How did I come to shoot a series of Westerns in the heroic era of cinema?
There are several reasons why that the memory and influence that my stay in the American West had on me.
I had the privilege to know some white and red men who had taken part in its history and to listen to their stories and report their memories. Then I became obsessed by the idea to revive their past by the use of animated photography that had just been born.
But, I had to wait.
I returned to France to do my military service at the 6 Cuirassiers, and that's where I had the opportunity (which may be considered a start) to "film a scene", for the regiment's fete of a diligent stagecoach attack, its preparation and its execution. One of the occupants of the "coach" was the inevitable daughter of the Sheriff (removed by the Indians, rescued by the Cowboys) and whose role was held by a brigadier’s daughter. It was not a cheap show, Indian costumes and cowboy gear came from the United States, that I still own, and gave the show an exact folkloric note. As for the horsemen, they were doing their business.
Free from the service, I had not abandoned my plans, I inquired about the existing Procurement Houses. For my purposes, I learned how to use a camera and, as a matter of course, I wrote a few scripts whose subject could not exceed four hundred meters of useful film.
During my early working days I made acquaintances with the operator MOREAU, returning from a distant report, I told him of my desires.
The idea pleased him so in May 1906 we shot the first Western in the area of Arcueil (France). The picturesque site 5 kilometers south of Paris, stretched for more than one kilometer. A profound thirty meters, it had once been used as a gun range. The rocky boulder covered landscape perfectly represented a corner of a wild landscape. Long distance panoramic views could also be taken without showing a house or a telegraph pole. A small green lake sat resting in a deep quarry and was judiciously used. On the edge of this area lay quarries and huts of boards serving as sheds for the tools of the quarrymen which became cabins for Indians or trappers.
The film, simply titled "Cow-Boy" was shot in two days with a young debutante, a solitary "Indian", two squires of his qualities, "PIEDS-BLANCS (WHITE-FEET)" my half tamed horse, with which I had to use in my series "ARIZONA BILL", four years later. A dog, a snake, the voluntary representation of a few caretakers whom I thanked for their collaboration by a distribution of packs of cigarette and a general tour, completed the distribution.
At the same time I founded the first Western Club, the "BLUE STAR ASSOCIATION". We had our own horses and I was training them in the management of the lasso on the Prairie de Bagatelle where we had permission to practice. Most comrades were acting in my films with actors who ventured into this new art, who now have disappeared and are forgotten: JEAN- MARIE LAURENT [1877-1964], ANDRE VOLBERT, MAUGER, SENECHAL, CONSTANT REMY [1882-1958].
The film studios were located at Boulevard Jourdan and La Porte d'Orleans. It was still only a large and high glass, in which the effects of light were obtained by a fire of velums slipping on rods (when there was sun). The sets were made on the spot and, in certain cases, when the action took place in a castle, for example, it was shot with a backdrop, on which, thanks to the talent of the painter-decorator, all the riches were visible.
A short distance from the glass roof, in a classic suburban garden, on the premises of a villa with three floors served as a bureau with boxes and a deposit for fragile accessories.
The "Director" had not yet defined his omnipotent attributions. The very first were head figures of the boulevard theaters.
Well-known actors, were still coming little by little and cautiously to the 7th art. Let's not forget also that until 1914, in France, all genres - I say well all - had been approached.
The small roles and the extras were recruited in a cafe on the Boulevard de Strasbourg, on the east side of the Eldorado. Sometimes we were forced to find some on the spot. In 1913, for instance, I hired a hundred or so workers from the Aries locomotive repair shops to play English soldiers and ... Boers of the recent war.