Doing a Silent Film Show While Working From Home

I’ve had the idea for this for a few years, as well as the tech for it, but was always reticent to give it a try. And for good reason. Streaming a live-accompanied silent film program defeats one of the core elements of silent cinema — the live theatrical experience.

My interest is in getting people interested in silent film so they’ll come to a show, or making sure the fans know about the shows so they’ll come to them.

But what if there are no shows to go to? Like the way things are right now?

Oh, well, that’s different.

Just about every show I had on the books for March and April has been cancelled. Over the last few days, the theaters and museums these shows were supposed to be held in have announced closings. That includes the course I teach at Wesleyan, where I accompany everything screened in class.

In the last 24 hours a lot of people I know have been told not to come in to their place of business and to work from home. I realized that I can still do a show as something done while working from home.

Ben Model Elmo 16-CL

This could also be a complete disaster, but I am channeling that moment in Young Frankenstein when Gene Wilder exclaims “It…could…work!!” and going to give it a shot.

On Sunday, March 15 2020 at 3pm EDT, I will live-stream something I am calling ”The Silent Comedy Watch Party”.

I will host the show from my apartment and will live-stream two comedy shorts and accompany them live on my piano. I’ll be joined by my friend silent comedy film historian Steve Massa to help with the film intros.

The films will be a pair of one-reel comedy shorts; one is a rare-ish film that you may have seen, and the other is one that pretty much no audience has seen in about 100 years.

The show will not be archived, and will not stay there on YouTube. It’s going to happen live, just this once. There will be no kinescope. If I’m going to emphasize or replace the live-watched experience of a silent film show, I’m not going to post this and leave it there.

This is a pilot and will only be around 30-40 minutes, but if the response warrants it, I will do another program the following week, possibly longer. I could certainly repeat the films from the pilot.


The Silent Comedy Watch Party – pilot episode

LIVE STREAM ONLY – Sunday, March 15, 2020 at 3:00 pm EDT – 2pm Central, 1pm Mountain, 12 noon Pacific, 7pm in England, 8pm (or 20:00) in France and also Nederlands and Scandinavia.

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Emiliano PenelasPhil McDonnellDonnie AshworthGarry BlissBob Fells Recent comment authors
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Paula
Guest

This is great, very innovative! I’d join in if I wasn’t working at Cinema Detroit. It’s important to remember that some theaters are open and whether or not they are open or not, they are likely having a tough time and may need financial support to get through this tune.

Allan Morris
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Allan Morris

I love seeing films at Bruno Walter with a live audience. Still, for those of us who are limiting their public footprint, this is just a wonderful idea. Thank you Ben and Steve. Will there be a Q and A as well after the film?

Frank Cullen
Guest
Frank Cullen

Thank you, Mr Model, for hosting and screening these shorts. We’re not getting any laughs (even derisive yocks) these days from Trump and what he’s left in tatters of the CDC. Good wishes to you and Mr Massa.

Allen R.
Guest
Allen R.

Outstanding idea! Yelena and I are in!

Ana
Guest
Ana

Stoked for this!
I sent link to many cinephiles.
Watching NOW!

Bob Fells
Guest
Bob Fells

This looks great, Ben!

Garry Bliss
Guest
Garry Bliss

Enjoyng this. A real treat in the midst of some dark times.

Garry Bliss
Guest
Garry Bliss

I watched on my MacBook. Sound and image quality were good. It did appear that your cursor/pointer was in the middle of the screen. Love how the whole friends and family got involved. I will definitely tune in again.

Ana
Guest
Ana

Thank you! Loved it.
I was watching on my MACBOOK.
I had some streaming glitches in the first short but otherwise it was a HIT!

Allen R.
Guest
Allen R.

That was terrific. What a wonderful idea. And beautifully done all around — congrats to all three of you.

We watched it on my MacBook Air. Quality was fine; there was a slight roll, but that’s about it. Also, do make sure to move your cursor to the edge of the frame when you hit ‘play’.

We had a brief ‘freeze’ at one point — missed some of Steve’s intro to the first short — but I think that was on my end.

THANKS!!

Donnie Ashworth
Guest
Donnie Ashworth

Wasn’t able to comment on YouTube stream, but just wanted to say this was GREAT. I watched in a Chrome browser window on my Mac desktop. The image was great, only a couple of very brief buffering pauses; narration could be a little louder, but perfectly audible. Much enjoyed, thanks so much, Ben and Steve!

Donnie Ashworth
Guest
Donnie Ashworth

PS, on my end, the comments section on the steam apparently disappeared once the live feed was over, so I was unable to leave any thoughts there—just to let you know. Thanks!

Phil McDonnell
Guest
Phil McDonnell

Ben, Steve, Molly, that was great!
Thanks so much for showing these films at a time when we really need some laughs.

They came across just fine on my MacBook Pro.
I could see a cursor onscreen during the titles of the Snub Pollard film. It disappeared (or I didn’t notice it) once the action started.

Looking forward to your next show, and to seeing you in person again.

Emiliano Penelas
Guest

II missed it, but I think it’s a fantastic idea. Where can I see the projection or when will there be another one?