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Proscenium Reveal
The device which makes it clear that the scene we're watching is a part of a show within the show or simulation. Examples could be a director calling "Cut!"; a line flub or dialogue prompt; the sudden appearance of a camera or sound crew, or a pan, zoom or cut that reveals that the action is occurring in a theatre, on a soundstage, in a classroom or on location.

A Proscenium Reveal may end a Danger Room Cold Open, a Fake Action Prologue or the Unwinnable Training Simulation. In a Music Video, it can indicate that we've been On a Soundstage All Along.

When done accidentally In-Universe, it often means the hero just ruined the shot.

Compare with Nested Story Reveal. Not to be confused with Breaking the Fourth Wall, in which the characters acknowledge their fictional status and/or the existence of the audience (i.e., you).

Note: Proscenium reveals can be Mind Screws for the audience, especially if they occur late in the proceedings. (David Lynch, we're looking at you.) When citing such cases, consider tagging for spoilers.

Examples

Film Live Action
  • The dismantling of Buster Keaton's "bedroom" in "The Playhouse".
  • In the original Fame, one of the main characters is monologuing about his mother. It looks like an interview, until he flubs a line and we realize it's an audition.
  • Zig-Zagged in the climax of Blazing Saddles, where the action is somehow "real" even though it's shown to be happening on a Hollywood soundstage and eventually most of the backlot during the climactic Final Battle.
    • AND including an actual showing of the film itself for the final confrontation.
  • The cartoon short starring Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman at the start of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is cut short by a human director calling "Cut!" This is followed by shots establishing that the Animated Actors are working on a live-action soundstage, thus setting up the concept of humans and toons living in the same world.
  • The entrance of Admiral Kirk in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ends the Kobayashi Maru.
  • Meryl Streep flubbing a line during The Oner that opens Postcards From The Edge.
  • The cry of "That's a wrap!" and the applause after Laura Dern's "death scene" in the David Lynch film Inland Empire.
    • Another David Lynch example: In the Club Silencio sequence from Mulholland Drive, Rebekah Del Rio collapses during her performance of "Llorando" yet we continue to hear her singing, which causes Betty and Rita (and the viewers) to realize she had been lipsynching.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand opens with an action-packed scene in burning city ruins, but it is revealed to be just a Danger Room simulation after the Fastball Special.
  • The ending of Murder 101 is this. It turns the thing from merely being a bad movie into a bad movie about a bad movie.
  • Ararat does this fairly often. It lets the audience watch the movie-within-a-movie just long enough to momentarily forget that's what they're watching, until the camera pans to show the director in his chair, or someone walks on the set to correct one of the actors.
  • Moulin Rouge! begins with the 20thCenturyFox logo shown on a stage (with the Fanfare performed by the pit orchestra below), and ends with the credits scrolling by on that same stage.
  • Sucker Punch, like Moulin Rouge!, opens in a theater that becomes the movie (only it never returns). And also has a weird example: Baby Doll getting lobotomized... followed by a play in which Sweet Pea in a blonde wig complains about it ending with the heroine ending that way. And Baby Doll is still lobotomized later on the picture.
  • At the beginning of Team America: World Police, a very crude puppet is jerked around in front of a laughably-bad background. This was done by the creators to troll their investors, as the film is itself done with puppets; after a few seconds (long enough that, the story goes, one of the investors yelled, "My God, they fucked us!"), the camera pulls back to reveal that the crude puppet is part of a puppet show on the streets of Paris, being worked by a much better puppet.
  • Scream 4 begins with a typical Slasher Movie opening, with two teenage girls called by a mysterious and threatening stranger... until we see the Stab title screen and realize that it was actually just an opening to the movie within a movie. Then we see two more teenage girls watching that movie, and it turns out that this is actually the opening to the sequel to that movie... yeah. It's that kind of movie.
  • Alejandro Jodorowsky does this in The Holy Mountain. After Breaking the Fourth Wall at the end, he instructs the camera to pull back, which reveals the set and machinery around the last scene.
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember begins with the opening credits of a film being made about Austin Powers, but in-universe.
  • Persona does this a couple of times, most notably at the very end when the camera pans away from the actors to show the crew who have been there all along, filming what's supposed to be two women isolated on an island.
  • From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money opens with two people being attacked by a swarm of bats, which turns out to be a film watched by the main character.
  • In The Matrix, there's the "Red Dress woman" scene. Neo and Morpheus are apparently walking down a street inside the Matrix:
    Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Business men, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. [Neo's attention is suddenly drawn to a passing attractive woman wearing a red dress] Were you listening to me, Neo, or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?
    Neo: I was [Morpheus waves his hand]
    Morpheus: Look again. [Neo does. The woman has instantly turned into Agent Smith, who draws his gun on Neo] Freeze it. [Immediately, everything on the screen except for Neo and Morpheus freezes in time]
    Neo: This this isn't the Matrix?
    Morpheus: No. It's another training program designed to teach you one thing: if you are not one of us, you are one of them.
  • One of the film adaptations of the Spanish ballet El Amor Brujo opens with the camera panning from the ceiling of the studio down to the set. At the end, the camera pans up to the ceiling again. (Other than that, the movie never acknowledges its fictionality.)
  • Charlie's Angels does this twice with Alex's boyfriend - once when he is rehearsing a scene from his latest movie with her, and once when he is actually filming it.
  • The Party opens with a desert battle scene, and then reveals that the horn-blower played by Peter Sellers is an actor who just ruined a take, presumably for refusing to die after being shot.
  • RoboCop 2 starts with a car thief running into a parking garage and breaking into a car. As soon as he gets in, an alarm goes off, restraints pop up around him and the seat fries him like he's being executed in an electric chair. Cut to a salesman standing outside the car, revealing that we are actually watching a MagnaVolt ("lethal response!") commercial.

Animated Films
  • Bolt opens with an extended action sequence in which Penny and Bolt battle a horde of mooks. After Bolt vanquishes the last of them with his Super Bark, Penny picks up Bolt and walks away — to a trailer with Bolt's name on the door. As they step inside, a bell rings, and the film crew wander into shot and start striking the set, while the "dead" bodies get up and walk off.
  • Monsters, Inc. starts with a monster walking into a child's bedroom. He is freaked out when the child starts screaming and starts knocking things over— and then suddenly the lights turn on, the pre-recorded message "Simulation Terminated" is heard, and one wall of the room goes up, revealing that the child is actually a robot, and the monster is actually in Monsters, Incorporated's state-of-the-art children's room simulator, being observed by a supervisor, who starts asking him about his mistakes. This is later used to set up the Big Bad for an Engineered Public Confession.
  • Toy Story 2 starts with an elaborate Buzz Lightyear adventure which culminates in Buzz confronting Zurg, only for Zurg to blast him. The scene changes to show that it's actually Rex playing one of Andy's video games.
  • Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer starts off with a Show Within a Show retelling of the TV series' events; however, anyone at least passingly familiar with the show should instantly know something is up. Seeing as Lockon isn't a pink-haired loli, Tieria isn't a Scary Black Man, and the Season 1 Big Bad certainly didn't look like a rejected Gurren Lagann design...
  • The reveal teaser for the Ratchet & Clank movie does this, revealing that Qwark's speech in front of a starscape is part of an in-universe teaser for the film. It's further revealed a few seconds later that the starscape itself is fake. It then gets a third reveal showing that it's within a program making the film, and the animators are none too happy that Qwark called them lazy for not putting more effort into the teaser.

Comic Books
  • Directly invoked in the adaptation of Batman & Robin, where a director with a gray ponytail shouts "And...Action!" to actors playing Batman and Robin on a soundstage as it segues into the first action scene. This conceit is never brought up again.

Interactive Fiction
  • Used in the short tongue-in-cheek IF game Conan Kill Everything. If Conan dies — or for that matter when the player eventually completes the game —, the action will be revealed to all have happened on a small movie set and the director will either complain about or compliment 'Conan's' performance.

Literature
  • War Game by Anthony Price opens with a battle in the English Civil War, which goes on for a couple of pages before one of the dead bodies leans over to make a snarky comment to his neighbour, and it turns out to be a modern-day re-enactment.
  • Cat-a-lyst by Alan Dean Foster opens with a battle in the American Civil War, before the protagonist flubs his line and it's revealed to be a film shoot.
  • Bride of the Rat God opens with a young woman fleeing desperately, and ultimately futilely, from her doom. It then cuts to a film premiere, revealing these events to be the climax of a movie.
  • Galaxy of Fear actually starts out with a highly cryptic Villain Opening Scene, and the next scene is a heated dogfight between an X-Wing and a TIE fighter -
    Suddenly a metallic hand as large as the red moon descended from the heavens to block the X-wing's path. But the starfighter passed right through it.
    The owner of the hand looked down at the holotable where the starfighter combat had taken place. Since his head and face were made of durasteel, the droid couldn't frown, but it gave the definite impression of doing just that. "Tash. Zak. Stop this ridiculous game."

Live-Action TV
  • The Supernatural episode "Hollywood Babylon" opens with two terrified 20-somethings, Wendy and Brody, in the woods. Brody runs away; Wendy calls for her friends, hears a noise, turns toward the camera and screams unconvincingly, at a tennis ball stuck on top of a movie camera. "Cut!" calls the director. "Wendy" is actually Tara Benchley, the lead actress of Hell Hazers 2.
    • Another Supernatural example, the episode "The French Mistake". This is less a reveal than a transition though, as Sam and Dean themselves have been pulled into 'our' world by Balthazar's power, to escape Virgil lead Virgil on a merry wild goose chase after a key that supposedly opens the door to a room containing all the weapons Balthazar stole.
      • Worth noting, the episode's title is a Shout-Out to Blazing Saddles (mentioned above), "The French Mistake" being the musical number that gets interrupted by the climactic fight scene.
    • In "Changing Channels" a scene taking place in a hospital turns out to be a medical soap opera Dean is watching on TV. He later becomes trapped in the same soap opera himself.
  • On more than one occasion in Quantum Leap, Sam leapt into a strange situation, only to discover that he was an actor in a play/on a soundstage.
  • Two interesting variants in Columbo.
    • In "Fade In To Murder," we open with Detective Lucerne accusing a man of murder. Then the accused's twin comes in to the room, aims a gun at Lucerne and says it will be a treasure to "pill" him, which causes a director to call, "Cut!" revealing that in fact Lucerne is Ward Fowler (William Shatner), the star of the hit weekly detective show Lucerne.
    • In "Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health", the scene opens in a rundown apartment, where two lovers, Barbara and Duke, are plotting to kill the former's husband, who is waiting outside for Barbara to give him a signal to come in. When the husband comes in, Duke chokes him into unconsciousness and injects him with a vial of poison. As the two exchange a look, the image turns grainy and is revealed to be playing on a monitor in the studio where Wade Anders (George Hamilton) is taping his weekly Dateline-type show CrimeAlert.
  • This happens Once an Episode in F/X: The Series.
  • Nikki's first flashback on LOST features a proscenium reveal. Nikki is shown pole dancing in a club, then having a confrontation with her boss. The boss shoots her, and the director yells, "Cut!", revealing that Nikki an actress working on a show about strippers who fight crime. The original plan was to have the entire episode revolve around this Show Within a Show, with the proscenium reveal coming at the end. This plan was scrapped when Nikki and Paulo proved wildly unpopular.
  • Without a Trace: A security guard sees a suspicious car. He looks inside and sees a bomb, which explodes, setting him on fire. Turns out this security guard is actually a stuntman, participating in the shooting of a B-Movie. Then he walks away from the set and never comes back.
  • The Six Feet Under episode "In the Game" opens with a young girl home alone when a slasher-killer breaks into her house. The girl screams...then cut to inside a movie theater where we realize it's only from a horror movie that is playing.
  • The Castle episode "One Life to Lose" opens with this. A couple is having an affair when the women's husband returns. The man goes to hide in the closet and a dead body falls out prompting a camera pan to show the shocked cast and crew of the soap opera that is being filmed.
  • The Twilight Zone had an episode, "A World of Difference", in which the Proscenium Reveal came as a surprise to the protagonist—he'd been going about his life, then suddenly found himself on a set, 'playing' himself. The episode dealt with his attempts to first understand what had happened to him, then to get back to a life he found preferable to the one he'd been thrust into.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation "Computer, end program."
  • Done in Deep Space Nine's fourth season opener, "The Way of the Warrior". The previous season had ended with an episode in which the crew chase a Changeling saboteur across the Defiant and ends with the dying Changeling revealing that his kind 'are everywhere'. This episode opens with Sisko and Kira chasing a Changeling across the station, only for it to be revealed that it's actually Odo and is just a security training exercise.
  • Justice: One episode started with what seemed someone murdering somebody else but then it's revealed it was the prosecution recording a dramatization of what they claim to have happened to a Victim of the Week.

Theatre
  • In Kiss Me Kate, just before the overture reaches its final chords, the conductor cuts it off and asks, "Is that all right, Mr. Graham?" Fred enters and says, "Yes, the cut's good, leave it in."
  • Noises Off opens with a housekeeper walking on stage and nattering into the phone. Then as she's walking off, she says, "I take the sardines... I leave the sardines..." and an off-stage director's voice says, "You take the sardines, and you leave the newspaper." This reveals that what you're actually watching is a rehearsal of a Play Within a Play.
  • City of Angels opens in the Show Within a Show, and gets most of the way through the expository scene before revealing Stine at his typewriter pressing the backspace key, causing the action to rewind.
  • The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard begins with Max discovering his wife Charlotte has been having an affair. Then it is revealed that Max and Charlotte are actors and this prologue was a play written by Charlotte's real-life husband, Henry. And Henry is the one having an affair... with Max's real-life wife, Annie.
  • The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh has the terminally ill title character deliver a dying monologue in a boarding house far from home. Partway through the next scene he reappears, alive and well; the death scene was a Hollywood screen test, and the illness a ruse to escape to America

Video Games
  • In Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose, the game is mostly set as a movie with the characters following a script, and after beating the final level, a Star Wars parody, the characters are seen carrying the props away in the background.
  • The Book Ends of Super Mario Bros. 3.
  • And Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga, shown in-game as a movie everyone was watching.
  • The "comical" ending of Saints Row: The Third has this happen, given the utter insanity of the series, the fact the last mission takes place on Mars seems like it would have been completely possible, if the Boss' Bad Bad Acting didn't give it away.

Web Original
The Presents Were Never from SantaInfauxmation DeskReally Seventeen Years Old
Prophetic FallacyPlot TwistReleased to Elsewhere

alternative title(s): Show Within A Show Reveal
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