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Film Felons
We had a problem, we couldn't get a permit in New York City to open a shoe store on short notice merely to sell 500 pairs of shoes over a couple of days. But we could get a film permit quickly, so we did, then put a fake camera on a tripod outside and a sign indicating we were shooting locations for our film The Making of a Shoe Store. We sold all the shoes by the end of the day.

An evil subtrope where a villain pretends to direct a TV show or film to cover up an evil plan. This has many characteristics in which it seems almost like a Take That at the TV executives, but usually, it provides an interesting backdrop that can both easily explain away how there's no police suspicion of a crime, and provide a way to trick an innocent bystander into some criminal scheme, again without suspicion.

This can probably also apply to fake directing of media other than television or film, but there haven't yet been any examples yet of using a fake radio program or a video game as a cover-up for crimes in fiction, likely due to the ease of pretending that a crime is actually a scene from a movie or TV show. However, sometimes the villain will explain that It's for a Book.

As per a reason for the hero to get involved in the plot, it is virtually guaranteed that when a villain is causing crimes behind the façade of a nonexistent movie, the part of the criminal in said movie will often fall to the hero of the show, likely causing him having to clear his own name of a crime that he or she didn't know was actually a crime. Or in the other likely scenario, he or she is cast as the main actor/actress in the movie, and the villain tries to kill him or her off with a Death Trap disguised as various accidents or stunts.

Closely related to All Part of the Show. Contrast You Just Ruined the Shot, in which an apparent crime actually is just part of a film shoot. See also It's for a Book.

Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In the Dazzler comic she is recruited to dance in a music video that is a thinly veiled Thriller reference. The director has been engineering stunts to create the appearance that the production was cursed, all to increase publicity for himself; he went so far as to blow up his own car. He set up a scene for the video where the zombie dancers would emerge from their graves, but removed the air hose from Alison's plot so that she would suffocate before having the chance to emerge. She managed to escape anyway, and got a full confession from the director in front of the news crew he'd brought in to witness the "accident".
  • A plot like this was how the Green Goblin was introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man.
    • A few years after the Goblin story, Mysterio and the Wizard teamed up to defeat Spidey and the Human Torch by hiring them to appear in a movie.
  • There was a Silver Age issue of Superman built on this theme. Apparently, Superboy had foiled a robbery using this scheme, but the bank robbers had used real film and caught Superboy changing from his secret identity! When the criminals get out of jail years later, all they have to do is get the film and sell it to the highest bidder! Only a clever ruse can keep Superman's secret safe from the criminals of the world and girl reporter Lois Lane!
  • Happened in Nick Knatterton once.
  • In an early Daredevil comic, criminals show up to try out for parts as themselves. The camera crew and producers thought it was just a show, right up until the robbery.
  • Deadpool deals with one of these in a short story called Game of Death. Turns out it was the son of the man who sent him to the island in the first place. He lets his employer live, despite sending him into a death trap...but not after scaring the crap out of the old guy.
  • In an early issue of the Fantastic Four, Namor bought a movie studio, and then hired the FF to be stars in his "movie". It was all a scheme to split each male member from the team to either face a death trap or Namor alone. Of course they survived and took him down together.
  • A Dutch comic about the Beagle Boys had the titular crooks use this method to rob a bank. Unfortunately for them, the bank they choose had already been chosen as location for an actual film shooting that day, so the bank director had prepared a bag of fake money to be used for in the movie.

    Film 
  • The plot of the Peter Sellers movie After the Fox is about a criminal who poses as a film director in order to easily transfer a large quantity of stolen gold.
  • Subverted (via a variant) in the Swedish movie Dubbel 8: While the two main characters use a film they're making as an excuse to see a girl naked, they actually shoot and release the movie.
  • The Woody Allen comedy Take the Money and Run saw Stupid Crook Virgil Starkwell plan a bank robbery that involved bringing a film camera and someone pretending to be a movie director along to make it look like a film shoot so not to alarm anyone or make anyone want to call the cops. The plan fails horribly when it turns out that another, completely unrelated criminal gang decided to rob the same bank on the same day... and are much more competent at it.
  • The first part of The Clones of Bruce Lee focuses on a gold smuggler hider who covers up his operations with his day job as a Hong Kong film director. When one of the eponymous Bruce Lee clones is sent to investigate, the director decides to kill him by faking a weapons malfunction on the set.
  • In Now You See Me, four magicians seemingly commit grand larceny in front of a paying audience, multiple times. They suggest to police that putting them on trial without a fully detailed case would imply the reality of magic, making the FBI look ridiculous.
  • Film/Argo is a heroic variant; making a fake cheesy low-budget sci-fi movie as a cover for rescuing hostages. Based on a True Story!

    Literature 
  • The whole plot of the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Granted, it's a theater play, but it still fits the trope. Actor-playwright Olaf wants to marry Violet to get his clutches on her fortune. Knowing you've got to be married by a judge, he arranges a whole play to be performed, in which there is a wedding scene. Of course, he casts himself as the groom, Violet as the bride and a local judge as... Well, you guessed it.
  • Erwinke from the stories of Israeli Ephraim Kishon once pulled this off.
  • In Jeffrey Archer's Honor Among Thieves, the villains' plan involves having a fake presidential motorcade roll up to the National Archives to trick the Archives' Chief Executive; a couple of streets further down, they put on a show of filming a movie so that nobody will bat an eye at the President's motorcade suddenly showing up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Russian TV series Agentstvo NLS, one of the main characters is suddenly cast as a main hero in an action movie. While shooting the bank robbery scene in an actual bank, the director and some of the crew pull out real guns and begin the real robbery. The police, of course, was warned about the "shooting" so they make no effort to prevent it. The creators have gone as far as to invite a real crime boss as a consultant, with an intention to frame him for the robbery.
  • An episode of The Avengers - "Epic" - was about this.
  • One episode of Leverage has a group of criminals taking over the production of an indie movie to cover their scheme. The twist: The criminals in question are the eponymous good guys, and the aim of their con is to rescue a child from a gang of adoption scammers which balloons into a mission to save all the children in the villains' fake orphanage, which is actually a front for arms smuggling.
    • Similarly, an episode of Hustle featured the gang staging a fake Bollywood film to trick a mark out of all his money.
  • An episode of McCloud featured Larry Hagman as a TV star duped by Fernando Lamas.
  • In an episode of The Monkees, a pair of crooks pose as filmmakers and hire the Monkees to play bank robbers in a heist movie. They then send the boys to a real bank, inform them that the bank patrons and bank personnel are all actors as well, and have them rob it. They tell the group to improvise their lines ("A script will make your performance stale") and that they use the hidden camera technique, "so don't worry if you don't see a director". The Monkees return to the crooks with several bags full of what they think is fake money, but which is quite real.
  • A three part adventure of Batman finds the Penguin pretending to be producer and director of a film. Batman is not fooled for one second, but plays along to find out what his ultimate scheme is.
  • Crash Zone has a non-film example—in the episode "Rear Windows", a criminal gang releases a game on the internet to "crowdsource" a kidnapping strategy from the unaware players.
  • In The Munsters, a couple of crooks pose as directors and sign Herman up as the star of their film. The contract includes a very large life insurance policy, and they spend most of the episode trying to arrange an "accident" on set. Naturally, the crooks are the ones who eventually wind up injured.

    Western Animation 
  • The deadly stunts variant was used in the Action League Now segment "A Star is Torn" where The Mayor was the director for Thundergirl.
  • This trope appears in Alias the Jester. In this case, the king even directs a scene. Then Alias realises they must be fake because film hasn't been invented yet.
  • In an episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, a zombie "director" came to the farm and told Muriel and Eustace he wished to use them and the farm in a movie. He was actually using them to resurrect his dead friend buried in their basement.
  • An episode of DuckTales has the Beagle Boys pose as a movie crew and trick Launchpad McQuack into burglarizing Duckburg's banks as "The Webbed Wonder".
  • The Dynomutt Dog Wonder episode "Tin Kong" had as its villain Eric Von Flick, a film director who used a mechanical ape in filming a disaster movie.
  • An episode of The Fantastic Four (1967) involved a villainous Master of Disguise impersonating a famous movie director and interviewing the Fantastic Four about their previous adventures under the pretense of digging for ideas for a movie about them, while noting the various ways the villains failed to defeat them and plotting his way around their pitfalls.
  • On Hong Kong Phooey, the film director and crew enlist people off the street to play bank robbers in the movie, and unknown to the 'actor', actually trick him into robbing an actual bank for them.
  • Inspector Gadget. One of the earlier episodes had MAD using a fake movie shooting as a cover to spy on a military base.
  • This was also the plot of The Little Rascals animated episode "Flim Flam Film Fans", in which a crooked film director pretended to shoot a movie at Waldo's home. While Alfalfa and Waldo argued over which of them would be the train engineer, Darla was tied not to the track, but to the railroad gate.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "Game of Peril" had the Hooded Claw prevent the police from intervening in his plan to kill Penelope with an over-complicated Death Trap on a construction site by having the Bully Brothers stand nearby as director and cameraman.
  • The "Film Flam" episode of The Powerpuff Girls used this trope.
    • Which is then promptly turned on its head when The Mayor (a hostage) takes a gun from one of the criminals and starts telling them how to film a hostage taking, in an over-the-top gangster accent.
      Mayor: Nobody move, see? We're taking control.
    • The punchline to the episode is, of course, that no one would want to see the PPGs in a movie, The Powerpuff Girls Movie having been in production at that point.
  • In one episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Spidey is put into a "movie" wherein the director is actually trying to kill him with the stunts.
  • The Super Globetrotters: One of the Super Globetrotters' foes was called Movie Man. His gang consisted of a master of disguise, a special effects man, a sound effects expert, and a stuntwoman.
  • Totally Spies! had this plot at least once.
  • In T.U.F.F. Puppy, Quacky the Duck and his gang posed as film-makers in order to trick TUFF into stealing things on camera.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron had an episode where Jimmy wins a screenwriting contest and a Quentin Tarantino-esque director offers to shoot the movie with him and his friends as the stars. In actuality, the director was a criminal using the shoot as a cover for a jewel heist.
  • Darkwing Duck had a recurring villain called Tuskernini, whose gimmick was to stage his crimes like a film shoot. In one episode he pretended to go straight and offered DW the lead in his movie, which of course turned out to be another crime cover.

    Real Life 
  • The US porn industry, in a way, this trope writ large. In almost all of the country, prostitution is illegal due to the actions of our particularly strong set of Moral Guardians... But because the First Amendment protects the act of creating film, you CAN pay somebody to have sex as long as there are cameras running! note 
  • A guy wanted to do a shoe sale in New York City, but couldn't get a permit. So, he sets up a fake filming set, and gets permission to do a movie, and if the cops come by, claimed he was filming a documentary!
  • The Canadian caper. During the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-80, the Canadian government and CIA disguise and exfiltration expert Tony Mendez managed to get six hostages out by posing as a Hollywood producer. The events were dramatized in the film Argo.
  • John Dillinger supposedly scouted some of the banks that he later robbed by posing as a filmmaker aiming to make a realistic depiction of a bank robbery. His associate Homer Van Meter posed as a producer to add to the illusion. Dillinger may have well been the Trope Maker, despite limiting it to recon.
  • While filming Pusher 2, the director hired actual criminals to consult on filming a car dealership heist. He later suspected that the criminals were using the job to case the dealership for a real heist of their own.
  • Inverted in a humorous incident when a mugger ran into a couple of people dressed as cops, who arrested him. It was only when the real cops showed up that the mugger learned he had been arrested by the cast of NYPD Blue...
  • A very similar situation happened with Homicide: Life on the Street, which itself later spawned an episode about the very event, "The Documentary."
  • Alexander Payne told NPR that when he was making Citizen Ruth, the people of Omaha called the police because they couldn't believe anyone would actually be shooting a movie there.
  • This Cracked article tells how one bar circumvented an indoor smoking ban. The ban included an exception for stage actors smoking in character, so the bar rebranded itself as an experimental theater company.
  • Attempted by one car thief in Pittsburgh when he was caught boosting a car during the filming of The Dark Knight Rises. The police didn't believe his story that he was "just an extra".

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