Reel Culver City
by Marc Wanamaker
HARRY CULVER MET THOMAS INCE AND HISTORY WAS MADE!
After watching silent film producer Thomas Ince film a western on Ballona Creek, Culver City founder Harry Culver was so fascinated with the new medium and its PR possibilities that he convinced Ince to move his Inceville Studios from the beach near Pacific Palisades to Washington Boulevard in Culver City.
In 1915, with Culver’s enthusiastic encouragement, Ince built the first of two major motion picture studios in the new town of Culver City. These two studios (now Sony Pictures Entertainment and Culver Studios) dominated the economic, cultural and civic life of Culver City as well as publicizing Culver City internationally – which was exactly what Harry Culver had in mind.
Thomas Harper Ince was one of the most important and influential figures in the history of the American film industry. His combined output as a director, producer and screenwriter extended to thousands of films during the formative years of the film industry. He introduced production procedures and quality of standards that set the model and helped mold the distinct image of Hollywood films to this day.
Harry Culver never met an event that he couldn’t duplicate, let alone improve upon! He was well known for his innovative style, bringing busloads of possible new residents to free picnics, awarding proud parents prizes for their “prettiest babies” (and there sure were a lot of them!), he held marathons and many other special events. He put ads in the newspapers that read: “All roads lead to Culver City!” His goal was to create a balanced residential/commercial community – and Thomas Ince became an integral part of this plan.
CULVER CITY HOSTS FILM FESTIVALS
This is a brief early history of how “The Heart of Screenland” first began. It is fitting that over the last 90 years – Culver City celebrates its 90th birthday on September 20, 2007 – not only were thousands of films made within the city limits, but several film festivals have been held here as well.
Currently, the Agape Peace Film Festival, sponsored by the Agape International Spiritual Center located in Culver City, was held from March 16-18, 2007. This three-day event is “dedicated to anchoring Peace in our personal lives and on our planet.”
Coming in May, the Sixth Annual Damah Film Festival will be held at the Culver Studios (once the Ince Studios) from May 4-6, 2007. Damah “encourages an emerging generation of filmmakers from diverse perspectives to voice the spiritual aspect of the human experience through film and provides a forum for these artists to develop, discuss and display their vision.”
Most recently, the Second Annual Backlot Film Festival was held from January 30 – February 3, 2007, with its Gala Awards event staged at the Veterans Memorial Building. One of its goals is to “pay tribute to the rich motion picture history in Culver City and LA’s Westside, often referred to as The Other Hollywood.”
Its main award is titled the “Thomas H. Ince Award” and is given to those distinguished persons who had worked in Culver City at one time or another and have contributed to the film industry here.
The first Ince Award honoree was Daniel Selznick, grandson of the legendary Louis B. Mayer.
I had the honor of participating in this year’s presentation of the Ince Award to famed writer Budd Schulberg who became famous for his book “What Makes Sammy Run?” about the inner workings of the motion picture studios. Daniel Selznick also spoke about his friend Budd and the history of the Selznick, Mayer and Schulberg families. The award was presented to Budd by actor Ben Stiller and there was an Opening Night interview with film critic and historian, Leonard Maltin.
The artistry of Thomas Ince and the keen eye of Harry Culver has been firmly established, and the Backlot Film Festival will continue their legacy for future filmmakers and filmgoers – heralding the “Heart of Screenland.”
(Special thanks to City Historian Julie Lugo Cerra for the fine history timeline she authored on the City of Culver City website from which many of the above references are made.)