With the combination of film editing and the telling of narrative stories, Porter produced one of the most important and influential films of the time to reveal the possibility of fictional stories on film. The film was the one-reel, 14-scene, approximately 10-minute long The Great Train Robbery (1903) - it was based on a real-life train heist and was a loose adaptation of a popular stage production. His visual film, made in New Jersey and not particularly artistic by today's standards - set many milestones at the time:
it was the first narrative Western film with a storyline, and included various western cliches (a shoot-out, a robbery, a chase, etc.) that would be used by all future westerns [Note: the same claim was made for the earlier 21-minute Kit Carson (1903)]
it was a ground-breaking film - and one of the earliest films to be shot out of chronological sequence, using revolutionary parallel cross-cutting (or parallel action) between two simultaneous events or scenes; it did not use fades or dissolves between scenes or shots
it effectively used rear projection in an early scene (the image of a train seen through a window), and two impressive panning shots
it was the first 'true' western, but not the first actual western [Note: Edison's Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene (1899) was probably the first western.]
it was the first real motion picture smash hit, establishing the notion that film could be a commercially-viable medium
it featured a future western film hero/star, Gilbert M. Anderson (aka "Broncho Billy")
In an effective, scary, full-screen closeup (placed at either the beginning or at the end of the film at the discretion of the exhibitor), a bandit shot his gun directly into the audience. The film also included exterior scenes, chases on horseback, actors that moved toward (and away from) the camera, a camera pan with the escaping bandits, and a camera mounted on a moving train. Porter also developed the process of film editing - a crucial film technique that would further the cinematic art. Most early films were not much more than short, filmed stage productions or records of live events. In the early days of film-making, actors were usually unidentified and not even trained actors. The earliest actors in movies, that were dubbed "flickers," supplemented their stage incomes by acting in moving pictures.