Most of us love to watch movies. Movies have the capability of transporting us to new worlds. They also allow us to “meet” new people. If a movie is good, we will get lost in it temporarily. And if the movie is really good, then we will mourn its ending and rave about it to our friends. But what makes a movie good? Of course, actors play an important role. Most of us have favorite actors and we tend to watch all of their movies, regardless of how good or bad they may be. But actors are not everything.
A good movie has to have a good producer, director and prop team. The best movies are those where the smallest of details are taken care of and are not ignored. The small things often consist of props and they can break or make a movie. Have you ever wondered who is responsible for these props? And have you ever been curious as to how these props are made or faked? A lot of things that seem genuine and authentic in movies are actually not real, they are simply props used to deceive the viewer. And most of the time, they work. Viewers rarely ever find out the tricks that movie makers use. But with a bit of research you can become an expert in the “behind the scenes” of movies and the secrets to movie production.
21. Alcohol Is Vinegar Or Juice With Food Coloring, And Ice Is Gelatine Or Plastic Wrap
Almost every film has actors drinking alcohol. But to remain professional, actors really can’t afford to get drunk. Not to mention that film producers would absolutely not be okay with that either. Who wants to have to deal with a drunkard when time is of essence? So instead, the prop team substitutes alcohol with harmless substances. For example, apple juice or seltzer with some food coloring is usually used instead of beer. Vinegar is also often used as a replacement because its texture resembles that of alcohol.
20. Leo Is Actually Snorting Vitamin B In Wolf Of Wall Street
Actors also don’t actually use drugs on set, even if their characters are smoking weed or snorting cocaine. Instead, the prop team supplies the actors with cake baking ingredients or herbal tobacco. Sometimes prop teams experiment with a bunch of different ingredients, such as vitamin B (that’s what Leonardo DiCaprio snorted in the Wolf of Wall Street), Methylsulfonylmethane also known as MSM (a supplement for your joints), and sugar, just to see what would work best.
For example, for the film “Half Nelson”, the prop master Jeremy Balon decided to replace cocaine with MSM which he crushed and then bagged. To imitate crack, Balon broke a white porcelain cup into tiny pieces which he then died with coffee. During the filming, he used a broken piece of porcelain that resembled crack “rock” and behind it, placed a small ball of tobacco. When lit, the tobacco elicited a small amount of smoke thus making the scene seem very authentic.
19. They Smoke Herbal Cigs, Not Real Ones
Actors are also not actually asked to smoke for real on a movie set. Instead, they are usually given herbal cigarettes which contain neither nicotine nor tar. That’s what Johnny Depp is smoking in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Also, remember the TV show Mad Men? There was a lot of smoking going on there but the actors on the tv show were actually smoking herbal cigarettes. The main character, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) supposedly smoked 74 herbal cigarettes while filming the pilot of the season alone. Imagine if he had smoked actual cigarettes. He would probably have cancer by now.
18. Stabbing Sounds Are Made By Stabbing Watermelons
Did you know that a lot of sounds you hear in movies are not real? Or rather, they’re real but they’re not made how you’d expect them to be made. The prop team chop vegetables, smash watermelons and squish cooked chickens in an effort to create noises that don’t exist or that don’t sound quite right when recorded.
For example, the sound in the stabbing shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho was actually achieved by stabbing watermelons and honeydews. Can you believe someone actually got paid to do that?
Also, you know that particular “peeow” sound that blaster guns made in the Star Wars series? That sound was actually achieved by hammering a cable. And while we’re on the topic of Star Wars, did you know that the Wookie language was created by stringing together fragments of different animal sounds?
17. Glass Paintings
Glass paintings are also often used by film makers. Glass paintings are also known as matte paintings. Glass paintings represent a landscape or a distant location and are helpful in creating the illusion of a certain environment that does not actually exist at the location where the film is being shot.
So for example if a film maker wanted to add specific features to a set without constructing them, he could take the easy route and use a glass painting. Let’s say a film maker wanted to film a specific building. He (or the prop team) would only have to construct the doorway and then paint the rest of the desired building on glass. The glass would then be positioned between the doorway and the camera, thus creating an effect of an actual building.
16. Blood Used To Be Chocolate Syrup
Back in the old days of black and white movies, blood used to be imitated by using chocolate syrup. Of course, nowadays things are not so simple and film makers can no longer use chocolate and get away with it.
Instead, they use a substance called “Technicolor Blood” which looks very much like actual blood, scabs over like real blood would and perhaps most importantly, is easy to wash.
But it’s not all that simple. If a scene involves gushing blood, for example, tubing is required in order to deliver the blood. The tubing is often hidden behind a latex appliance that looks like skin. Alternatively, the tubing could be attached to the murder weapon, such as a knife, so that it delivers blood when it stabs the supposed victim.
15. Filming Mirror Scenes Is Tricky
Have you ever wondered how film crew hides its cameras and crew members when shooting mirror scenes? It turns out that they have a few tricks up their sleeves for these scenes.
Often, the mirrors in these scenes are angled so that the camera is not visible. An actor then looks directly at the camera which gives viewers the illusion that he is looking directly at himself in the mirror. Another way to fake a mirror scene is to use visual effects.
However, there are lots of other ways too. For example, in Terminator 2 Cameron imitated a mirror by using a window. On the other side of the window there was a mirror-image version of the set. The two actors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton sat facing the camera whereas an Arnold-like puppet and Linda’s twin sister sat with their backs facing the camera and mimicked the real Arnold’s and Linda’s movements.
14. Actors Have A “Spit Bucket” When They’re Eating A Lot In Scenes
Those movie scenes were actors are gorging on insane amounts of food are not real either. Thankfully, actors don’t actually have to stuff themselves with food. They can just use a spit bucket. So actors often take a bite of their food and then instead of swallowing it they spit it out into a spit bucket when the scene is shot.
And since most scenes are often re-shot multiple times, the spit bucket comes in really handy. And if actors are vegetarian and have to eat meat burgers in the movie scene, the prop team will cut up veggie patties. In fact, that’s what they did in the film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle where in one scene two stoners Harold Lee and Kumar Patel ordered 30 small burgers, four French fries and four Cherry Cokes.
13. Some Movie Sets Are Actually Miniature Models
Even in our age of extraordinary technology, film makers still often use miniature special effects. In fact, sometimes using small scale models to imitate large scale visuals is more desirable than using technology because miniatures can provide a greater sense of weight and realism.
For example, did you know that a miniature model of a tunnel was used in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? When Indiana was swooshing through the tunnels in a mine cart with the bad guys chasing him, it wasn’t actually Indiana or the bad guys who were being filmed. It was actually action-figure-sized models.
12. Special Effects
Nowadays, movie makers almost always use special effects when producing a film. Special effects are tricks that delude viewers into seeing landscapes or characters that don’t exist and never existed on a movie set. For example, in the film The Lord of the Rings the surreal creature Gollum was created digitally based on actor Andy Serkis’ performance.
Serkis wore a special motion capture suit which had different sensors attached to it. 13 cameras were then pointed at the sensors creating a 3D image of Serkis’ movements. As a result of Serkis “acting”, the special motion capture suit and the attached sensors, the team was able to create a more realistic Gollum.
11. Modesty Pouches, Pasties And Flesh-Coloured Undergarments
Did you know that it takes about 6 hours to film 15 seconds of on-screen sex? That’s because it’s extremely hard to get sex scenes right. And no, actors don’t usually have actual sex with each other. The prop team once again supplies actors with various props, such as modesty pouches, also known as “cock socks” that make the scene seem realistic. Modesty pouches are wrapped around genitals with a cloth pouch that resembles a sock. Thus, male private parts are completely covered.
Flesh covered undergarments are the female equivalent of modesty pouches and with the correct shooting angle, no one can tell the difference. Sometimes male actors also use flesh covered undergarments.
10. Fake Winter, Asbestos, And SnowCel
Film makers can’t afford to wait for winter if the scene they’re filming requires snow. So they have to come up with other ways to fake winter. For example, sometimes the entire film crew is dragged to a different region or even country in order to find harsher conditions. This is exactly what was done in Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 film The Gold Rush. The entire team was brought to Trukee in Nevada County, California to imitate the snowy Chilkoot Pass in Alaska.
But what about those film makers who do not wish to travel? Well, between 1930s and 1950s prop teams used industrial grade chrysotile, known as asbestos, for fake snow. During World War II, asbestos was required for military purposes and were no longer used in film making (plus, people realized asbestos was dangerous).
Fake snow has improved a lot lately. For example, in the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow, fake snow was acquired from Snow Business which is a company that specializes in winter effects. The artificial snow is eco-friendly and is made from recycled paper that is called SnowCel.
9. Prosthetic Arms For Cutting Off A Limb
Have you ever wondered how actors cut off their limbs on screen? It seems extremely realistic but they actually use prosthetic arms. For example, in Danny Boyle’s film 127 Hours the main actor James Franco played the trapped hiker Aron Ralston. When Ralston’s arm gets trapped by a boulder, he cuts his own arm off with a blunt knife.
The movie producers have revealed that at the start they used Franco’s real arm which they enhanced with makeup to imitate cuts as well as the arm’s decay. Finally, when the actor was supposed to tear the arm away, a prosthetic arm and lots of fake blood was used. Combined with great acting and editing, the scene came out extremely realistic.
8. Vomit Is Oatmeal Or Mashed Spaghetti – And Special Tubes For The Heavy Stuff
Various methods can be used for shooting vomit scenes. For example, if the vomit scene is not extensive then mouth-sized portions of oatmeal or mashed spaghetti can be placed in the actor’s mouth. The actor then spits the oatmeal or spaghetti out, and voilà – they just threw up. Also interestingly enough, it is important to give actors substances that taste familiar to them so as not to distract them too much.
However, if vomiting scenes are more extensive then they have to be planned more thoroughly. For extensive vomiting scenes, special effects technicians fix a tube to the hidden side of the actor’s face. They then take a big syringe which they fill with custom-made puke and force it out through the tube.
7. Fake Head Filled With Fake Brains For Shooting Someone In The Head
Shooting someone in the head seems like a difficult scene to film. But it turns out it’s not really. For example, in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction the hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta), and Jules Winnifield (Samuel L. Jackson), kidnap a man named Marvin (Phil LaMarr). As they are driving, Vega accidentally shoots Marvin in the head at close proximity. As a result, Marvin’s brain explodes gruesomely all over the backseat of the car.
It turns out that a head-to-shoulders bust of Marvin was done for the scene. There was a small hole at the back of Marvin’s (fake) head that was attached to a CO2 rig. When triggered, the head blew up with fake blood and fake brain matter exploding all over the place.
6. Extras Often Have To Bring Their Own Clothes
Unless the budget for movie costumes and clothing is huge, movie producers and prop teams will require extras to bring their own clothes with them onto the set.
These clothes usually have to be as bland as possible, preferable grey or dark blue. That’s because muted colors make extras blend in – no one on movie production team wants extras to outshine the main stars. Shirts with logos are a huge no-no, as are white clothes because they stand out too much.
Plus, extras that look like main characters are not going to get much screen time either. And if you thought extras had it rough already, just know that they’re also discouraged from staring straight into the camera. If they do stare at a camera they risk being fired.
5. Oysters Made With Custard, And Styrofoam Cakes
Sometimes the food that appears in movies is not actually real. Once again we have to thank the crafty prop teams for that – they often make food out of various inedible materials. For example, you know all that delicious food that appeared in the Great Hall in the first Harry Potter movie? Well, while that food was real, it constantly spoiled and thus had to be replaced over and over again. And if you remember the Hogwarts feast, you’ll know that’s a lot of food. So in subsequent films most of the food that appeared in the Hogwarts Great Hall was actually made from resin.
But sometimes food trickery is edible! For example, oysters are rarely eaten during a shooting because they’re awkward to eat. So, sometimes oysters are made out of flan (custard) which is then shaped, colored and air brushed. And cake is often made out of Styrofoam.
4. Twins Aren’t Always Real Twins
You know those films and TV shows that have twins in them? Do you ever wonder if the twins playing are real or just a movie making trick? Often, they really are just a trick. For example, the actor Armie Hammer plays both Tyler Winklevoss and his twin brother, Cameron Winklevoss in The Social Network. The effect was not an easy one to create, especially when both twins appear in a scene at the same time.
When both the twins were supposed to be on screen, a model with similar build to Hammer stood in instead of the second twin. Hammer would then later go to the studio, strap his head into a harness and have the face and voice of the other twin filmed. The face and voice would then be superimposed digitally over that of the model’s.
3. Green Stockings Over Lost Limbs Or Limbs Put Through Holes In A Bed
To imitate no limbs, movie makers often place a green stocking over the actor’s limb. The movie scene in question is then filmed, once with the actor in the scene and once without the actor. The two film frames, one with the actor and one without the actor, are then combined together and the green stocking from the first frame is deleted. This leaves a hole in the first frame which now shows the background from the second frame.
However, sometimes older tricks are used instead of computer masking. For example, an actor lies on a bed which has two holes in it. The actor places his lower legs through the holes and has some surgical dressing wrapped around his legs and knees. This was done in the film Forrest Gump.
2. Extras Need To Be Good At Faking Conversations Without Making Noise
Movie extras are not professional actors and usually have other day jobs to support them financially. But while they are not paid to act as well as professional actors, movie extras still have to meet certain requirements if they wish to be hired. One such unwritten requirement is that they have to be good mimes.
Extras are usually hired to make the movie scene appear more busy and lively. However, at the same time they must remain silent so as not to interfere with the main actors’ dialogue. As a result, extras have to be good at pretending to talk to someone without actually making any noise. It sounds quite tough but every extra has his or her own method of faking a conversation.
1. Bashing In Someone’s (Fake) Head Filled With (Fake) Brains
As you can imagine, no one actually bashes in an actor’s head during a shooting, even if the script requires it. What the prop team usually does is it creates a fake head filled with blood and bashes that instead.
In addition, the actor is asked to fake the scene also. For example, in the film Irreversible, a man’s head is smashed by a fire extinguisher. The movie team achieved the extremely believable and disturbing scene by shooting two scenes. In the first scene, the first actor held the extinguisher cut in half and pretended to hit the second actor without actually hitting him.
And in the second scene, the first actor held a real fire extinguisher and bashed the fake head filled with fake blood. Rotoscope techniques were later used to make the fake head look more like the head of the actor.