It has to be discouraging for an actor to know that very few performers ever get famous, and the ones who do, don't stay famous.
That has to be even more depressing when they realize that there are inanimate objects, from sound clips to buildings to old pairs of pants, that have IMDB listings longer than most working actors.
There was a span of a couple of decades where, if you wanted a big shootout in your action movie, by God it would take place in a factory. Grated catwalks, steam rising from the ground, huge pipes snaking overhead. Valves. You know, like the first three Alien movies, where a spaceship, space colony and space prison all looked like abandoned steam plants.
The way of the future!
There's a reason for that. The alien "nest" in Aliens was actually an abandoned power plant in London. And that's not the last time you saw it; in Tim Burton's first Batman movie, where Jack Nicholson becomes the Joker during a shootout at Axis Chemicals? It was shot at the same damned power plant. They even re-used some of the sets James Cameron left behind.
But that building has nothing on the old Battersea Power Station, also in London. It's turned up in The Dark Knight (the "warehouse" where Rachel Dawes got blown up) as well as Children of Men, 1984, Full Metal Jacket and episodes of Dr. Who and Lost.
This factory has more film credits than Samuel L. Jackson.
Hey, you want to set your movie or TV show in a high school? Head to Van Nuys.
Does that look familiar? It should, if you've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Or Grease. Or The Wonder Years. Or Christine. Or half of the episodes of other TV shows that happen to take place in a school. That's Van Nuys High School, and we're guessing it's pretty damned hard to get an education there when every other day there's a film crew shooting a damned coming of age dramedy.
"Hey, is that the new principal or Judge Reinhold?"
But probably the granddaddy of all reused California locations is the venerable Bronson Canyon. Not, surprisingly, named after epic mustache/firearm wielder Charles Bronson, Bronson Canyon has been used as a cheap ass "rock with a cave entrance" location since 1919. It was the entrance to the Bat Cave in the old Batman TV show:
Legend has it that Burt Ward and Adam West haunt Bronson Canyon to this day.
And has since turned up in Star Trek VI, Army of Darkness, Cabin Fever, The Scorpion King and countless others.
And Sometimes it Gets Weird:
The most baffling recycling job has to be the way the sets from the 1969 Barbara Streisand musical Hello, Dolly! somehow got reused in everything from The Towering Inferno to the Planet of the Apes sequel to Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Action Hero.
Holy shit, if Hello, Dolly! had included a factory scene, Hollywood would have never had to build another set.
Let's say you're trying to make a movie featuring a plane hijacking, a plane crash or anything bad happening to a plane. For some reason, the airlines just aren't willing to pay a product placement fee for the privilege of being shown as horribly dangerous, so you've got to invent your own. But do you really want to pay the art department a million bucks to design something that isn't going to be seen for more than a second, when that money could instead go toward the coke budget?
No, and therefore pretty much every time Hollywood needs to depict an airplane crash or a huge flying fireball, they fly Oceanic Airlines. You probably know them from Lost, but Steven Seagal was sucked out of an airlock on Oceanic Flight 343 in Executive Decision and Chuck tells us an Oceanic flight was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
Oceanic Airlines: Consistently exploding since 1983.
How long has Hollywood they been doing the fake brand thing? Well, X-Files fans may remember the Cigarette Smoking Man's brand was Morleys, but that ersatz brand has been cranking out imaginary cigarettes for almost half a century. This smooth, delicious, totally-not-Marlboro-at-all brand first appeared waaaaaay back in 1963, when William Shatner was fighting a giant panda on an airplane wing in The Twilight Zone. And they've turned up as recently as Burn Notice.
Welcome to flavor country.
And Sometimes it Gets Weird:
We can understand why no airline wants to be in a hijacking movie, and why TV networks aren't big on endorsing a certain cigarette brand (after all, cigarette TV ads have been banned for almost 40 years). But why in the hell can't they show someone using Google when it's time to, you know, Google something?
Instead, the most popular search engine in the TV universe is something called "Finder-Spyder", which utterly dominates the search market in Heroes, Prison Break, CSI, Dexter and at least a dozen other shows.
We can't wait for "Spyder-Maps" or "F-Mail" to turn up, since TV people talking about Internet concepts don't sound enough like clueless jackasses.
One of the most important parts of film making is also the one the audience almost never thinks about: sound effects. In just some random shot of a guy and a girl walking down a sidewalk, you not only have redubbed dialogue to cover for the fact that Scarlet Johansson farted over one of the dude's lines, but layers of sound added in under it. From cleaner-sounding footsteps, to the sound of passing cars, to crickets chirping away in the distance. You don't notice it, but you'd sure notice if it wasn't there.
Sound is like the chainsaw guy that follows you around: You'd miss it if it were gone.
Luckily sound technicians have a sound effects library, a huge stockpile of everything from lion roars to children's laughter to rain on a tin roof. And that shit gets used again and again and again.
When you think of an ominous clap of thunder, you're thinking of "Castle Thunder," a clip that has been in continuous use for 70 damn years. It was recorded for Frankenstein in 1931 and since then you've heard it in Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, First Blood, Citizen Kane, Die Hard 4 and, well, pretty much every fucking movie that has had thunder in it since your grandpa was a toddler.
Film scores get their own share of mileage, too. Need a dramatic hunk of music that can build excitement for anything, ever? Just try "Lux Aeterna" from the Requiem For A Dream soundtrack.
If you didn't see Requiem then you heard it in the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers trailer. Or in the trailer for I Am Legend, or The Da Vinci Code, or The Fountain or Man on Fire or the game Assassin's Creed. Or maybe you heard it in ads for Lost or when the judges walk in during every episode of Britain's Got Talent.
That bit of music from Requiem for a Dream is now one of the most popular bits of trailer music ever... but, ironically, it was not in the trailer for Requiem for a Dream.
Instead, producers went with "Walking on Sunshine."
And Sometimes it Gets Weird:
Still, all of these ain't got nothing on the Wilhelm Scream:
A dude screamed into a microphone about 60 years ago and it's been turning up in movies ever since. It was originally recorded for a movie called Distant Drums in 1951 as a series of "pained screams" which were recycled for a few movies, and then lost until about 20 years later, when Ben Burtt found the scream on a reel labeled "Man being eaten by alligator" and stuck it in Star Wars, as the sound of a Storm Trooper falling off a ledge.
Burtt included it in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, and it's been a running in-joke with sound designers ever since, showing up in everything from Poltergeist to Pirates of the Carribean. So who originally recorded the scream? There is a story that a couple of shady crew members on Distant Drums actually kidnapped and killed a hobo in Santa Monica, and recorded his shrieks. That however is untrue and in fact we just made it up. The scream is most likely Sheb Wooley, a character actor who was in that film and who, by the way, sang the "Purple People Eater" song some of you heard growing up.
You'll have that in your head for the rest of the day now. You're welcome.
Be sure to see the film adaptation, too.