Tell Your Story by Mary O’Hara

Mary O'Hara
Mary O’Hara

More on writing for the movies.

Los Angeles July 1922. As scenario writer to Rex Ingram, noted director, and adapter of  his two latest photoplays, “The Prisoner of  Zenda” and “Toilers of the Sea,” Mary O’Hara has climbed to a high place in the screen world. The secret of her success, she states, is contained in the words: “Tell your Story.”

Probably very continuity writer has some simple little recipe which helps him or her to get ready, set, go! A blank sheet of paper staring at one from the typewriter can be rather appalling when one realizes that it is only the first of a hundred or two blank sheets waiting to be filled up with good picture material.

My recipe is just this: Tell your story.

I have been asked so often how it is that I have mastered the trick of continuity writing in so short a time (for my first continuity, “The Last Card,” directed by Bayard Veiller, was made only a little over a year ago) that I have searched for the reason myself and have found it in my recipe, Tell your story.

I have always loved to tell stories. When I was ten I was telling stories to my nine year old sister. Many of them were serials that took six months or more to reach the end. Needless to say, it was always a happy end with the bride and groom at the altar, and the bride’s hair flowing in a cascade down the back of her satin gown. I usually, for good measure, threw in a pair of twins, born to them during their dignified walk back from the altar to the church door; twins because, if only one were bron, into which pair of arms, his or hers, should the infant drop on high? In fact, my sister and I had such heated discussions on this point that we finally settled upon twins as fairer – one for each.

In all this story telling, my greatest interest and my inspiration was my sister’s face; in scenario language, my “audience reaction.” If too many minutes passed without her eyes popping or her breath catching I would pile on the melodrama. When I thought she had giggled long enough I would try for tears.

I have never outgrown this habit of telling stories. Now I am telling them to the public with one eye on my typewriter as I compose ans the other eye, figuratively, on the face of the public, looking for its tears and laughter, its eyes popping, its breath catching.

To be a little more definite in describing my system – when I start a continuity, with the material well in mind, in imagination I place a listener in a chair opposite me. If my story is an adventuresome tale my listerner is a child. If it is a psychological drama my listener is an older person of average intelligence, for we all know that we would tell a story one way to an intellectual person and quite differently to one more simple minded.

Then I proceed to tell them the story. Introductions of characters, descriptions of time and place logically come first; then out of the characters and their relation to each other, the threads of the plot, and before I know it I am in full swing. The eye of my imaginary listener leads me on, I sense his interest or ennui, and above all, I am held to the neccessity of making the story clear – clear – clear.

Mary O’Hara (Photodramatist, July 1922)