When Sam Lockhart, a young gardener, is captured on film by George Albert Smith, the result alters both their lives.
The year is 1896, and cinematography is in its infancy. Smith, a showman and illusionist, believes moving pictures could add to his Brighton-based theatrical acts. However, Lockhart and Smith soon gain a reputation for producing entertaining films; and by the turn of the century their short, one minute motion pictures are enjoyed throughout Europe and the United States.
Sam travels to New York to find a new distributor, and is helped by Carl Laemmle, a German émigré. Laemmle foresees the future. Instead of investing his savings in a clothing store, he buys two nickelodeons – the up-and-coming picture houses of the new era.
When George Smith ceases film-making, Sam returns to the United States to work for Carl Laemmle. It is then he encounters the stranglehold Thomas Edison has on small companies making moving pictures: tightened when the big producers join forces to create the Motion Picture Patents Company.
When a number of small film producers band together as a bulwark against the Edison consortium, an organisation is created called the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. Carl Laemmle emerges as president, and to avoid legal wrangles and physical aggression, he takes the decision to move to California and establish `Universal City`.
But in Hollywood, other crises confront them – from racketeering mobsters to power struggles within the company. With Carl in New York, it is left to Sam to find a way to overcome these even more damaging setbacks.
Light Up In Wonder highlights the romance and the exhilaration felt with the advent of motion pictures. It also exposes the less welcome aspects: the in-fighting, greed and conflict when this exciting, new form of entertainment first caught the public`s imagination.