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Stanley Watkins was an English electrical engineer who in 1911 was hired by The Western Electric Company in their New York City Physical Labs . Western Electric and the AT&T companies eventually merged to form the Bell Labs and there he worked on a variety of sound innovations. It may surprise one to know that the scope of Bell Labs’ work went far beyond telephone communications.
Watkins was given the task of introducing the Vitaphone (sound on disk) recording technology to film productions. This successfully brought motion pictures out of the silent era and into the raucous era of talkies. At the time he was Chief Sound Engineer at Warner Bros. Pictures though you won’t see his name on any of the credits. Watkins helped the visionaries at Warner Brother produce films with synchronized sound such as Don Juan (1926) and The Jazz Singer (1927). These films revolutionized the industry by making the on-screen talent audible. Watkins not only worked in Hollywood but also supported various European countries in their transition to the new era of talking pictures.
Stanley at work
Additionally, Watkins worked with Columbia and Victor Records on technologies that changed the world of music recording forever. He worked with the great Bessie Smith and other ground-breaking recording artists of the 1920s.
The career of Stanley Watkins was characterized by a constant shifting of gears as he moved from project to project. In the 1930s Watkins took a cumbersome machine known as the Voder and programmed it to produce human-like speech. The Voice Operating Demonstrator, aka the Voder, was taken to the 1939 World’s Fair where it dazzled countless audiences. Today we often take talking devices such as the iPhone Siri for granted but in the 30s this seemed like something out of science fiction.
Barbara and her father, Stanley Watkins, at the Voder
The multi-talented Watkins was able to capture and produce excellent sound recordings partly because of his interest in language, music and the arts. He was one of those rare species that could solve scientific puzzles one moment and then pen a pun-laden poem the next. He was a true Renaissance man but like many from that generation not one to sing his own praises or make a fuss about his accomplishments. It is the aim of this film to showcase the major strides made in film, music and the world of talking machines due to the work of Stanley.
This project is based in New Mexico although our team is from all over the globe. We want to share the story of a behind-the-scenes hero with audiences around the world. If you can donate to our project you will enable us to:
COMPLETE POST-PRODUCTION WORK.
* Edit the film
* Buy image, music and film rights.
Stanley Watkins in full Morris Dancing attire
Thank you for taking the time to learn "a little smackerel" (an often-used phrase by Watkins) about this project that is close to our hearts. We hope that you can help us to get funded. Any contribution is appreciated and will be spent to propel this project forward!
We are very pleased to announce that the following experts have agreed to be in our film: The Vitaphone Project's Ron Hutchinson, Mara Mills PhD and Doug Slocum of Synthetic Sound Labs. We have a motley crew of academics and Voder-playing wizards who have signed up to inform and delight you. You won't be disappointed...
You ain't heard nuthin' yet, folks!
Blair and the gang
Please know that any amount you give helps this project gain steam.
Please read about the fun and surprising goodies you will get in return for donating to our film project. If we meet our goal you will receive a token of our appreciation.
Gifts include tote bags with this original Vitaphone print!
$30- For your donation of $30 or above your name will be mentioned in the credits.
$100- For your donation of $100 or above you will receive our mystery bag of film related goodies (limited to the first 15, $100+ donations)
$250- For your donation of $250 or above you will receive a mystery box of film related goodies (limited to the first 10, $250+ donations)
$500- For your donation of $500 or above you will receive a mystery box of film related goodies and producer credit (limited to the first 10, $500+ donations)
$1000- For your donation of $1000 or above you will receive a executive producer credit on the film.
Again, thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts! And as Barbara (Stan's daughter) always says, "Blue Skies" to you!
Director: Blair Rinn
Assistant Director: Doug Slocum and Leilani Ringkvist
Executive Producer: Hugh Witemeyer
Executive Producer: Barbara Witemeyer
Executive Producer: Marcus Weldon, President of Nokia Bell Labs
Executive Producer: Doug Slocum
*Video edited by Joel Ortiz
*Narration by Barbara Witemeyer
*Music by Edison Records, "My Sweet Sweeting" by Helen Louise & Frank Ferera, 1916.
All photos below by Blair Rinn
Barbara Witemeyer, one of Mr Watkins' three daughters
Ron Hutchinson, founder of Ron Hutchinson's Vitaphone Project.
Marcus Weldon, President of Nokia-Bell Labs miking up
NYU Science Historian: Mara Mills, PhD.
New Mexico-based DP, Lydell Mitchell
Ted Friedman PhD, film scholar.