It’s hard not to take notice of some of the items in a movie. A character may get drunk on beer, soaked in blood, smoking cigarettes, or busting through glass. As you watch these characters interact with the world, a part of your brain may pose the question: They didn’t really smoke that many cigarettes, did they?
Of course, we frame the question that way because it seems unlikely. It’d be such a pain to shoot a scene where you’d have to constantly be smoking real cigarettes or perpetually be drinking real beer. Why risk the health of your actors if you don’t have to? And, thankfully, directors and production crews don’t have to worry about such issues as there are a number of alternatives.
Check out these five tricks for staging different types of food, substances, and elements in movies:
- Cocaine (Powdered Milk)
In crime movies where drugs are present, filmmakers often have to get clever with how to stage narcotics. For instance, the 1983 crime picture “Scarface” finds the titular gangster sitting with a massive pile of cocaine on his desk. While every sort of drug has its own replacement element, cocaine is a relatively easy drug to fake on screen. All you need is something white and powdery to portray the narcotic and preferably one that actors are okay with ingesting. The most common product for such requirements is powdered milk. It’s white and powdery like cocaine but is perfectly okay to shove up your nose. Of course, most white and edible substances of powdery qualities can work as well, be it powdered sugar or powdered vitamins.
- Blood (Corn Syrup)
Action and horror films often contain a great deal of blood, especially if they’re rated R. There’s bound to be some blood amid all the violence. Whether it’s a trickle across the cheek or a massive blotch on the gut, crimson fluid has become an essential substance of this genre. To accommodate such requirements without making expensive requests from the blood bank, a suitable substitute is corn syrup with red food coloring. This little trick is even explained in the slasher satire “Scream”, where the conspiring killers who fake their deaths lick their wounds and reveal that the blood is actually corn syrup. Such a delicious concoction makes it easy enough to produce scenes where there’s a lot of blood on screen that will drench a character. No worries about whether or not the actors will get it in their mouths.
- Cigarettes (Herbal)
If you’re hoping to keep your actors around for a long time, you probably don’t want them to throw their health away for the sake of making them smoke. Smoking characters, especially ones who are portrayed as chain-smokers or driven people of the mid-20th century, can only smoke so much before the numerous takes would have a toll on the lungs. Thankfully, cigarettes in film are now filled with herbs as opposed to nicotine. This makes such films as “Good Night and Good Luck”, a film that depicts the golden age of journalist Edward R Murrow, easier to film for taking place in a TV studio where every character seems to be smoking. Smoking herbal cigarettes is not just better for the actors but also the crew and sets. They definitely smell better as well which is certainly a good thing for sets you don’t want to break off nicotine.
- Glass (Sugar and Plastic)
It’s a common scene in most action movies. The hero, engaged in a chase or fight with a villain, goes crashing through a plane through a glass, descending to the floor or several stories above. Of course, the actor isn’t really smashing through glass because doing so would lead to horrible injuries from the sharp fragments upon smashing the substance. In place of real glass is a similar-looking substitute that comes in the form of either a thin and easily breakable plastic or a sugar-based substance that is perfectly brittle for being smashed though. It makes scenes such as the constant window smashing in “Robocop” a little more intriguing for how such stunts are staged.
- Alcoholic Beverages (Anything Liquid)
This is an easy trick to fake but still worth mentioning. To create the illusion of a character drinking an alcoholic beverage, different types of liquids will often be used, depending on how visible the alcohol is and what type of drink it is. Does the scene call for cocktails? It’s most likely some sparkling water with colored dye. A gaggle of women or a Roman emperor indulging in wine? It’s juice. Brown liquor in the script? Then it’s unsweetened tea that’s going in the bottle. Regular beer? It’s a non-alcoholic beer topped with some powdered egg whites and lemon juice to make it extra foamy. Vodka can pretty much be replaced with water since it’s clear.