How to Make Movies

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Chaplin chronicles the construction of his own studio, offers a tour of the stage, laboratory and cutting rooms, rehearses with the cast and crew and stages a location shoot.

About the Film

How to Make Movies is a film compiled by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill from a variety of film elements stored in the Chaplin Archive. The construction of the film - which premiered at the 1982 London Film Festival[1] - was based on a post-production cutting continuity[2] for an unfinished film entitled How Moving Pictures are Made[nb 1].

It has been suggested that Chaplin tried to use the film to fulfil part of his contract with the First National Corporation. The exact evidence for this is unclear. First National reportedly rejected the film as unsuitable for release and it is hard to argue with their commercial judgement. For Chaplin aficionados however it offers a fascinating, albeit staged, view of Chaplin at work as well as tantalizing glimpses of his studio when it was brand new. You can almost smell the fresh paint as Chaplin's staff relax in the sunshine, fool by the pool and, occasionally, work. Chaplin is clearly indulging himself and having a lot of fun in the process.

The exact date of filming isn't clear but in some scenes the Hotel sets from Sunnyside are visible in the background. It is possible that the bulk of the footage was taken in October 1918 while Chaplin was preparing that film. The studio construction scenes would have been filmed in the autumn of 1917.

It isn't entirely clear what state the project was in when Chaplin shelved it. Some of the same footage was used in The Chaplin Revue and The Gentleman Tramp. Mitchell (1997) reports that prior to its compilation by Brownlow and Gill it had not even been cut together. Arguably this explains the inclusion of scenes that Chaplin himself may ultimately have cut out or truncated. For example, the slightly clumsy Lemon eating sequence.

The version of the film as released in 1982 omits several of the intertitles present in the continuity script, changes the order slightly [nb 2], includes an opening scene with Albert Austin as the magic genie and another with the late Eric Campbell that do not appear in the script.

Shot List

The shot list is based on the version compiled by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill.
TITLE: Hollywood, Cal.
The film opens with a panning shot taking in the Hollywood hills in the distance and fields of fruit trees in the foreground. Into this rural idyll Charles Chaplin will install a state-of-the-art film studio.
TITLE: La Brea Avenue and De Longpre.
A partial iris-in on the corner of La Brea Avenue and De Longpre Avenue. In vignette Chaplin stands by the side of the road. There is a puff of smoke and a genie played by Albert Austin appears. He bows deeply before Chaplin.
TITLE: A Dream comes true. His Own Studio[nb 1].
Chaplin and genie bow to each other, the genie and Chaplin march briskly off across the road and out of shot.
Three large puffs of smoke go off along the road side. A series of 20 stills show the building of the studio from foundations, through wooden framework to completion. The final shot pans slightly from right to left showing the extent of the facade.
TITLE: Ye Olde English Village.
Panning shot left to right Chaplin arrives in his glossy Locomobile. The car rounds the corner and parks outside Chaplin's office. The large glass-enclosed stage visible beyond. The chauffeur Kono Toraichi steps out and opens Chaplin's door. Chaplin exits the car and marches swiftly toward the building.
Chaplin, dressed in a tweed suit, buttoned waistcoat and tie and sporting a floppy motoring cap smiles broadly at the camera. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bunch of keys. He flicks through them looking for the right one. Then he doffs his cap to the camera, mutters something, and goes up the steps to the door.
Chaplin's assistant, the aristocratic looking Tom Harrington opens the door from the inside as Chaplin enters. He nods to Chaplin in greeting and Chaplin reciprocates. The then removes his hat, gives it to Harrington and kisses him squarely on Harrington's bald head. He sends Harrington off and goes to sit at his desk.
Cut to another part of the studio. The elegant brickwork and wooden beams of the facade are replaced by more functional wooden clapboard bungalows.
A door opens and a girl, weighed down with post, comes out and walks past the camera.[nb 2]
TITLE: His Morning Mail.
The girl enters the scene from the left and approaches Chaplin at his desk. He gets up and she gives him a pile of letters and places the others on his desk. He gently pats her on the cheek and she departs. Chaplin rubs his hands together and winks at the camera.
He sits at his desk and gives a final backward glance toward the girl and then attends to his post.
Chaplin picks up an envelope, he sniffs it and then takes out the letter[nb 3]. He scans the contents displaying a range of emotions from surprise to pleasure. He folds the letter and puts it back in the envelope.
TITLE: All the Comforts of Home.
Cut to the open stage. The stock company lounge on wooden chairs, smoking and reading papers.
Cut to more staff relaxing and greeting each other by the dressing rooms and offices. One man, close to the camera leans by a wall chatting to a pretty girl. Another man walks toward him greeting people, the other man tries to trip-up the other man up as he passes.
Cut to the corner of the building a member of the crew runs up and shouts:
TITLE : 'He's Here!'[nb 4]
In a speeded up sequence the staff disappear into the building[nb 5].
At the stage the cast jump up and scurry off, knocking over chairs as they go.
TITLE : Where the valuables are stored.
Tom Harrington walks up to a large safe door of Chaplin's Film Vault, he opens the door and emerges with the Little Tramp's boot. He holds them at arms length clearly offended by the smell of them and their rough appearance.
TITLE : His greatest treasures
Harrington enters the office with the boots and drops them casually on the floor beside Chaplin. His employer, who is reading a letter, turns to him, and gets up. He takes a cushion from a nearby armchair and places it on the floor. He then picks up the boots and kissing them, places them gently on the cushion. He admonished Harrington:
TITLE: 'Treat Them Kindly.'
Chaplin goes back to his desk but notices he is missing his hat. He instructs Harrington to get it. He arranges his hair and then kisses Harrington again before pushing him over, Harrington, the normally debonair butler, lands clumsily in the armchair.
TITLE : A Lemon
Chaplin, standing among the fruit trees behind the studio attempts to eat a lemon. He offers the viewer some... Eventually he decides it is too bitter and turns to spit it out. He then bids the viewer farewell, turns and walks away before breaking into a sprint and disappearing towards the studio.
TITLE : Soaking the Boss
Chaplin's staff and stock company crowd round a small swimming pool, one of them is filling the pool with a hose. Chaplin approaches and peers into the pool, as he does so he is splashed by the spay from the hose he slips and stumbles as the crew laugh at him.
TITLE : Caught Napping.
A joiner and his foreman are sitting idly reading newspapers as Chaplin approaches. Seeing him they leap into action, the joiner grabs his saw and starts sawing a piece of wood. Chaplin watches disapprovingly.
TITLE : The Laboratory. Mixing the Chemicals.
A technician stirs chemicals in a jar[nb 6].
TITLE : After developing, the day's negative is rinsed.
Technicians remove a negative from one tank and transfer it to another.
TITLE : After washing for twenty minutes, it is put on revolving drums to dry.
The laboratory supervisor, played by Albert Austin examines a negative while others spin on drying drums.
The technicians mount a new negative on one of the drums.
TITLE : Assembly Room. The scenes are placed in numbered racks.
In the assembly room, small rolls of film lie on racks against the wall. The lab supervisor examines a roll.
TITLE : When the scenes are in place Mr. Chaplin does the rest.
Chaplin sits in the assembly room holding a reel of film. He mounts the reel on a spool and pulls off a length to examine. He holds a few frames up to the window.
TITLE : Rehearsing the company.
In heavy vignette, a panning shot from right-to-left reveals: firstly Edna Purviance and then Henry Bergman in conversation with Chaplin. Chaplin is out of costume but holds his Little Tramp's cane. Passing the cane to Bergman he turns to Loyal Underwood on his right and grasps him by the neck. Underwood is in costume with a top hat and tails and a thick moustache. Actor Tom Wilson is revealed, also in costume. Chaplin is demonstrating to Wilson how to strangle Underwood!
Cut to a wide shot. The glassed in stage is revealed; camera assistant Jack Wilson stands behind the group with his camera on a tripod. Chaplin demonstrates to Henry Bergman how he wants him to grab Edna Purviance. And carry her off. While Bergman has no difficulty lifting Edna Charlie affects to find her too heavy to lift. Chaplin then turns to Loyal Underwood and Tom Wilson. He again demonstrates how to safely throttle the diminutive actor. As a final flourish he swipes off his top hat. Underwood patiently suffers as Chaplin and Wilson take turns to rehearsing the violence. But when the scene is over he demurs at resuming his former seat between them!
TITLE : The Art of Make-up.
Chaplin make's up one of the female extras and arranges her hair. He takes particular cared over a plait but clumsily stabs her with a hair pin. He pretends to nibble one of the plaits
TITLE : Making a test.
Cameraman Jack Wilson cranks the camera and languidly smokes a cigarette as Chaplin directs a screen test of the girl[nb 7]
As he directs he also flirts with the girl pretending that the flirtation is part of the scene.
Satisfied with the test he turns to another girl and begins to make her up as the iris closes on the scene.
TITLE : A trick of the camera.
Four girls stand in front of the camera, a dissolve transforms them into bathing suits. They wander off past the studio bungalows. As they pass the male members of the crews step out and peer out of the windows. Among them the large form of Henry Bergman and the even larger form of Tom Wood. As the girls disappear so do the crew.
The girls go to the pool closely followed by the men, now also changed into swimming attire. The crew jump off the diving board, Tom Wood predictably causing an enormous splash.
TITLE : The Million Dollar Mustache.
Chaplin, now dressed in his little tramp costume sits at his desk and trims his moustache with a pair of scissors, as he does so he pretends to nick his nose with the blades. He ruffles his jet black hair, fits his hat and puts on his jacket. Adopting his Little Tramp persona he wiggles his moustache, leaves by a side exit and steps outdoors. Twirling his cane he hits himself in the face.
TITLE : Location. The Golf Links.
Charlie approaches a golf tee. Placing his hat on the ground and a ball on the hat he takes a shot, he stares dubiously at the result and then picks up the now seriously dented hat.
Walking onto a green he takes the (wooden) flag out of the hole and then the ball that is in the hole. He throws the ball in the air and pulls out his trouser waistband to catch it. The balls falls through his trousers back into the hole. He picks it up again and does the same with predictable results. The next time he tosses the ball in the air and catches it in his club case. He wanders off.
TITLE : Labor in Vain.
Eric Campbell[nb 8] sporting a huge false beard struggles with a ball that refuses to stay on its tee. Every time he tries to hit it it rolls off. Charlie appears and watches in amusement. Campbell tells him not to interfere and Charlie dutifully stands back. The ball rolls off again despite Campbell's best efforts to balance it on the tee. Eventually he gives up, tosses the ball into the distance and marches off.
Charlie moves to the next tee where Albert Austin is sorting his clubs. He seems incapable of hitting the ball and Charlie stands by offering advice at one point mocking Austin by watching the invisible ball sail high into the air and then land back exactly where it started on the tee.
Charlie offers further tips on strokeplay and moves to demonstrate his technique. He swings the club but hits Austin on the head knocking him out. Swinging a club now bent wildly out of shape, Charlie too is unable to strike the ball. Unable to rouse Austin he hangs the club over the inert golfer and trots off popping the ball in his pocket as he goes.
TITLE : Home again
Back in his office Charlie collapses in a chair exhausted. He takes off his boots.
TITLE : 'A Tired Soul.'
He carefully stows the boots in a drawer.
TITLE : Back to straight ways.
Tom Harrington assists Chaplin as he changes back into his day clothes. As Harrington holds open the door Chaplin again kisses his bald head.
He leaps into his waiting car and blows a kiss to the viewer.[nb 9]
TITLE : Au Revoir.
The car then drives off.
Fade to a static shot of Charlie's boots hat and cane arranged on a chair.


  1. The capitalization in some of the titles is inconsistent
  2. David Robinson (1986) identifies the girl as Nellie Bly Baker one of Chaplin's secretaries. Baker later played a masseuse in A Woman of Paris. But there seems little similarity in looks between the stills from that film and the girl in How to make Movies.
  3. In The Search for Charlie Chaplin Kevin Brownlow explains how this scene was a reshot version of an similar scene Chaplin had shot (and for some reason kept) at Essanay.
  4. Robinson (1986) identifies this man as Alf Reeves, the Chaplin Studio manager. The visual evidence isn't very compelling when one compares this individual with photographs of Reeves although there may be another source. In Unknown Chaplin (1983) Lita Grey Chaplin described how Alf Reeves would use the phrase "He's Here" to announce Chaplin's arrival at the studio.
  5. The continuity script contains no reference to this special effect
  6. The script identifies him as Charles Levin who Mitchell (1997) states was the laboratory manager
  7. It seems doubtful that a cameraman would have smoked during a real shoot as the smoke might blow in front of the lens. Perhaps Chaplin is emphasising his laid-back management style!
  8. Campbell had died in 1917 but he shot this sequence for an unrealised Mutual two-reeler The Golf Links. Mitchell (1997) suggests Chaplin may have included the footage in tribute to the irreplaceable heavy, but the evidence for this is unclear since the scene with Campbell is not in the cutting continuity.
  9. Members of the crew are reflected in the car's paintwork.


  • Kevin Brownlow and David Gill (1983) Unknown Chaplin, Television Series, Thames Television
  • Kevin Brownlow (2005) The Search for Charlie Chaplin / Alla Ricera di Charlie Chaplin, Cineteca Bologna
  • Glenn Mitchell (1997) The Chaplin Encyclopedia, Batsford
  • David Robinson (1986) Chaplin: His Life and Art, Paladin


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