Art Direction, Props & Authenticity

Whenever possible, use the real thing.

Everyone has had that moment watching a film when the authenticity of something in the film was suspect. I remember watching a film where a cop threw his gun on the bed and the bed did not even bounce.  Why? It was a plastic gun and did not have the weight and density of a precisely machined piece of steel.

Those moments pull you out of the film it “disengages” you from the suspension of disbelief.  Every time you disengage your audience, you have to use arithmetically, geometrically and sometimes exponentially more effort (“force by drama”) to get them back into their suspension of disbelief.

People are not as dumb as most Hollywood writers and directors, who apparently hold common sense and even the most elementary physics in contempt.

The average person probably cannot tell you the exact hardness, ductility, tensile strength or melting point of steel, or its exact weight per cubic centimeter.  Nor could they tell you the exact algorithms that reflect the elasticity and bounce of a foam bed mattress.

And I doubt many of them have ever read The Principia.

But I am sure they all know guns are heavier than they are not, and when you drop one on a bed, the bed should react to the weight.

This is also true for all those times when guns just seem a little too light in the hands of actors and actresses, most of whom have never handled a real weapon, let alone shot one.

Everything in a film is fake, except natural locations.  Thus everything is a performance, a sleight of hand, a happy trick.

Why burden your actor or actress with an additional performance:  the weight of a plastic gun that should be treated as if it were steel?

Give them a steel prop.

Whenever possible, Art Direct to the authenticity of the prop’s physical properties:  heft, size, flow, fall and cut.

Make it as real as possible.  Use the right fabrics, sewing styles, hems, darts and cuts of the age in which your film is set.  Use the right language, the right gestures, the right social norms, mores and ethics.

And most importantly, use the right weight.

Nothing betrays the truth (physical or philosophical) so much as the absence of the proper weight of a thing.  And the farther back in time you go, the heavier stuff gets:  stone, wood, bone.  Remember, plastic is  fairly recent invention.

Film is not truth.  Film is illusion.  But the best illusions obviously (or not obviously, cleverly enough) seem indistinguishably real.

Now, shown at the top of this post are close-ups of Patrick Thaden & Ugo Serrano’s great armor replica for Shroud, as  photographed by Bryan Chatlien.  I submit this example as an exemption to this entire post.  Since an actual suit of armor proved too cumbersome for our lead actress to maneuver in, especially given her pregnancy, a lighter aluminum replica was created.  The armor moved accurately, looked beautiful, and because of the master armor skills of both Patrick and Ugo, lent total credibility to the story.


~ by David Jetre on September 8, 2010.

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