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Artistic License – Film Production

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"Television may have an excuse for putting on all those unrealistic Medical Shows and unrealistic Police Shows and unrealistic Lawyer Shows and unrealistic Western shows. After all, Television writers don't have any first-hand experience at being Doctors or Cops or Lawyers or Cowboys. But what's the alibi when Television puts on an unrealistic Comedy about Television?"
MAD, "The Mary Tailor-Made Show", December 1972

A situation that would normally be chalked up to a lack of research, but can't really be put in that category because movie shooting is being inaccurately portrayed... by people who are in the process of shooting a movie or making some other form of visual entertainment! Scenes are shot in a single take, often in sequence, with the camera kept at a great distance where it couldn't possibly be getting the right angles or close-ups to make the scene convincing, and they never do a retake. This is especially annoying in action scenes, although it can often follow the Rule of Cool.

Not necessarily a bad thing: the entire process of filmmaking is rarely the point, so a bit of Artistic License, so that the viewers have an easier time understanding it, or to prevent a subplot from dominating the movie can be a wise choice.

Acceptable Breaks from Reality can include:

  • Showing scenes being filmed in order, or at least in an order that makes dramatic sense, because otherwise, the Show Within a Show could be very hard for the audience to understand. In Real Life, scenes are usually filmed out of order for practical reasons (limited availability of sets or location shootings, actors' schedules, high costs of shooting certain scenes, etc.)note .
  • Showing multiple takes can easily bore the viewer. Can be got around somewhat with editing it down to the mistakes that ruin the take, or other such tricks, but it'd be hard to have a realistic number of takes for every scene.
  • Special effects will tend to be of the sort that's fun and interesting for the audience to see. Animatronics will be preferred to CGI or stop-motion monsters (unless these can be played for comedy), and you'll almost never see an in-camera matte shot.
  • "But the camera couldn't have gotten that shot!": Maybe there's a few angles in the final shot which the cameras we see couldn't have got. But it'd be annoying to the viewer to show the alternate angles being filmed in separate takes.
  • The director screaming "Cut!" after every minor little flub. Good if you want the Show Within a Show to end to get on with the actual show, but in real life, getting all the moving parts required for a take of a film or TV show (lights, camera, microphones, sound, etc.,) to start at once, is pretty arduous, so slamming the brakes for something minor is pretty rare. You'll notice if you ever watch a gag reel, if something minor happens like an actor tripping over their line, they'll simply mutter a quick apology, say "Let me start over," and do just that. It's a lot easier to edit out an earlier mistake than to sync up a crew of dozens to start a new take.
  • The use of a clapperboard at the start of every take regardless what other equipment the film crew is using. The purpose of a clapperboard is to help sync up the video to the audio, as professional film sets with high-end equipment will generally record the two separately. Amateur or low-budget films are more likely to use a camera with an attached or built-in microphone, making the clapperboard perfunctory. If something is being filmed with no intention of using on-set audio, the clapperboard will generally just be held up for scene identification without snapping it, yet fiction still loves to have a character snap a clapperboard in all circumstances to indicate that a camera is rolling regardless.
  • Lots of simplifications: For example, in real life, an action scene may be stitched together from dozens of takes, each a few seconds long, in order to allow special effects and other things to be worked in. When the actors aren't in closeup, they'll probably be replaced by stuntmen. Reaction shots and what's being reacted to might be filmed weeks apart. And that's not even getting into matte shots, where the actors and the background are filmed separately. All this is confusing for the viewers, and would take a long time to establish, so why not pretend the action scene is all one take, and that the special effects are really happening at the same time?

A great deal of this trope stems from the perception that producing a film or TV show is essentially like performing a play, only with cameras instead of a live audience. Other times, they just think Viewers Are Morons and won't notice the glaring mistakes.

There can often be some overlap with Magical Security Cam and You Just Ruined the Shot.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • When Renge decides to make a movie out of the titular Ouran High School Host Club (with a Hollywood camera crew handy), the intended Throw It In scene with Tamaki fighting young Yakuza thugs couldn't have been filmed from the position the camera was in (not to mention it wasn't there when the fight started).
  • Averted in Perfect Blue. The scenes from the show-within-a-show are filmed out of order, but it could be argued that it adds to the movie's dreamlike atmosphere. In fact, near the end of the movie when they call a wrap, the scene they're filming doesn't even seem finished.
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokémon Adventures, the Xtransceiver commercial shown could not have been filmed in one shot and would have required a fair bit of editing. Furthermore, there is apparently only one film director in all of Unova, as he is working on several projects across mediums in a relatively short amount of time.
    • There is an episode early in Pokémon: The Original Series where the heroes participate in a movie. The director then proceeds to shoot the last scene of the movie, saying "I always shoot the last scene first, so I know how the movie ends". From the way he says it, this is implied to be a silly, comical quirk of his.
    • Averted in Best Wishes! with Luke and his movies, as their production is presented in a fairly accurate method; with the Pokéwood episode showing the necessity to shoot scenes out of order, then edit them into the correct order in post-production.
  • Street Fighter II V, with the Fei Long episode, where Ken is hired to play the bad guy, and the two of them start Ad-libbing the fight (so to speak). The director calls it off and vows to destroy the footage simply because Ken eventually managed to tag Fei Long in the face with an attack. Jackie Chan has to be spinning in his grave, and he's not even dead yet!

    Film — Animated 
  • The film Bolt uses this, with the dog convinced that the show is real. This is hand waved by saying that they wanted the dog to think the girl was actually in mortal danger, so they'd get a better performance. Still, method acting didn't come close to justifying the absurd expenses and dangers incurred by the type of shooting they were apparently attempting. A network TV series in particular simply wouldn't have that kind of budget. Legality and budget aside, the director is shown as being a bit insane. The network executive certainly thinks so. Furthermore, in real life the scenes of a television show are rarely filmed in the order they're scripted (the "cliffhanger" of Penny's capture certainly wouldn't have been saved for last).
  • A plot point of Incredibles 2 involves the superheroes wearing miniature cameras to show their point-of-view during super fights, so that civilians can watch the footage and see the supers doing their best to contain the disaster. The cameras themselves are very efficiently compact and high definition for a supposedly '60s setting. Additionally, it's never addressed whether some of the footage would have to be edited out since there are parts where Elastigirl discusses secret information relevant to her personal identity, or some of the Screenslaver's hypnotic imagery recorded in the video.
  • The Reluctant Dragon features all the steps Disney took to make animated films, but the segments are not shown in the order they would be performed (for one example, the filming of the animation is shown BEFORE the story planning and actual animation work).

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Bowfinger is all about this. It even has a shoestring guerrilla film crew shooting around an actor who doesn't know he's their star. With a crew made of illegal Mexican immigrants. And a Church of Happyology in the mix.
  • Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story has an action sequence where Bruce fights a mercenary for several minutes, in one take as the camera follows them. Not only that, but the fight is real!
  • Subverted in Ed Wood, as he does do all those "simple mistakes". Except that he is shown shooting scenes out of order. He must have been awake that day in film school.
  • Johnny Cage's introduction scene in Mortal Kombat: The Movie. They shoot an entire fight scene (until a last-move screw-up) in one take.
  • Ironically the ending of the snuff film hoax Snuff, which was actually supposed to look like a real film shoot, looked nothing like a real film shoot.
  • Charlie's Angels (2000) has Matt Le Blanc's character acting in a movie - the inaccurate portrayal, in this example, was a device to show that it wasn't reality. This is similar to the Mortal Kombat: The Movie example above.
  • The first scene of Austin Powers in Goldmember, which has an action scene filmed in one shot for a Movie Within a Movie of Steven Spielberg's Austin Powers. Rule of Funny.
  • It's not entirely clear if the opening of Tropic Thunder is intended to be this, or if it's intended to be a Movie Within a Movie that then cut to the actors. The camera is never seen, so it might not be intended as a single take.
  • The Truman Show is pretty good when it comes to the visual footage — the show does have the wonky camera angles, lack of/awkward use of camera movement, inappropriately close or far-away shots, etc, that you'd expect from a live show captured with hidden cameras. What is more problematic is the sound. All the dialogue is very clean and clear, as though caught on a high-end unidirectional mic from a couple of feet away, including a scene on a beach (beaches being notoriously awful places to record sound even under ideal conditions, usually requiring some degree of ADR for dialogue to even be comprehensible). At one point it's suggested that certain passers-by are concealing little shotgun mics on their person, but it's a Hand Wave at best.
  • An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn desperately tries to justify using this trope, by portraying all the actors in the fictional movie as being total assholes who will only ever do a single take of a given scene, which later becomes a sticking point when the director steals and destroys the film's master print. Like everything else in Burn Hollywood Burn, though, it fails dismally — not least because the fictional film is shown being edited on a computer at one point, meaning that a completed version of the film would probably survive in some form, even if the audio-visual quality was degraded.
  • The Burt Reynolds film Hooper is nothing but stuntman scenes and stuntman activities, but runs mainly on Rule of Cool instead of accuracy.
  • Francois Truffaut's Day for Night is basically a response to this trope. While it does show things like multiple takes (from different angles to keep it interesting) and the difficulties of making films, it goes a bit dramatic with worst-case scenarios, including actor death.
  • During Gordy, a camera has its ordinary lens secretly replaced with a wide-angle lens, to cause the commercial being filmed to be distorted. The cameraman apparently notices while he's looking through the camera, but all he does is rub his eyes. No one apparently noticed when the footage was being edited together. Sabotage of this kind would require striking the whole film crew with blindness.
  • The opening scene of Mrs. Doubtfire features Daniel recording for a cartoon. For the most part in the West, voice recording for animation is done before the actual animating (Japan, however, animates, then records). Chris Columbus DID acknowledge this in his commentary and figured it could be taken as Daniel dubbing a foreign cartoon. However, this doesn't make sense either as the lip-sync in the cartoon (produced by Chuck Jones) is clearly English. Daniel is more than likely just doing post-production looping, either to just do touch ups on certain lines or maybe Daniel replaced another actor and is recording over the previous actor's work. Which makes sense from his conversation with the producer who complains that this session is already costing the studio and they're on a deadline. Also, you don't typically have a censor board overseeing the actual dubbing/recording of a cartoon...that would waste far too much of their time.
  • The Tekken movie features a scene where Jin fights Marshall Law inside a cage. The fight is televised and we see plenty of shots on the TV from inside the cage...except there's no camera in the cage and no sign of any filming equipment around as the fight is going on.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home: Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio wears a motion-capture suit that maps his movements onto his artificial projection of himself during his faked "superhero fights," but it's just the underlayer (and a custom bubble helmet) without the sensor dots and face camera rig of real ones. It's possible the sensors were left off the suit out of the real life concern that they might interfere with the CGI being used in their scenes.
  • Super 8 features a group of kids making an amateur movie, which we get to see during the credits. It is mostly filmed with the level of competence one would expect out of children, with terrible acting, cheesy dialogue, a cliched plot, and zero budget special effects. However, what gives away that the short was actually shot by a professional director (i.e. J. J. Abrams) is that the cinematography is pretty good. The shots have depth, there’s no dead space, and conversations are filmed with back and forth cross-cutting instead of all in one take. Even the shots that are trying to look bad (like when they break the 180 rule) are unlikely choices from a cheap indie, since the kid director Charles has only a single camera so why would he move it to the other side of the room?

  • Tyler Durden in Fight Club is a part-time projectionist who likes to prank audiences by inserting single frames of pornography into children's films. The narrator explains that the pornographic frames are so brief that the audience doesn't consciously notice them, asking the reader to "divide a second into sixty equal parts" to illustrate the brevity. In fact, the industry standard framerate in films is 24 frames per second, rather than 60, so the pornographic frame would appear onscreen for 1/24th of a second note . This error could potentially be chalked up to the narrator's own ignorance, except that Tyler is the narrator's split personality and would be expected to have an understanding of framerates.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock is ostensibly about the production of a Saturday Night Live sketch show (based on creator and star Tina Fey's tenure as head writer on SNL). While the production of said show is mostly played for laughs, the one thing that strains belief is that there are only three people in the cast of performes (in the pilot it was only two before Tracy Jordan was hired). There were seven performers in the original cast of SNL, and in 2021 there are twenty-one performers. Three seems like far too little to run a sixty to ninety minute sketch show.
  • The ITV sitcom Finest Half Hour was set in a TV station but bore no resemblance to a real one.
  • Extras has this trope in-universe, as the director of "When the Whistle Blows" is deliberately shown to be totally incompetent.
  • Viciously subverted in Frontline, where the current affairs show within a show's tricks are exposed time and again. A notable early example is the filming of an interviewer's reactions AFTER the interview is finished.
  • Power Rangers Time Force at least acknowledged the need for multiple takes, although the movie was quickly revealed to be a trap, so we didn't get to see much more of the normal shooting.
  • Power Rangers Lost Galaxy plays with the trope when Kendrix must fill in for an injured actress. The film is a romance and the scenes we see being shot appear to be in chronological order. The last scene filmed is the ending and they're apparently using just the one shot since the only re-takes they have to do are down to Kendrix forgetting her lines. Of course, it's not too glaring since it is established that 90% of the movie has already been shot.
  • iCarly tends to take creative liberties with live podcasting. For example, using a studio quality camera for shootingnote  and relatively stable shots despite no tripod. Not as noticeable to the casual viewer is how they are rarely seen planning their next show or setting things up or testing VFX.
  • Comic Book Men featured shooting a commercial one episode, it all seemed genuine until the very end when the cast members gathered outside the store and delivered a line to conclude the commercial. This required several takes and the last one where they got everything perfect an old lady on the street walked into the shot. This, of course, ruined the shot, even though they could have easily used the audio over one of the other takes during editing.
  • Glee's "The First Time" features Rachel and Blaine, the stars in the school play, rehearsing about a week before their debut. They're not blocking any scenes, or even off book! This despite the fact that both Darren Criss and Lea Michele (not to mention many other cast members) came to the show from theater/musical backgrounds.
  • Walt Disney Presents shows the production of Disney movies as clearly staged and simplified and thus not entirely accurate. This is especially significant with episodes showing the production of animated films. To see this particular trope in action here, take a look at no less than two episodes on the production of Lady and the Tramp, "A Story of Dogs" and "Cavalcade of Songs". In both cases, the actors are shown providing the voices for their characters after the animation is done; in reality, the animation would be done after all the audio is provided: not just voices, but also music and even sound effects.
  • Joey on Friends once failed a script reading because he misread "50 bucks" as "so bucks". An actual script would have written numbers in dialogue as words so "50 bucks" would have been written as "fifty bucks".
  • Taken to an absurd level in The Brady Bunch episode "And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor"note —so much so that Robert Reed fired off an angry memo to the showrunners complaining about it.
  • UnREAL (2015) is about the behind the scenes filming of a Bachelor-style reality show. Yet the show within a show seems to air its episodes live week to week. In our reality, such shows are shot and edited months before they are.
  • A Brazilian telenovela had a scene in a dubbing studio that the actual voice actors of the country decried as horribly innacurate, with mistakes such as two actors in a booth, the director pulling double duty as engineer, playing the whole scene instead of just starting where the voices come in, and the prospect dubber being complimented on takes that she's clearly flubbed.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Spider-Man, MJ was to star in an action flick. One scene involved a brawl in an elevator. Only the two actors were anywhere near the elevator. Apparently, there were no microphones, no lines, no choreography, and two unmanned or remote-controlled cameras. Small wonder that it went horribly wrong.

    Theme Parks 
  • The Indiana Jones Stunt Show at Disney Hollywood Studios suffers from this, but since it's more about watching cool stunts than getting an accurate portrayal of a film set, it's somewhat forgivable.
    • Deliberately Averted in one segment of the Backlot Studio Tour, which to show the guests how movies are made, sets up a small stage to film a sequence for a WWII movie (originally tied into Pearl Harbor, which was coming out at the time of the segment's introduction). Two sets are featured and a total of four "actors" culled from the audience are used and the show proceeds thusly:
      • The first segment involves the exterior ship set on the audience's left side of the stage, which has a sequence for two actors to clean the decks while a third looks for enemy planes. Air jets placed under the water allow machine gun fire on the ship, which sends the three actors into a frenzy as the first two go to their battle stations and the third makes a call on the ship phone. Then torpedoes come and hit the ship, causing a chain of controlled burns in the tank near the ship.
      • In the second segment, the fourth actor is in a room dressed to look like the ships engine room on the audience's right side of the stage. The actor is directed to answer a phone call and then begin playing with the buttons to get the ship into a defensible position. Finally, a huge tank of water is dumped into the new set, drenching the actor.
      • In the final segment, the audience is directed to view TV's in the arena, which play out the completed production in the movie's intended order (Crew going about their duties. The third actor sees enemy planes. Enemy planes fly in and open fire on the ship. The crew reacts and scrambles. The third actor makes a phone call. The fourth actor picks up the phone, answers the third actor, and then begins working the ship consols, planes come about and release torpedos. The ship is torpedoed. Actors 1-3 react to the explosion. Actor 4 is hit by a deluge from the impact. Planes fly off.). To further stress the out of order filming, the director indicates that he filmed the actors in the planes some time ago and that what was shot today was the final shoot for the film and they can call it a wrap.
  • The old 'Titanic' ride at Fox Studios Sydney is set during the filming of the 1997 movie, but lacks the camera/sound crew and other production personnel that would be there if this were a real film shoot.

    Video Games 
  • The Movies:
    • This game is about running a studio and making movies. However, you have to shoot all the scenes in order—which can mean that your cast and crew will shoot a scene on one set, then run to another set for the next scene, then back to the first one if that's where the next scene takes place. And if another movie is shooting on the set, they have to wait instead of shooting another part of the movie. And scenes are shot in a single take. This can get particularly irritating if one cast member is out of action, usually due to alcoholism and stress. The entire shooting schedule has to be put on hold while said thespian is cured of his or her ailments, rather than e.g. letting the camera team film shots where the actors are not needed.
    • A crew member will use a clapperboard at the start of every take, even during the silent film era when it wouldn't serve a practical purpose. When exactly the clapperboard was invented is difficult to pin down, but it didn't see widespread adoption until the 1930's at least.
    • How do they shoot the killing of movie-monsters? By literally putting a blade in the actor's neck.
  • The Saints Row: The Third expansion Gangstas In Space has the Boss playing the lead role As Himself in the titular sci-fi movie. Apparently, depicting an Alien Invasion of Stilwater involves building working alien fighters and using them to attack the lead actors, and the shootouts between the Boss and the aliens are shot with live ammunition and working laser pistols. But hey, this is the same game that features a Zombie Apocalypse, lucha libre gangsters, a boss fight in virtual reality, and a lethal game show/arena deathmatch, so it's all fair.
  • In Stuntman and Stuntman: Ignition, long car-chase scenes are shot in sequence, with very little props - even when the scene involves a helicopter chasing a sports car through San Francisco, shooting just about every single thing with missiles. But hey, otherwise, it wouldn't be cool.
    • Ignition makes it a bit worse with the new effects and ragdoll physics on the actors. The director no longer seems to care if you just smacked your sports car into an extra on the sidewalk and sent him cartwheeling into traction. They also seem to have everything possible rigged up to explode; in the first scene of Overdrive you can optionally smash through a gas station and send it up in flames, while in the first scene of Whoopin' n' Hollerin' II the monster truck can crush every car, whether or not they're marked.
  • Averted in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. The films made at Pokéstar Studios go through multiple facets of production, as the script has to be read in order to choose the best response and action. Following the stage directions properly can make your film a hit, while going against them can make it a Box Office Bomb. The films also make heavy use of Chroma Key special effects that require editing in post-production.

    Western Animation 
  • DuckTales (1987), "Where No Duck Has Gone Before" has the star of a Show Within a Show constantly brag about a "five-year contract" with Scrooge. It ends up backfiring when the show is cancelled and its studio turned into a museum; that same contract somehow forces the star to keep working for Scrooge as a food vendor. No one on seasonal television has contracts that last longer than the show they're hired for, much less perform a completely different job.
  • An episode of The Flintstones had a director filming Fred and Barney, with no apparent script, who didn't even know they were in a movie, while they were being chased around and hit by boulders.
  • Used justifiably in Home Movies because the filmmakers are kids who don't know how the process actually works, and only have a home video camera to work with. In one episode, when it suggested that he should be shooting a different scene, Brendan replies, "Yeah, well we don't really have any editing equipment, so we kinda have to shoot in sequence."
  • The Simpsons:
    • A security camera example: In "The Blunder Years", we see thirty-year-old security footage, complete with sound and in color, and it's filmed from different angles. It looks more like a Retraux television show.
    • Then there's the disaster that was the Radioactive Man movie, which likely would have failed even without Springfield taxing the hell out of the production.
      • One scene involved Ranier Wolfcastle being swept away in a river of actual acid with no one on set wearing anything more than a pair of safety goggles for protection.
        Wolfcastle: My eyes! The goggles do nothing!
      • The Radioactive Man movie is also apparently filmed with only one camera - they make Milhouse do the same scene a zillion times so they can get it from different angles, instead of having several cameras focused on the scene.
      • Bart is also rejected for the role of Fallout Boy despite his natural talent and obvious enthusiasm due to being an inch too short, even though there are all sorts of filming techniques to make actors appear taller or shorter as needed.
      • Milhouse is also subjected to an extreme dose of x-rays to the point that his skeleton becomes visible, and when he says he's sitting on a broken bottle, the director just tells him to "use it."
      • Milhouse's stunt double is horrifically run over by a truck and suffers severe injuries. While stunt doubles do run the risk of sustaining injuries rather than the actors, there are always measures in place to ensure the stunts are done as safely as possible without injuring the doubles.
      • The people of Springfield are apparently able to simply walk on set whenever they want, with Bart visiting Milhouse in his trailer. When films are shot on location, especially big-budget blockbusters, the set is a tightly-controlled environment and there is always a ton of security around.
  • An episode of Jackie Chan Adventures has Jackie inadvertently walk into a set and fight a Wire Fu actor he mistakes for an enemy. The set is housed in a seemingly ordinary alleyway with the cameras hidden behind disguised walls when in real life sets on public locations are highly visible precisely to keep random civilians from wandering onto them.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Film School, Artistic License Film School, Artistic Licence Film Production