Nola Film Company

Contributors

The Nola Film Company, founded by William James Hannon in 1915 and existing for a short period of time until early 1917, was the first motion picture production and distribution company centered in the city of New Orleans.

Background

The Nola Film Company, the brainchild of W. J. Hannon, came onto New Orleans’ motion picture scene in late 1915, touting New Orleans as being “with its quaint old-world backgrounds, with its romantic history and its marvelous light facilities…especially adapted for the production of good subjects either taken from the great past or from the picturesque present.” [1] At the time of incorporation, Hannon was reported to have arranged with Associated Film Sales for the production and distribution of a five-reel feature every three weeks. [2] Hannon boasted that his company would bear the name Nola because they would be acted by New Orleans talent, and produced in New Orleans under the propulsion of local capital. On the occasion of their first release, a local paper remarked of their “several very strong links in the chain anchoring the motion picture business to New Orleans” from promoters to setting to capital: from the start, 90% of the company’s expenditures went into the pockets of New Orleans workers or investors, even though only 2% of the company’s income was drawn from the New Orleans area. [3]

Business Particulars

Nola boasted a number of noteworthy assets in the form of production capacity and screen talent, but its most frequently-lauded feature was doubtless its immense, and highly modern production studio, contracted by Hannon and constructed on the Bayou St. John, “almost opposite the historic Spanish customs house and a stone’s throw from City Park.” [4] This “first-class glass-enclosed studio…capable of making almost any production” was said to be the largest in the Southern region, and to contain outdoor and indoor stages, carpentry shops, laboratories, developing rooms, prop roomes, and more.

Nola’s primary cast included such names as Leatrice Joy Seidler, as leading lady, Madlyn Nichols in “prominent feminine roles,” and Andrew Rodgers in high-profile male roles, with Lawrence Carey and George Rareshide filling in roles where necessary. [5] Walter Morton, previously of Pathé Freres, was contracted to direct films, though Rene Plaisetty soon took over as primary director with the aid of Norton Travis as cameraman and H. Guy Uyama as his assistant cameraman. Nola’s original distribution contract was through Associated Film Sales Corporation, for whom Nola would make one five-reel feature each month to be released alongside regular service. [6]

Towards the latter half of 1916, Nola began offering its filmmaking services to the general public, advertising its capacity to make home videos of weddings and other such social events, an early step towards the rise of personal filmmaking. [7] That same month, W. J. Hannon travelled to New York City, and returned with a new contract with Gotham Film Company, obliging Nola to produce over ten features per year, which would then be released through Gotham’s 25 exchanges and publicized by Gotham through 1,135 newspapers nationwide. [8]

Films Produced

Beginning on Easter 1916, Nola’s films were exhibited locally at the Columbia Theater for their first run, and later farmed out to more suburban theaters, such as the Thelma and the Happy Hour – both on Magazine – on their succeeding runs. [9]

At the tail end of December 1915, Nola was seen filming “real wandering gypsies with large tents [and] gaudy costumes” whose dwellings were raided by real horsemen of the Washington Artillery Hall. As one newspaper commented, a bit prematurely, “the day for fakery in pictures has past…today sees the triumph of simon-pure realism.” [10] Regardless of the supposed reality or irreality of the scene, the tactic certainly contributed to a blurring the distinctions between the fiction of the script and the truth of the players.

“The Folly of Revenge” Nola’s first film, was released in early April 1916 to the huge anticipation of the local community, and was propelled both by its quality and by the enthusiasm of local residents for a potential hometown film industry. The film, starring Madalyn Nicholls as the female lead, followed the tale of a young woman kidnapped by an artist for whom she had modelled and forced to be his wife, both of which contributed to her tragic death at the end of the film. [11] Scenes for the story were shot in a number of locations that would have been very familiar to the 1916 viewer, including the Chartres Archbishoprie, a statuesque Esplanade residence, the Fourchy estate at Bayou St. John, the Italian Quarter, and the Washington Artillery hall. The only footage taken outside the city was that calling for mountains, as New Orleans unfortunately had those in short supply, forcing the company to undergo a grueling trip to Gadsden, Alabama to film them. [12] [13]

“The Link,” released the week after “Folly’s” successful run at Columbia, starred Lawrence Carey, Leatrice Zeidler, Andrew Rogers, and the daughter of the director Plaisetty. This film follows a wealthy businessman and his prodigal brother, the latter of which is brought to “a future of self-respect and consequential straight living” by the businessman’s young daughter.

“The Man Who Lost” followed quickly on the heels of Nola’s first two productions, utilizing scenery from “the great Mardi Gras crowds” and the battleship Olympia to tell the story of a naval man falling in love “with the ward of the man who is trying to accomplish his undoing.” [14] Shortly after its release, the Daily Picayune dubbed it the best Nola production so far on the basis of popular attraction and attendance. [15]

“The Pearl of India” was Nola’s fourth offering, recounting the exploits of two detectives searching for a pearl, given by a wealthy man to his daughter as an engagement present and then stolen shortly thereafter. “Every clever device is used on each side,” commented the Daily Picayune, “and keeps the audience wondering which will triumph.” [16]

Financial Failure

Though they received resounding local success, many of Nola’s films were poorly reviewed nationally, and the firm began to crumble financially in late 1916 and early 1917. Towards the end of 1916, Nola was selling off the use of half of it’s prized Bayou St. John studio to raise capital. [17] Several months later, the entire studio was sold to Diamond Film Company in late 1917. [18]

Work Cited

  • Parrill, William. “The Nola Film Company and the Diamond Film Company, with some notes on the Film Writings of William Morgan Hannon.” Regional Dimensions: Studies of Southeast Louisiana Vol 7 (1989) 40-72. Print.
  • “New Orleans Welcomes Nola,” Motography, February 25, 1915.
  • “Premiere Presentation of Nola Film Company Features Wins Instant Public Approbation,” Daily Picayune, January 23, 1916.
  • “‘Nola’ Films Show City as Movie Point,” New Orleans Item, April 16, 1916
  • “New Orleans Welcomes Nola,” Motography, February 25, 1915.
  • Moving Picture World Vol. 22 p1120, 1915.
  • Nola Film Advertisement, Daily Picayune, August 20, 1916.
  • “Photoplay Stars in Local Pictures,” Daily Picayune, August 29, 1916.
  • New Orleans Item, April 16, 1916
  • “News of the Photoplays,” Daily Picayune, December 29, 1915.
  • “Columbia,” New Orleans Item, April 18, 1916.
  • “Many Familiar Scenes in ‘Folly of Revenge’,” New Orleans’ Item, April 19, 1916.
  • “New Orleans Film Folks Go to Alabama For Mountain Stuff for Five-Part Feature Production,” Daily Picayune, January 23, 1916.
  • “Facts and Fancies About the Films,” Daily Picayune, May 9, 1916.
  • “Facts and Fancies About the Films,” Daily Picayune, May 10, 1916.
  • “Facts and Fancies About the Films,” Daily Picayune, May 17, 1916.
  • ‘Southern Studio for Rent’ Advertisement, Moving Picture World Vol. 30, 1916.
  • New Orleans’ States, August 5, 1917.

This page was last modified on 20 April 2012, at 08:25

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Nola Film Studio

1347 Moss Street, New Orleans, LA 70118

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Cantilever Bridge Over Bayou St. John

3494 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118