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When Hollywood met the Army: the First Motion Picture Unit

During the WWII, Hollywood has been actively involved in the propaganda's action developed to boost at home the support for the war.
Indeed, this involvement was so deep, that a special unit -entirely made by Hollywood professional- was created by the Army: the First Motion Picture Unit.

This unit produced produced more than 400 propaganda and training films, all following the usual Hollywood quality standard. Some of them are classic well know, like the famous Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress .

The First Motion Picture Unit was led by Jack Warner of Warner Bros Pictures, and he recruited the best in the business to produce training films that were both technically correct and engrossing to watch.  Previous efforts by the government to produce training films resulted in films that often put new recruits to sleep.  The American Movie Classic’s 1997 documentary, “Hollywood Commandos” (hosted by President Reagan’s son, Ron) tells the story of this effort

But the FMPU also served as training center for the combat cameramen. While losses were null in the personnel working at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, combat cameramen served in fighting conditions, and suffered great losses, always serving with distintion.


Captain Ronald Reagan in the Army Air Force working for the 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California. 1943-44. Image courtesy by Wikipedia

A primary function of the FMPU was the training of combat cameramen. The units were based at nearby Page Military Academy. There were approximately 16 combat units, each made up of seven officers and between 20 and 30 enlisted men. They were trained to use a variety of photographic equipment and cameras and also received combat and weapons training. The cameramen were sent to every army air force base to document all aspects of the base's operations as well as aerial battle tactics and enemy airplane performance. Every cameraman was trained to load film into their camera under adverse conditions, and if need be, to develop it on location. Most of the aerial motion picture photography shot during World War II was filmed by Fort Roach alumni.

Unlike regular personnel at the FMPU, combat cameramen suffered a number of casualties. Alumni of the program were "highly praised and much decorated."

In the following behind-the-scenes short, First Motion Picture Unit (1944), the unit demonstrates how they are a little bit Hollywood and a whole lot military.

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