Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Next Studio Innovation: Glass Ceilings

Interior of a very early glass ceiling studio
When you need lighting--what better way to get it than from the sun?  While the very first studio, Edison's Black Maria, was covered completely in tar paper and had more in common with early photographic rooms in the 1830's than it did with what we would think of as a film production studio, it quickly became clear (literally) that as films got longer in length, a better source of lighting was required and artificial light was not really an option given the technology of the day (the Black Maria did actually have a roof that could be opened to the sun).  Glass ceilings were the solution.  As they evolved some studios were eventually made entirely of glass plates. And thus became known as "greenhouse studios."

Back lot of a studio in Fort Lee NJ after 1915.  Not the multiple large glass plated buildings.

As the studio systems and company began their permanent westward migration out to California, many of these massive structures left behind on the east coast were then converted into storage space for early films (note:  early Hollywood had some glass paneled studios of their own in the early days).  This proved to be disastrous for FOX, when in 1937 the nitrate film stored a New Jersey facility spontaneously caught fire and burned almost the entire FOX silent catalog (almost all of Theda Bara vamp films for them went up in flames), the fire also claimed the life of one person, and severely injured two more (anyone who has seen Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, is familiar with the extreme flammability of nitrate film!).

Kinda Spooky!  The very first Universal studio under construction on Main Street in Fort Lee, NJ.  It's easy to see where the glass paneling is meant to go.


  1. its sad to have all those films burn up, but I suppose it was trial and error along the way. great post..