Movies Way Back When: Noisy Silent Films

Movies Way Back When: Noisy Silent Films title=
Image: Picture-Play, May 1916
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By Betsy J. Green

The process of filming silent movies at the “Flying A” was anything but silent.

Behind the scenes at the “Flying A” it was pretty noisy and, at times, chaotic. Several movies were often being filmed in small sets located right next to each other. Here are sets at the “Flying A” in 1916. Someone might be mourning a lost love in one set, while next door there’s a barroom quarrel and shooting going on, and on the next set, ragtime music is being played to put the actors in the correct mood for a nightclub scene.

Because sound was not being recorded, there was no need for people to be quiet. The actors might be reciting their lines (or just saying nonsense), while the director was yelling instructions to them, and the film crew might be talking to each other.

Actors were sometimes given dialog to recite in case some folks in cinema audiences might be able to read lips. One studio had a large sign on the wall that read: "Use no profanity in the pictures. There are thousands of deaf mutes who attend the theatres and who understand every movement of your lips."

Betsy's Way Back When book -- 1919 -- is now available in local bookstores and at This is the sixth book in her series of the history of Santa Barbara, one year at a time. Learn more at​.
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