Talking Head

Back in September, a reporter at Cheddar named Antonella Crescimbeni emailed me to ask about the reasons why the movie industry had moved from New Jersey to California. She wanted to interview me for a video—part of the Cheddar Explains series of explainer videos—to learn why the American film industry had migrated from New Jersey to Los Angeles.

We talked over Skype in mid September, and the video was finished and posted to YouTube some time in October. I’m finally getting around to writing about this video.

You can watch the video on How Hollywood Got from New Jersey to Los Angeles. And, yes, that’s me giving an interview as a talking head.

One of the things Ms. Crescimbeni asked me was whether it was true that US filmmakers moved to Hollywood to escape Edison’s patents and to escape to Mexico if Edison’s lawyers sued filmmakers who might be infringing on his motion picture patents. This has been a widely circulated myth about the move to Hollywood that is almost as old as the movie colony itself. Lewis Jacobs wrote in his 1939 book, The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History that “the safest refuge [from Edison’s trust] was in Los Angeles, from which it was only a hop skip and a jump to the Mexican border and escape from injunctions and subpoenas” (85).

It’s funny how those two parts of the story have persisted, although there’s little truth to that. There are two main reasons why filmmaking moved to Southern California. The first was because of the dry and mild climate that allowed for year-round production. The second reason is because there exists a lot of different terrains close together: a filmmaker could shoot films set in a desert, in the mountains, on a beach, in a city, and at sea. In fact, the other members of Edison’s cartel had filmed in Southern California; it wasn’t just the scofflaws that didn’t license Edison motion picture equipment.

For those wondering how Ms. Crescimbeni found me, she said that she found a lesson plan on my website about the Motion Picture Patents Company (sometimes referred to as “The Trust” or “Edison’s Cartel”) and the Independents who defied this patent pool, making films and then ultimately taking over the whole industry once feature films came to be.

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