Reel Classics: the classic movie site


Notes from the Author

How Reel Classics Started

I began this homepage during the spring of 1997 (my freshman year of college), because, being without a TV, I was sorely missing my classic movies. I set out on the Internet under the assumption that if I couldn't watch them, I was at least going to read up on them and see some cool pictures. Studying was always the first order of business in high school, and as a result, I had never browsed the Internet before I came to college -- though I'd often heard my sisters rave about the cool things they found there. I'd like to say I was disappointed with the lack of meaningful Classic Movie tributes on the net and that's why I decided to do one of my own, but that wouldn't be the complete truth. Thinking back, I don't really remember having any such reaction. I just remember my roommates telling me that if I didn't find something to do (they were all vigorously studying and I wasn't), they were going to kill me. I didn't know the first thing about HTML or web pages, and hardly knew the Internet, but I decided this could be fun and just toyed around with my computer for hours (quietly -- while my roommates continued to study), and gradually I figured things out.

Things started slowly at first. I had everything all on one page until someone suggested I might make things easier to download by dividing the stars up. (I think there were about a dozen initially.) I was stealing pictures right and left from other sites with no notion that anything was wrong with that (I still don't know the origins of some of my pictures, though most I have tried to relocate, get permission for, and credit), and in their early stages, my pages had very little factual information. Gradually I learned how to scan, how to make the text easier to read, how to use tables instead of nbsp's to separate pictures and lay things out on the page, and how to edit images a little. Classes continued to be fairly easy and my page continued to grow.

I eventually learned about disk quota when I exceeded my own and ended up expanding my site onto one of my roommates' accounts. (They'd do anything to keep me occupied.) More and more stars were added, I started a few pages about directors and individual films -- people were beginning to notice. I got an occasional email from someone who accidentally stumbled onto my site and it was all pretty fun. Then someone suggested submitting my site to the search engines. Things really picked up then. After I finally figured out how to add a counter to my pages in April of 1997, I was getting over 400 visitors a day and about 20 emails. Gradually fellow Princetonians helped me add things like a comment form and a search engine and my site was really looking pretty neat.

I decided it was time to focus on quality instead of quantity, and I set out for the library where I researched for articles, biographical information, film reviews, etc. A few of my pages began to actually resemble some kind of "resource" and I realized that's what was really needed on the Internet -- a good classic movie resource with good general information as well as a little entertainment. No one wants to read just text, and I knew that the pictures were the real draw to my pages, but once they got there, the visitors told me they wanted information too. Biographies began to go up. Filmographies too. I started putting smiley faces by the films I recommend. I started throwing in more and more of my personal opinions -- undisguised -- and since people didn't seem to mind, I continued. After several address requests, I finally looked up a bunch and built a page for those. I even added an Audio Gallery which expanded into an Audio/Video Gallery after a while.

When people started bestowing awards on my page after about six months, I was floored. Me, getting awards? This was becoming a bigger deal than I thought. The Mining Company (now About.com) called me one of the ten best classic movie sites on the net, and when the L.A. Times mentioned my site on Jimmy Stewart as an online reference after his death in July 1997, even my younger sisters were impressed. I sort of became the thing to talk about among my various circles of acquaintances whenever the Internet came up in conversation. For Christmas, my sister Suzanne even made me business cards with my URL. Businesses began to ask me to design pages for them, and a few even offered me summer jobs. Boy, was I feeling like a professional -- even though I still had a very slight knowledge of code, or much else of the technical stuff.

After two years, I realized that my Princeton days were numbered and that if I didn't start making preparations, my homepage and all my hard work would disappear into oblivion when Princeton discontinued my student account. I scouted the market, bought my own domain name, and spent an entire summer changing all my links in all the pages on my site to accommodate the big move. (Having been on two different accounts at Princeton, all the formerly absolute links now had to be localized.) I also decided this move would be a great opportunity to make a few major additions to my page, so I thought up a list of all the stars I would probably add over the next few years and built "under construction" pages for them so I could make the links now and worry about actually constructing the pages later. I also dreamed up sections about composers, producers, the studios, the great cinematographers and costume designers, as well as screen teams and the people behind those classic animated characters. I made preparations for all those categories, and after I returned from summer vacation 1998, gradually began to put up my new site.

When I got back to school, I was immediately overwhelmed to find over 600 messages had piled up during my ten-week absence, despite the fact that I had advertised rather blatantly that I was on vacation and wouldn't be able to read them for a few months. By the end of October 1998, I still had half of those summer emails still to read and respond to. In the first week of October, my new domain name -- ReelClassics.com -- became fully functional and I replaced all the old Princeton pages with pages notifying visitors of the move. I never submitted the new site to the search engines, but they found it anyway, and as Reel Classics continued to grow, so did its exposure.  Traffic, visitors and emails continued to increase.

In May 2000, I decided it was time to update the look of Reel Classics, and with the help of a fellow classic movie webmaster and a graphic designer, I replaced the old blue-green-red-on-gray-silk layout with the new blue-on-blue design as well as the silver and blue "Reel Classics" logo.  While the look has yet to be applied to all pages of the site, I have confidence that this work will be completed someday and that general research and construction on Reel Classics will continue in the meantime.

Although I incorporated Reel Classics in September 1999, for its first four years, this website had to remain a hobby while I continued my full-time academic pursuits.  Now however, since graduating, I work part-time at a few other jobs to supplement my income while devoting as much time as possible to researching, writing and managing this website.  Because I am the only employee of Reel Classics L.L.C. (the parent company of ReelClassics.com), this means that tangible evidence of all my behind-the-scenes efforts has become less apparent in recent years.  As a company, Reel Classics demands a certain amount of financial and legal management which takes away from the amount of time I have to spend writing on the site itself.  Thus, work on the many "under construction" pages has slowed, but not come to a standstill altogether. Also, although for years I harbored an aesthetic aversion to selling advertising on my site, I have slowly resigned myself to the fact that it is required to permit Reel Classics to stand on its own financially -- and the IRS requires that companies be profitable, not just serve as a tax write-off. 

I love classic movies. I love being able to pay tribute to them through this homepage. I love all the neat people I've met through this medium, especially my fellow "younger generation" classic movie fans, many of whom don't realize that there are others like them out there until they stumble upon my page. I also love hearing from people who got to experience many of these films the first time around, and "knew" these stars when they were still the glamorous gods and goddesses of Hollywood's Golden Age. I love being able to help fellow fans identify movies and learn more about stars. I love being able to recommend films and perhaps broaden my visitors' appreciation of the classics, as well as have my own appreciation broadened by their suggestions. This is a great line of work, and I thoroughly enjoy it.  That is why I continue to work on Reel Classics. 

-- Elizabeth        

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Last updated: March 10, 2011.
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