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April 10, 2012 > Shush... one hundred years and counting

Shush... one hundred years and counting

Submitted By Rena Dein

On April 1, 1912, fifty-two employees of the Essanay Film Company, led by Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, arrived in Niles, California, by train and made the community their home for the next four years. In that time they produced over 350 films, most of them one-reelers, fifteen-minute films seen around the world by millions of people.

To commemorate this 100th anniversary in 2012, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum will produce "The Canyon," a one-reel, silent western film set in this historic community, now part of the city of Fremont using the equipment and techniques of the silent era in a way that will be evocative, educational and, most of all, entertaining.

To make the film authentic, the Silent Film Museum will call upon the resources of several local organizations. The Niles Canyon Railway will provide a steam train, rolling stock and personnel in Niles Canyon on the roadbed of the original Transcontinental Railroad amidst the scenic wonders of Alameda Creek and the surrounding hills. Other locations will include the 1901 Southern Pacific train depot, the 1911 Niles jail and historic Niles houses.

Two western reenactment groups, Gunfighters of the Old West and the Congressional Gunfighters of America will provide actors in period costume, firearms and horses for the movie. The Silent Film Museum will provide film equipment actually used during the silent era, still working today and will recruit professionals in the film community to help with the production. Fremont residents, Essanay relatives, film students and other interested parties are also expected to participate.

Production is slated to start in May 2012 in Niles using a 35mm Bell & Howell 2709 hand-cranked camera just as was used 100 years ago. Editing will be done at the Silent Film Museum, where equipment is already there and available to use. There will still be many expenses - film stock, processing, permits, fees, salaries and many incidental costs involved with production - and that's why we're asking for your help.

When the film is finished it will premiere at the Niles Edison Theater, a 1913 nickelodeon theater, during the 15th annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival on June 30, 2012. Live piano music will accompany the film as it was originally done in the theater nearly 100 years ago. Relatives of Essanay Film Company cast and crew are expected to attend the festival to view the finished film and a program of Niles Essanay films made in 1912.

The film elements and finished product will become part of the Silent Film Museum collection, preserved for the future along with thousands of movies already in the archive.

Why shoot on film? Despite advances in digital media, film is still the standard for production, and the only proven medium for long-term archival storage and retrieval. Film shot in the 1890s has lasted for more than one hundred years, and can last for many hundreds more if store properly. What better way to honor those past achievements on film than by replicating their methods?

Pledge today and help us make film history. key words: niles silent film

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is a 501 c 3 non-profit organization. Your contribution is tax deductable to the extent allowed by law. If you wish to take advantage of this, email David Kiehn at after you pledge and a donation receipt will be sent to you.

Leading the project are David Kiehn and Sprague Anderson, both board members of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, who have already produced two 35mm silent film newsreels using Sprague's Bell & Howell hand-cranked camera.

David Kiehn has worked as a director, writer, editor, cinematographer and sound recordist on various projects since 1971. For twenty years, he was a motion picture camera technician for several film rental houses in San Francisco including Adolph Gasser's, Inc. In 1995, he began research and wrote the definitive book on the western division of the movie studio Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company published in 2003. His research and presentations to the Niles Main Street Association ultimately led to the formation of both the annual film festivals and the silent film museum.

Kiehn is a founding member of both the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival which premiered 1998 and three years later, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation was formed. In 2010, Morley Safer interviewed him on 60 Minutes in a segment about his research on A Trip Down Market Street, a movie that he discovered was made by the Miles Brothers film company four days before the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Sprague started professional film work in 1970, but since 1994 he has been on the front lines of the digital revolution. When Sony introduced their first digital camera, the DVW- 700WS, Sprague worked with the prototype, and he later wrote and directed the one-hour tutorial that was sent out with every camera. For six years, he did live-action compositing with the Ultimatte-8, serial number 1, and his edit suite was an alpha and beta test site for the Lightworks non-linear system. For Star Wars, Episode 2, the first big project shot with the Sony 900 24P camera, Sprague ran one of the special effects camera systems.

When the Sony 950 dual-link camera made its debut on Star Wars, Episode 3, Sprague was there for six months of lava and space ships. In the film world, however, he's returned to the earliest days of the medium, specializing in hand-cranked 35mm studio cameras from the 1910s and 1920s.He owns and operates a Bell & Howell 2709, a Mitchell, Pathe, DeBrie, and Akeley. His involvement with the Silent Film Museum dates to 2002, filming special events.

The director of photography for the project is Steve Kotton, a four-time Emmy-award-winning cameraman with more than 25 years of experience in visual communication productions. He is Associate Director of Multimedia Communications at Academy of Art University.

Silent Film Project
(510) 494-1411

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