Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché (by Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs)

When I was in film school, I got a little nugget of information one day about one Ms. Alice Guy-Blaché — a lady I had never heard of before. I was instantly captivated, and had to dig deeper . . . so, I decided to write an entire paper about her. What I discovered about this lovely creature was beyond impressive; the accomplishments and contributions to the film world made by this one woman (starting at the age of 23, and during a time when women weren’t yet even allowed to vote!) are just mind-blowing!

. . . and yet — the world still remains almost completely in the dark about her . . . until now.

Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs (along with Executive Producer — Robert Redford, and Narrator — Jodie Foster, etc.) are now working incredibly hard to try to bring this awesome lady’s story to the surface.

Below is content from the project’s Kickstarter page. Please read through it, if only to educate yourself a little bit about this really incredible woman who contributed greatly to the world of cinema — a world which you probably enjoy frequently, yeah? . . . that’s what I thought . . . ;)

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A documentary searching for Alice Guy-Blaché, who at 23 was the first female director, became a powerful figure in film, then vanished.

Have you ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché? If you haven’t, you’re not the only one.

Click on the trailer below and see the first step in correcting history! Then join us and be part of history yourself by helping to make this film!

The year is 1895. A new technology called the “mechanical pencil” is patented, the first comic strip is printed in a newspaper, and photography is the talk of the town. This is the dawn of the modern era, and there are no limits to what the future holds. Major innovations in technology change the way people live, work, travel, dress, communicate, and the way they are entertained.

In Paris, the Lumière Brothers have one of their first private screenings of their revolutionary Cinématographe, the first reliable system to project moving images. A small group of friends and colleagues, including engineer and industrialist Léon Gaumont, watch in awe the soon-to-be famous footage of workers leaving a factory. Cinema is born.

There is a young woman in the audience. Her name is Alice. She is 23. She is secretary to Léon Gaumont. She experiences the light and shadows of the flowing sequence of images on the screen as more than a technological wonder. She sees life. She sees stories. She sees the future.

Alice Guy (after her marriage known as Madame Blaché and after her divorce as Alice Guy-Blaché) went on to make one of the first narrative films ever made. By her own account, she made it in 1896 (some say before Georges Méliès).

And she kept going. She made one of the first films ever with a close-up, created synchronized sound films as early as 1902, was in good part responsible for the birth and growth of the Gaumont film studio in Paris, France, which she ran for almost a decade (1897-1907), and in 1910, she founded, built, and ran her own studio, Solax, first in Flushing, New York, then in Fort Lee, New Jersey (not far from where Edison and D.W. Griffith worked). She was a wife and a mother. She wrote, directed, or produced more than a 1,000 films over her 20-year-long career.

Then it all ended. Her name disappeared from film history, and her legacy vanished into the shadows.

A pioneer in the movie industries of both France and the U.S., an innovative filmmaker with a career spanning 1896 to 1920, director, screenwriter, producer, studio owner, CEO, entrepreneur (as well as wife and mother). If she had done only one of these jobs in the earliest years of cinema, it would have been enough to win her a firm place in cinema history. This feature documentary sheds new light on the many accomplishments of Alice Guy-Blaché, a woman you ought to know.

Alice Guy was the first female film director. She would become the first female movie studio owner, and one of the most prominent filmmakers in the industry, making her one of the highest paid women in the U.S.

How could such an important figure in the birth of cinema be unknown to us?

So we, filmmakers Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs, had a case, a real detective story. We decided to search for answers. We’ve discovered surprising new information as we began our research and interviews. It turned into a feature documentary in-the-making about Alice Guy-Blaché and the birth of cinema – Be Natural.

After two years of research, which has taken us all around the country and the world, both physically and virtually, we have new findings, greater than those we could ever have imagined: print and audio interviews with Alice herself, old family 8mm films, recordings, photos, scrapbooks of clippings collected by Alice’s stars, letters in her own hand. We have discovered and translated French documents, found rare correspondence written by Alice in English that brings new insight into the story. It seems that the more we dig up, the more we are led to new clues, and as each clue leads us to another, it recasts our understanding of an earlier discovery. Our feature documentary will include this new material, much of it seen or heard here for the first time.

The early filmmakers were explorers. Like Columbus, Alice Guy-Blaché had to navigate through many unknowns, but through experimentation, determination, and vision, she reached new shores. What was it that made her who she was? What drove her, inspired her, propelled her imagination? And what or who made her disappear from history? And, especially, why?

It was an exciting era, and Alice Guy-Blaché was one of its most creative forces. For Alice, the camera, film, the projector, and the Chronophone sound system were all new technologies, and the rules for how to use them had not been written. For us, witnessing the digital imaging revolution – YouTube, Instagram, Vine, and many other new technologies – the rules continue to be newly written.

What did it mean to work with pioneering technologies at the end of the 19th century? What does it mean to work with pioneering technologies of the 21st century? What can we learn from this film pioneer as she found new ways to visually tell new stories? Over 100 years later, and in so many ways, we are again at the frontier – looking at fast-paced change and facing many of the same challenges.

Be Natural will be both grand and personal. Grand, because to tell the story of Alice Guy-Blaché, the director, is to tell the story of film, and to tell the story of film is to tell the story of the modern world. Personal, because of the amazing materials we have found which will allow us to tell her story through her own words. Imagine, she was born before electric light was invented; lived through two world wars, saw the invention of television, and died in New Jersey in 1968 while the U.S. was at war with Vietnam.

When Alice Guy-Blaché directed actors – many of whom had never seen a film camera before – she advised them to “Be Natural.” As she recalled in an interview, she had signs saying that in her Solax studio.

Alice Guy-Blaché’s story is unique and fascinating. It is also telling of the history of cinema’s first decades. Still, you may ask, “What makes this documentary so special?” The answer is in our approach. Everything from the way we’ve done the research to the way we will recreate Alice Guy-Blaché’s world graphically, using VFX (3D modeling, compositing, and animation), to the manner in which we will edit the film, is designed to put ourselves and you in Alice Guy-Blaché’s shoes.

But how do we tell the story of someone who was born more than 100 years ago? We have found extensive historical material including photos, films, diaries, letters, and publications. Also, because Alice Guy-Blaché wore many hats throughout her career, we decided to ask our film industry colleagues, who today write, direct, produce, design, light, shoot, edit, and distribute, to help us understand the making of Alice’s films. Through their experience and knowledge of their craft, we are able to tell Alice’s story and also highlight the relation of present to past.

The trailer, although not the film itself, visually suggests our stylistic approach to this amazingly rich subject matter. The film will boast 2D and 3D CGI recreations of the locations, technologies, objects, and settings of Alice’s story. This is not to say that this will be a VFX film. CGI is simply one of the many tools we are comfortable with, and we will be mixing it with a multitude of other media. This includes stock stills and footage combined with recently discovered assets, such as nitrate film (to be transferred and restored), 8mm film, video, slides, and other photographic materials. All this supports the themes of mysteries to be investigated and understanding of the many controversies surrounding this remarkably creative woman.

In Be Natural we will continue to enhance the graphic approach we have perfected in previous projects such as The Kingdom, 42, and Bhutto, for which we were nominated for an Emmy as co-producers, and the mini-documentary sequences for VH1ʼs Soul Divas: History of Soul Music. Our aesthetic approach will be guided by the look and feel of the turning point between the Belle Époque and the early 20th century filtered through a modern lens.

In short, we aim not just to look back at Alice’s past, but to stand next to her and look into her future – our present.

We are Pamela Green (director) and Jarik van Sluijs (co-director), the founding partners at PIC Agency, an audio-visual communications studio focused on entertainment and motion design based in Los Angeles, California. We have designed and produced a variety of cutting-edge content for motion pictures, television, and commercials, and we are known for our innovative and memorable main title sequences for feature films like The Bourne Supremacy, Fantastic Four, The Illusionist, Cloverfield, The Kingdom, Sex and the City, Twilight, Push, Surrogates, The Cabin in the Woods, The Muppets, Red Dawn, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Now You See Me, Fast & Furious 6, 42, and many others. We often combine archival images, audio, CGI animation, and editing into gripping and entertaining stories. We attribute our success to our never wavering focus on story.

We’ve got the support and participation of some amazing people!

Executive Producer Robert Redford • Narrated by Jodie Foster

And the participation of Marc Abraham • Dino Everett • Alison McMahan • Cheryl Hines • Anastasia Masaro • Marc Wanamaker • Diablo Cody • Peter Decherney • Valerie Steele • Julie Delpy • Lorenzo Di Bonaventura • Senator Loretta Weinberg • Alan Williams • Chris Horak • Anand Tucker • John Bailey • Catherine Hardwicke • Peter Billingsley • Neil Hunt • Sir Ben Kingsley • Wayne Kramer • Julie Taymor • Marquise Lepage • Kevin Macdonald • James Bobin • Vadim Perelman • Julie Anne Robinson • Floria Sigismondi • Joan Simon • Terry Lawler • Frederik Du Chau • Bobby Cohen • Stephanie Allain • Jean-Michel Frodon • Jane Gaines • Anne Fletcher • Anthony Slide • Cecile Starr • Howard Cohen • Jon Chu • Drake Stutesman • Maxine Haleff • Vanessa Schwartz • Ava DuVernay • Elsie Fisher • Susan Constantine • Mark Stetson • Richard Abel • Kevin Stitt • Tom Meyers • Cari Beauchamp, and the list keeps growing!

We need your help to take this project to the next level, the first rough cut.

To achieve this, we are raising funds through Kickstarter to complete our research, and specifically to see all of existing Alice Guy-Blaché’s films. Her films are in archives spread all over the world – France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. They are in all different formats from nitrate to film to video. We need funds to find the right footage, preserve and/or copy it, and then obtain the rights, so we can include them in our documentary.

As more and more of Alice’s films are being discovered and identified, we need funding to see these films so that you can see some of her innovations within our documentary. With your invaluable help we can put Alice Guy-Blaché back in history and onto the main stage of our collective imagination!

Though we are making this film in the most economical way possible, and many people have already given of their time and services gratis, the shooting, editorial, and VFX needed to create the 1890s-1920s world are expensive. This comes as no surprise in making a feature documentary.

The rough cut will get us one step closer to placing Aliceʼs story back where it belongs, next to that of the greatest figures of early cinema!

If you’ve seen our Kickstarter video, the trailer for the film, and the list of those who have offered their help and guidance, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why do they need my money if they’ve got all these big names involved, and the encouragement of so many in the film industry?”

It’s simple. We cannot get funding in Hollywood for a film of this nature.

Sadly, this is not the type of project that easily gets traditional Hollywood funding, nor is it the type of film that qualifies for most of the typical educational grants. Hollywood funding doesn’t usually go into beautifully made documentaries; educational grants don’t allow for this kind of ambition and entertainment value. This is a passion project for all of us involved, and it is through passion that we’ve been able to pull the favors from those in the industry so far.

WE NEED YOUR HELP TO GET THIS STORY TOLD!

We have built a reputation in our field, and through it have built friendships and followers that are helping us tell Alice’s story. We have the best in the business giving us their time, helping us, guiding us, and rooting for us – rooting for Alice. Understandably, we have maxed out our favors, and now we’re asking you, and your families, and all your friends to get us over the finish line!

To thank you for joining us on our journey in telling Alice Guy-Blaché’s incredible story, we have created lots of goodies! We know you don’t really need more stuff, but these are tokens of thanks and ways you will help us carry forward and spread the word of Alice Guy-Blaché – a woman whom people have to know!

Depending on the amount you decide to pledge, we have some great rewards, including an exclusive Be Natural Postcard, a limited edition Be Natural teaser poster, the already popular first edition Be Natural T-Shirt, a second T-Shirt we’re calling “Save Alice,” a bumper sticker, pin, dog or cat collar, tote bag, pen, baseball cap, iPhone case, coffee/tea mug, water bottle, notebook, beret, charm bracelet, scarf, tie, and bow tie!

If you pledge $1000, we will send you everything from “Alice Collection”!

Again, no matter the amount you can afford, by backing this project you become a part of it, and we are extremely grateful to you for helping us place Alice Guy-Blaché back in history!

We are looking forward to keeping you posted on our progress, and hope you will choose to be part of this journey!

It took us more than two years to get where we are in telling Alice’s story. With your help in this next big push we will reach an important marker – a rough cut. And with this goal achieved, and the momentum of all of you helping, we will keep moving!

Ultimately, the greatest risk and challenge is raising the funds to cover not just the completion of the first rough cut, but to complete the final film, and get it into theaters. We have assembled an amazing team of designers, editors, musicians, writers, CG artists, researchers, film licensing experts, sound designers and other talent to make Alice’s story memorable, and to ensure we reach our final goal.

Your contribution small or large is so valuable!

Together we can get this done!

Together we can save Alice’s legacy and update film history!

Merci! Thank You!

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I am SO excited for this project!!! If this speaks to you in any capacity, then please check out their Kickstarter page, and contribute in any way that you can.

(I, myself, have already reached out to Pamela about my own desired involvement. Fingers crossed!)

Oodles of high fives and tippings of the hat to Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs for taking on this mighty impressive feat in the name of truth sharing and story telling.

Hip Hip Horray, for Alice Guy-Blaché! :)

with passion & gratitude — jennifer

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