Who did it all?

The more I work through Robert Paul’s astonishing film output, especially around 1899-1902, reading and re-reading the catalogue texts for the vast majority of lost films, the more I seem to hear his own tone of voice – very different from most other catalogues of this period. Surely he can’t have written them all himself, even if someone who knew him recalled him painting backdrops at night ‘after the day’s work was done’. That would be the instrument company work?  Or the studio management work? Or coming up with the actual scenarios and titles?

There are photos in his big 1901 catalogue of a few studio staff at work. But these are only the processing operatives (see above – and they were selling a lot of titles at this time). We know about half a dozen of the filmmakers who worked with him over during  the early 1900s, such as Frank Mottershaw, J. H. Martin and of course Walter Booth. But having IMDb slap anachronistic ‘director’ names on dozens of his company’s films doesn’t help at all. Last year, for the Pordenone Paul programme, Bill Barnes questioned whether we really should be attributing all the famous Paul ‘trick’ films to Booth – especially when he recognisably appears in a number of them. And really, there must have been many more people at work in the Paul organisation – unless Robert really did do it all? How was the studio organised during its busiest years. Of course, we’ll never know for certain, but I’m trying to use what clues I’ve found to come up with some answers. – Ian Christie

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