Movie Making 101 Three Things that Must be Faked


Whether you’re an experienced filmmaker or just getting started, you no doubt have some commitment to “authenticity.” You want your medium to show real human emotion and experience, even if you’re making an action movie or a science fiction adventure. You may even admire directors like Alfred Hitchcock, who elicited real terror from his female heroines, or Werner Herzog, who really did have actors haul a tugboat up a mountain in Fitzcarraldo. However, there are still some ethical and legal reasons to create props and fake outs to protect yourself and your actors. Here are some of the most common things that cannot really appear on screen.


If you’re making a crime film where you need to show suitcases full of money, you’ll need to get fake money stacks. Real currency cannot be damaged or burned under 18 USC 333, so you’ll have to find prop money for movies. You can get fake money stacks that are solely designed for film, but they’ll be either slightly smaller or slightly larger than the real thing and only one-sided if they’re exact replicas. Good companies can make Hollywood film money that is the appropriate size by creating a similar design, rather than a replica. The resulting fake money stacks look just like the real thing to the untrained eye.

Childhood Trauma

Adult films with children at the center can be moving and heartbreaking, but filmmakers should be careful not to expose their young stars to real-life horror. Ana Torrent of the classic The Spirit of the Beehive had nightmares for years after her character was forced to watch the movie Frankenstein, while Oliwia Dabrowska experienced a lifetime of confusion and shameafter playing the Girl in the Red Coat in Schindler’s List. If you’re working with children, filmmakers agree that they shouldn’t be told about the film’s subject matter or allowed to watch themselves in horrifying situations on-screen.


There’s no law against drinking alcohol for a film (and plenty of Hollywood lore centers on actors who did certain takes while inebriated) but drugs are another matter. Filmmakers can face penalties for using controlled substances on a film set just like anyone else. Prop expertsoften substitute Vitamin B or lactose for cocaine, resin for methamphetamine, and mannitol for heroin.

While you can’t take everything from real life and put it on film, you can always get create something similar (and, sometimes, better) with a little imagination. If anything, devising ways to make something appear “real” in film making is half the fun.

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