HistoryShots Blog

History of Film Backstory
03/27/13

[History of Film Backstory]

The "History of Film" has generated a lot of interest and comments. Many people wanted to know how the graphic was created and to understand the process for including (and not including) a particular film. We hope this brief Q&A with the designer, Larry Gormley, will help answer these questions.

How long did it take you to create this graphic?

I have been working on this graphic on and off for the past five years. I started the data collection phase by viewing copies of Variety magazine from the 1930s in the libraries at Harvard University. Over the next four years, using various sources, I collected a database of approximately 3,000 films. Each film was classified according to genre, release date, and, most importantly, the relevancy for inclusion in the final graphic (see below.) Additional information about the film was collected such as director, box office sales, and actors. Some souces used to collect this data include: the AFI database; various periodicals; and books and web sites by recognized film critics and experts in a particular genre.

How did you select films for the final graphic?

I decided to use the origin of the feature-length film (1900s) as the starting point for the graphic. A feature-length film is defined to be at least 40 minutes long.

Then I developed a set of criteria that I used as a model during the research phase of this project. Every film that was a candidate for the graphic was ranked according to the criteria. The criteria was as follows:

  • Critical acclaim: did one or more respected and published film critics designate the film as important and worthy of recognition. Some examples include: the Nation Society of Film Critics and Roger Ebert.
  • Key film: was the film important to a particular genre (for example, the first film of that genre); did an important director make the film; did the film have unique production values; did the film have historical value.
  • Awards: did the film win one or more major awards such as the Academy Award or Golden Globe award.
  • Box office success: did the public embrace the movie; did the movie attain significant box office revenue.

At the end of the initial research phase my database contained about 3,000 films. After working on initial design concepts I realized that the maximum number of films that could be reasonable presented was approximately 2,000. Therefore, I made a series of passes through the list of films filtering and selecting those films that I believed to have the best qualifications for being considered the most important feature-length films over the past 100 years.