Movie Gripe: Why's It Only Coffee Cups That Are Empty?

Not beer or soda, it’s only ever coffee cups that are woefully and unmistakably empty.
Movie Gripe: Why's It Only Coffee Cups That Are Empty?

Obviously, empty on-screen coffee cups are, at this point, like Chuck Lorre sitcoms: dumb and still happening, despite being an affront to logic and televisual decency. Hell, Slate even did a video essay about the phenomenon a whole five years ago. And, okay, sure, as they point out, there’s certainly at least a couple of good reasons why a production might try to fake their caffeinated fluids: continuity, clumsiness, the props team just being fucking tired by take 37.

But here’s the thing: all of that is bullshit.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s only ever coffee cups that are woefully and unmistakably empty, be they open diner-style mugs or cardboard ones with lids. There’s no hashtag for empty beer bottles or soda cans, after all. And wine glasses and whiskey tumblers are always full, aren’t they? James Bond isn’t growling about “shaken, not stirred” and then being handed an empty martini glass. So why can’t anyone figure out how to fill a frigging coffee cup?

Besides Game of Thrones, that is.

On-screen alcoholic beverages are usually iced tea, or near beer, or just water with food coloring. And, on Cougar Town, at least some of the time apparently, it was real, live, actual wine they were drinking. All of those beverages are just as spillable and can stain just as much as coffee, can’t they? Dumping a glass of anything on your vintage, Regency-era pantaloons is going to ruin the take and piss off Wardrobe just as much as a cup of coffee would.

And, look, coffee’s always on film sets; I’m pretty sure it’s a legal requirement. 10 feet past the edge of every meticulously framed shot is a banged-up plastic cart full of Costco junk food and a pair of coffee urns bigger than most children. It’s not like Props would have to brew up a pot every take. It can’t be the steam getting in the way or its continuity because steam is notoriously a pain-in-the-ass to capture on camera. It’s also not actually the threat of scalding because, well, you’ve met Hollywood, right? And there are obvious and easy fixes either way: just let the coffee get cold, or, y’know, again, just fake it.

But productions don’t. They can put a team of mercenaries on Mars or make us believe that Sam Worthington was a name we needed to remember, but coffee’s a bridge too far? Really, this can only mean one thing: Hollywood is clearly in the pocket of Big Tea, and I, for one, am not willing to let that stand.

Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.

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