he had designed Broadway theatrical productions, and later for the fledgling movie business developed a form of minimalist, a Carravaggio-like lighting that engulfed the characters in darkness except for a single source of side illumination. This dramatic theatrical effect quickly became a silent film trademark known as "Lasky lighting," after the production company that made The Cheat (1915), his most successful film (see Figs. 1-3A and B). It was also one of Cecil B. DeMille's masterpieces, shot in Standard 35 mm spherical 1.37:1 format, combining all the ingredients typical of the infamous DeMille style "a mixture of sex, sadism, and sacrifice, washed down with lurid melodrama."3 Buckland's lighting contribu-

Wilfred Buckland
Figure 1-2 Wilfred Buckland, the first Hollywood art director.

tions were groundbreaking. Two signature scenes in the film—the branding of the heroine by her wealthy Japanese paramour and the subsequent shooting scene—are lit with such theatrical richness and integrity that our attention is just as adroitly manipulated today as it was during its initial release.

This early maverick's scenic designs created an equally powerful tour-de-force for film-going audiences in the early twenties. Towering 40 feet above Santa Monica Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, King Richard's castle, the centerpiece for Douglas Fairbank's Robin Hood (1922), is arguably the largest set ever constructed in Hollywood history. It took 500 workmen three solid months to build. Considering Los Angeles was more of a wide spot in the road then, the silhouette of the completed castle set could be seen for miles. It exemplified W. Buckland's penchant for creating extravagant, naturalistic sets, and it attests to his flair and flexibility as an early art director. Allan Dwan, director and trained engineer, recalled, "We worked

Wilfred Buckland

Figure 1-3A Production still from The Cheat, designed by Wilfred Buckland.

Figure 1-3B An example of a "Lasky Lighting" effect for the same scene, designed by Wilfred

Buckland.

Figure 1-3A Production still from The Cheat, designed by Wilfred Buckland.

Figure 1-3B An example of a "Lasky Lighting" effect for the same scene, designed by Wilfred

Buckland.

out a couple of interesting engineering stunts for the big sets. On the interiors, the walls meshed together with a matrix, which we designed and built, so they could be put together rapidly in sections. The interior of the castle was very vast—too big to light with ordinary arcs. We didn't have enough. It was an open set, and certain sections were blacked out to give the right atmosphere. So to light them we constructed huge tin reflectors, about twenty feet across, which picked up the sun and shot the light back onto the arches inside. Then we could make effects."4 This set was larger than life in all ways—from the completion of the steel-frame, reinforced, working drawbridge, signifying the end of set construction, to the fact that the shooting of the film on its massive sets was a big tourist attraction—the magic of the Dream Factory continues to stir our imaginations (see Figs. 1-4A-F).

Under the steady but tumultuous employ of Cecil B. De Mille, Buckland was a prolific film designer—79 films listed on www.imdb.com—spanning 1914-1927 (see Appendix A, Buckland Filmography), rivaling the overlapping accomplishments of a younger upstart, William Cameron Menzies. Incidentally, as supervising art director Buckland ran the art department for Robin Hood overseeing Anton Grot and William Cameron Menzies, not credited as assistant art directors. The practical vision of Buckland, the little-known Hollywood art director and initiator of the use of controlled lighting within studio environments, set a standard in the first decades of the twentieth century that has become as commonplace as shooting film sequences in Hollywood sound stages today. He stands as an art-directing giant; his creative ingenuity ennobles the craft of film design even now.

The stills shown here illustrate the enormous sense of theatricality belying his earlier, formative years in New York City. His exuberance for designing these impressive, interior castle shots matches that of the swashbuckling star and sole producer of the film, Douglas Fairbanks.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

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    Does interview provide narrative multiple perspectives tell biography kane?
    7 years ago

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