So, the writer writes a piece and it gets noticed by the entertainment industry.
The work might get rewritten as a stage play. You’ll find the script is a long adaptation of the original work that might have started off as a short story to a novel.
The stage production does follows the general line of the story it enacts, because it is done in front of a live audience, but has different elements than a book, such as a musical score and sets for the actors to play against. Some sequences of the book might have to be rearranged in the “play script” to lend flow to the play. This is mostly done to build on the story arc in a visual way. The author might have done the same thing with “back-story”, and “narrative comment” in the written work, leaving the reader to imagine the emotional states and settings in time of and actions of the characters in the story.
The foundations of the film industry have their roots in the theater. When movies started out, they were essentially moving photographed stage plays. Then an important breakthrough occurred; the camera learned to pan, tilt, zoom, and most importantly move. This allowed the viewer to see things that he or she could not see from the back row of the theater before. Movies, as we now know them, were born, and then sound. The audience could now visually feel and hear the movie, and some early attempts were made to smell the story. The smells of bananas were tried by the mostly forgotten silent first make of a King Kong like movie “Lost World” in 1925. The idea was dropped after the first few screening.
The movie star was born in the silent era, a list that is long and notable, but few of them went on into the sound era, and fewer on into the modern movies. The main reason was the method of acting. Stage actors have to perform for the people seated in the middle rows of the theater, and to the upper mezzanine, so grandiose, so-called, “theatrical gestures” and expressions, and voice projection was practiced -- all to deliver a romantic dialog without sounding like shouting were honed to deliver the stage performance.
The art of acting has changed little, and one is almost never a born actor. A condition commonly known as stage fright freezes the voice and body and makes it impossible to perform. Even so most “overnight” stars have been at it for a number of years.
Actors and acting aside, the camera drives the performance you see on the screen, and the script tells the camera where to go and what to do. What the camera records is what the viewer sees on the screen. Now that the viewers could see the actors up close, the actors had to look the part. So stables of people who the camera liked -- a collection of photographic faces -- were collected by the “Big Five.”
Being, “discovered” became the dream of many young girls. One of the best-known “discovered” tales is Lana Turner, screen name for Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner, quite a mouth full. She is best remembered as the “Sweater Girl.” The legend goes that Turner was sitting on a stool at Schwab’s Drugstore at Hollywood and Vine wearing a sweater, a tight one, showing off her assets, to put it nicely. Turner’s authorized biography tells quite a different story; you should look it up on-line sometime, but that is Hollywood for you. Just sit around Sunset Boulevard looking like a movie star and you will get discovered, and many young girls did just that, but few made the leap onto the big screen or became stars.
Most of the big-named movie stars came from the stable of contract players from the “Big Five” during the ‘40s and ‘50s, their big break into stardom usually came after years of hard work and bit parts in other movies. Some started out as child actors in shorts like “The Little Rascals” or as silent shorts like Jackie Coogan in Charlie Chaplin shorts, who later got the Americans to counter with W.C. Fields, who, by the way, unlike his alcoholic persona was a social drinker, not wanting to impair his performances.
One of the more famous antidotes that kept the alcoholic actor “gig” going was a prank played on him by stagehands. A small flask that Fields kept with him, filled with a Martini, that he called Pineapple Juice, was refilled with actual Pineapple Juice. Fields took a sip and exclaimed, “Who put pineapple juice in my pineapple juice.”
Today there are companies that contract to find actors to fill parts from staring rolls to extras. All the faces and actor history is a short bio on the back of the “Head Shot”. Actors with stage play or film experience have agents, who get a percentage for their pay by getting an actor a part. Now we find talent on TV shows, mostly for singer and dancers, but after all most of the first movie stars were from the vaudeville stage. Vaudeville is a loose translation from the French “voix de ville,” (voice of the town).
This form of stage entertainment came to North America around the 1880s and remained a staple of the American stage until around the 1930s. Vaudeville brought together, dancers, singers, and actors doing single acts; also jugglers, comedians, animal acts, minstrels, and magicians. From the carnival, or circus came strong men and clowns, and during the early years “freak shows.”
Phineas Tayor Barnum’s American Museum was for a time in the 1840s the most famous theater of freaks and oddities in New York City. It was first opened as Scudder’s American Museum and was intended for the education of the American public by displaying different cultures of the world.
A famous showman, P.T. Barnum bought out Scudder in 1841 and started to put on display so-called “freaks of nature.” At a dime-a-head he made millions. The exhibitions were so popular that he had a problem getting people to move in and especially out of the museum. Barnum devised the first crowd control methods by treading people past the various exhibits by means of ropes and rails, and men called, “Callers” that announced the next stage to open and show the next freak: “This way Folks and see…” At the end of the line that zigzagged past the stages was a turnstile gate and curtain with a large banner “This way to the Great Egress”, once through the curtains, the crowd found themselves on the street outside of the building, having to pay to get back into the show.
Finding talent for the vaudeville stage was somewhat intimidating too. Open talent calls were held almost every weekday in whatever town that the show was appearing for the next day’s performance, usually shown as 2 of 3 p.m. and one evening show. The try-outs were usually brief. If they were “talented”, they were asked to perform the next day or for that afternoon’s shows. If they were a “flop” they were literally “hooked” by a long hook-like device from “stage left” and booted out; hence the phase “Exit Stage Left.”
Once on the play bill they got their 10-minute chance to “wow” the crowd. If the crowd did not throw their lunch at them or boo them off the stage, it was up to the show’s producer to ask them to join the cast and tour with the show. It was a rough crowd back then and in western towns like Dodge City, it was not unheard of that displeasure was demonstrated by shooting at the performer.
At the turn of the 20th century, (1900) vaudeville had become a well-oiled platform for talent of all types. And the freak show was now part of the circus sideshows. Alcohol was not allowed in the theater and food was served between acts. The first acts were humorous: comedians, jugglers and animal acts. The second act was usually new talent, singers and dancers. The third was established acts and vaudeville stars.
A contemporary form of the vaudeville format was the now classic “Ed Sullivan Show” that gave stardom to Elvis Presley, The Beatles, many others, and, as in vaudeville, Sullivan’s show was done live, in front of a live audience. Ed Sullivan did a lot to put the “buzz” in “Showbiz”. The mere mention of an up-and-coming movie starring the star that Ed was shaking hands with after his or her performance was worth millions in today’s dollars to the movie makers of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
So you see becoming an overnight star is hardly possible. You still have to put the work in, study and “pay your dues,” as the term goes, still to this day.