Everyone has dreamed of working in movies at one time or another -- in fact, we bet a good many of the people reading this still do. And why not? Even if you don't get famous, you still get to hang around famous people and work on stuff that will get seen around the world.
But of course, working in movies -- behind or in front of the camera -- is still just a job, and despite the giant cocaine-and-sex parties that must be going on somewhere in Hollywood, there's a lot about filming a movie that the average person gets wrong.
To get a look at what happens on both sides of the camera, we interviewed a grip/electrician named Holden Wilson and a stand-in/background actor who, to preserve his anonymity, has asked to be referred to as Thrust Neckpunch. They told us ...
5Movies Are a Massively Convoluted Cut-and-Paste Project
Obviously, when you see Tony Stark jump off the roof of an exploding building, that's not really Robert Downey Jr. -- stunt doubles and CGI are there to make sure the franchise's $50 million star doesn't accidentally get whipped in half by Mickey Rourke. But what you don't realize is how little of the star is actually in the movie. When they show anything that isn't the actor's face, there's a good chance the person you're looking at is someone like the stand-in we spoke to.
Robert Downey Jr. is way too famous to play his own back.
For instance, the hands shifting gears in the Fast and the Furious movies? All of the males were those of our actor, Thrust Neckpunch (again, not his real name). You're not going to notice that the hand that's only on the screen for half a second doesn't really belong to Vin Diesel, even if it isn't soaked in the blood of the thousands of people he's killed over his movie career, and Vin's time is too valuable to sit there and film a bunch of gear changes. So, they just grab a stand-in whose hands sort of maybe look like Diesel's in the right light.
You can tell it's Vin Diesel's real hand by his two extra thumbs.
That scene in Iron Man where Tony is being marched around by terrorists and has a bag over his head, clutching a car battery to his chest? Someone in charge of casting realized "Hey, if we put a bag over his head, we don't have to pay Robert Downey Jr. to do this shot. Someone get Thrust Neckpunch over here!" The same thing happens later when a reporter hands him photos of Stark weapons being used to murder innocent people. When the camera pans down to show him flipping through the photos, those hands don't belong to Robert Downey Jr.
Thirty seconds of filming his hands costs more than most small businesses ever make.
It's also done for convenience, too. The camera angle required for the photo shot would've required Downey Jr. to stand bent over backward for hours at a time so the camera could fit where his head should be, and that's not something you subject an A-list actor to, even if you are paying him enough to actually become Iron Man in real life, should he so desire it.
Also, remember that the interior and exterior of a location in a movie may, in reality, be in different cities. In True Blood (where Thrust worked as an extra), the interior of the Fangtasia Bar is a sound stage, and the exterior is a real bar, miles away. So something as simple as a character walking into a building requires multiple shots and miles of travel. Well, you can't have the actors doing that shit, so you have the extra walk toward the building for the exterior shot, then cut to the star on the sound stage once he's inside.
Then you just FedEx the extra back to Los Angeles and keep right on filming.
So what looks like a single performance can, in reality, be the Frankensteinian creation of a whole bunch of actors and extras having their performances stitched together. Thrust said he once filmed a scene where he was a police officer frisking someone. He had no lines, but when he watched the finished scene later, his character had a line dubbed over the shot. Why? Well, it's actually cheaper to do things this way and pay two people -- the voice actor and the filmed actor -- because they can both be listed as "extras," rather than actors.
This haphazard, cobbled-together method of filmmaking is one reason why ...
4On Set, It's Impossible to Tell if the Movie Sucks
"Wait!" you say, "How can you not know if the movie is going to be good when everyone has read the script?" Well, actors get scripts. The crew, as grip/electrician Holden Wilson told us, usually does not.
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"Andy Dick? Guess this job ain't going on the resume."
They get the scenes they're shooting the night before or the day of -- one page at a time. The most efficient sets are lucky to get 14 to 16 shots done in a day, and when you're shooting a scene or two per day, it's impossible to get a sense of the big picture. Remember, movies are never filmed in chronological order, because it all depends on when sets, locations, or people become available. Anything shot outside is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
That means you'll never get context for what you're shooting until you see the whole thing later. So when somebody like Holden finds himself filming a scene in which a man is watching porn with one hand fixed firmly upon his junk and the other clutching a ventriloquist's dummy, he just has to go with it (he assures us that's an actual example, by the way). Hey, the ending of Apocalypse Now probably looked like the work of a deranged madman at the time -- you won't know until months or years later whether your movie will win an Oscar or wind up in the porn dungeon of some creep with a puppet fetish.
"Is ... is he acting? Because that looks like a real knife."
And when you consider how nightmarish the scheduling is on a film, it's amazing anyone on the set can keep track of what's going on. In addition to working around the narrow windows of availability of the cast (actors tend to juggle multiple projects at once, so you may only have them for a few days or weeks at a stretch), there are rules on top of rules about who can work when. You can make an adult work a 12-hour shift, but not children. So, every scene that has the kid in it has to be scheduled in that narrow gap before he has to be sent back to the orphanage. Same with animals -- they're only available at certain times and for so long. True Blood uses real wolves in some of its werewolf scenes -- you don't want them overworked, hungry, or cranky.
Jack Nicholson is the same way, although we hear he's even more of a biter.
So what we're saying is that if you're filming an ostrich-back race in the Coliseum between two 5-year-olds, good luck having those three things available at the same time. And even more luck figuring out how they got there when they were 30 years old and solving a murder in a Canadian brothel in the scene you filmed that morning.