Fun Factories

I am currently reading The Fun Factory by Rob King. For my purposes it’s the most useful book I have found on the topic of Mack Sennett and his Keystone Studio. It’s not about the personalities who worked there, but about how their style of comedy and how it was influenced by changes in American society.  I will probably pull several blog posts from the book.

I like studio history, and from reading this book, it’s obvious things don’t change all that much. Sennett’s financial backers brought in Thomas Ince to organize the studio;

Ince’s involvement is crucial to the present analysis. In inviting his supervision, Kessel and Bauman were placing Keystone within the sphere of influence of a filmmaker who was taking pioneering steps in the efficient organization of film production. Ince was at the forefront of the spread of production line practices that had begun to take hold in the film industry, the model for which was the departmentalized system of “scientific management” first proposed by Frederick Winslow Taylor’s experiments in industrial efficiency.”

But this wasn’t the sort of thing the Keystone publicity mentioned.

..the studio occasionally released “behind the scenes” films depicting the Edendale lot as a space of comic disorder and chaos.

They also tried to present actors as being no different than their on screen characters. It was part of the illusion of being a wacky freewheeling place to work.   But Sennett and Ince kept tight control over production. Sennett had a tower office built on the corner of the lot, where he could keep an eye on everything and everyone.  He had spent some time working in a boiler factory.

The paradox here is that, throughout their careers, Sennett and their filmmakers consistently repudiated their alliegance to this system, prefering to proclaim their carnivalesque defiance of the industrial virtues of efficiency and work discipline.

It’s not so different with animation studios.  Hey, we’re making cartoons here! It’s gotta be FUN! Seriously, there is often a lot of money at stake, and artists are notoriously disorganized, so it’s understandable that controls have to be in place.  I have been fortunate to work mostly at studios where the atmosphere is comfortable, but not all of them are like that. Some of them are miserable places.  And many of those have flashy websites with recruiting pages that make it look like paradise.   It’s all marketing.

Leave a Comment