Cheng Pei-pei, one of the first superstars for Shaw Brother films, Come Drink with Me (1966)
Thomas Alva Edison was famously a workaholic who would catnap at his desk between inventing everything-including the movie business. Edison Studios, founded in 1898 made over 1,200 films before it closed its doors in 1918. That’s a lot. But, lets look beyond the numbers.
In contrast to the pioneering days of film, in modern times movie making became a bigger, more sophisticated, complex exercise with sound and color. The challenges of getting product in the can for the silver screen dwarfed the tests faced by the first filmmakers in New Jersey.
And remember being a movie maker is more than just being a production company and writing a check. Creating film includes everything from collecting the cash and casting the cast to getting the movie in front of an audience. Few do it all.
So in our times, who really were the hardest working filmmakers of modern cinema? Who were the blue collar movie pioneers who made the most with the least? Who were the movie moguls who made popular culture popular? Who were the hardest working filmmakers of all times?
You might be surprised.
Who are the Shaw Brothers? There were three of them—Runje, Runme and Runde. They started making films in 1925. In the 1960s, the Shaw Brothers, based in Hong Kong, were the most famous names in Asia cinema. What put them on the map was moving from historical romances and musicals to martial arts films. In the day, Shaw Brothers was one of the largest privately-owned studios in the world. Actors were housed in dorms so they could be tapped for work 24 hours a day. Sound crews would be locked in a sound stage, making soundtracks for one film after another adding clanging swords, and the characteristic crack of judo chops and back kicks, slapping wood blocks together. Over the years, the company made over a 1,000 full length productions, until ending movie making in 1987.