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Driving a Desk

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Just another Indian attack on my normal commute to the airport.

"Hey, look you guys, they are being followed by a movie."

Back in the early days of motion pictures, when woolly mammoths trudged through the streets of Hollywood, scenes still took place in areas where a full film crew would be practically impossible. One of the most popular and common varieties of such a scene was when the characters were driving, either for a car chase or for a leisurely chat. For obvious reasons, it was very impractical for directors to have their whole camera crew perched on the hood of a moving car being driven by remote control by someone in the trunk (although today there are such things as cameras that can be rigged onto the hood of a vehicle).

Thus, there was something called "rear window" projection, wherein the moving background was filmed separately, then projected onto a screen behind the actors, who sat in a mockup of a car and acted as normal. This was also known as a "process shot".

Unfortunately, rear projection can cause a number of problems that can ruin the illusion and make it obvious you're not in a car, like:

  • The steering of the driver clearly not matching the movement of road.
  • The car going around corners on its own while the driver isn't even moving the wheel.
  • The driver wildly twisting the steering wheel left and right when the driver is driving on a straight road.
  • A conspicuous lack of wind or movement on the part of the passengers when they are in an open vehicle or clearly have the windows down.
  • Characters spending a dangerously long time looking at the person in the passenger seat.
  • A noticeable difference in film quality between the live actors and the pre-filmed backdrop, especially if you're filming in HD, which makes said quality differences blatantly apparent. This has an unfortunate retroactive effect if you are upgrading an old film to HD quality.
  • On vehicles with an automatic transmission with the gear selector on the steering column, being obviously in the "parked" position.

Rear projection essentially fell out of use with the advent of the Chroma Key, which nonetheless kept some of its problems. It was finally sealed up with the prevalence of computer graphics, miniaturization of camera technology, and special-built flatbed-like vehicles to carry and film cars (such as the one shown here). Used nowadays, rear projection or poorly done chroma key is mostly considered a Special Effect Failure, or a special shoutout to films of the past. The trope name is a reference to how they always end up looking like Conan O'Brien who has a recurring comedy bit where he "drives" his desk out of the television studio using (deliberately cheap-looking) rear projection effects.

Has almost zero overlap with the typical activities of the Desk Jockey. The alternative term "Obvious Blue Screen" is a reference to the Blue Screen or Chroma Key (which may be involved in later occurrences of the trope) and not to the Blue Screen of Death.


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  • Progressive Insurance has actor Dennis Quaid driving a car, turning to look at the audience, explaining (while not watching the road) that you shouldn't have to pay for other driver's inattentiveness. He then lampshades this, by saying he's not actually driving, and the camera dollys back to show he's in a stationary car on a platform being towed down the road by a pull truck with a camera crew in front of him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A relatively recent dramatic example is the taxi ride sequence Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Tarantino had access to better technology but used this technique as a homage to movies of the 1940's, especially noir flicks.
  • Given a vigorous Lampshade Hanging (as is everything else) by Airplane!, which moves from speeding and traffic accident backdrops to raiding Indians, with the driver turning the wheel wildly on straight sections and going straight when the background's showing a windy road, culminating with the Indian attack in the picture. The passenger, however, reacts to all of it.
  • The Naked Gun makes use of outrageous backdrops, such as showing the Colosseum in Rome when Drebin is allegedly driving in "Little Italy".
  • Many of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Notable in Vertigo, where the rear-projection is so bad it sometimes looks like Scottie is driving on the wrong side of the road. Averted in the scene in North By Northwest where Roger O. Thornhill gets attacked by the crop duster, where the rear-projection is used rather seamlessly for once. Played for Laughs in Family Plot, made at a time when this technique had fallen out of vogue.
  • Employed in the otherwise-groundbreaking Aliens during the crash of the Dropship.
  • Done as a stylistic choice in The Matrix, when Neo makes his first trip into the Matrix after finding out its true nature. The street outside the car windows looks vague and fake, because it is just that.
  • Done deliberately in OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, among many other elements (successfully) intended to recreate the "flavor" of '50s and '60s movies.
  • Early James Bond films were offenders in this category.
    • While the bobsled chase in On Her Majesty's Secret Service was mainly shot on the actual run, the actors were not able to actually operate a bobsled so they had to have stunt doubles do the actual sledding instead. They tried to avert the need for this trope as much as possible with tricks such as having the stunt double duck to avoid a bullet as they pass the camera, hiding their face in the process, but in close-up shots of the action where you can easily see their faces, a blue-screen was used. If you look closely, you can just about see the seams in it.
    • Dr. No has a particularly egregious shot of a nervous Sean Connery being pursued by a car that appeared at least twice as large as his own.
    • This continues until even Licence to Kill, where we see Sanchez and his cronies pretend to drive through long stretches of Mexican highway.
  • One impressive subversion occurs in Touch of Evil: a fairly long sequence where Charlton Heston is actually driving (and acting) as he sends his car zipping down narrow back-alleys and blowing straight through intersections.
  • In Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, this effect is painfully obvious during the convertible driving scene.
  • Star Wars had a cut rear-projection scene of Luke and C3PO driving in Luke's landspeeder looking for R2.
  • Notably averted in Ronin (1998), with the actors being driven around in right-hand-drive cars (in France, where everyone drives on the right) so they could act in sync with the actual driver and spliced with external shots.
  • Averted in Bulldog Drummond by the simple expediency of having a night-driving scene take place against a pitch-black background.
  • Inverted in the Don Adams Get Smart movie The Nude Bomb. In one scene, Maxwell Smart is literally driving a desk (the bad guy had stolen his car and Max was in pursuit). It had built-in machine guns.
  • As noted by Tom Servo, The Pumaman can rear-project major cities as he flies, like a puma.
  • Used in The Wizard of Oz to create the view out Dorothy's window during the tornado.
  • Notably averted, if not broken, with the famous car chase through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt.
  • Averted in The French Connection, which was shot entirely on location and mostly in one take. There were even a few unscripted collisions with other vehicles.
  • Lampshaded in Strange Brew. Doug takes his hands off the wheel and turns to Bob. He asks if he ever notices how in movies people can drive without looking at the road and without the background matching their steering.
  • Bad rear projection can look positively surreal in some old comedies, like when W.C. Fields goes out to milk the elk in The Fatal Glass of Beer (seen at 3:20 on this extract), or when a heavily sedated Stan Laurel drives Oliver Hardy home in County Hospital (at 16:15 on this one).
  • Oddly averted in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou. Most of the driving scenes are real, and seen in medium-long shots. An early scene of Ferdinand driving Marianne home, though, has no bluescreen and no attempt at realism. The two simply sit in front of a plain black background while colored lights flash across them and the prop steering wheel.
  • Casablanca uses this as Rick and Ilsa drive through Paris, then through the French countryside. Roger Ebert admitted that despite his love of Casablanca, this scene looked like the worst rear projection effect he ever saw.
  • In Charade, scenes of Audrey Hepburn's and Cary Grant's characters riding cars and a boat have rear-projection effects. When they ride the boat through tunnels, their dialogue has an echo effect added for realism.
  • Results in an obvious goof in Topaze, when the cars visible in the street behind Topaze and Coco's taxi disappear into thin air, presumably due to a bad splice.
  • Some Like It Hot uses this when Osgood helps Joe, Jerry, and Sugar escape the last Chase Scene in his motorboat.
  • Parodied in Black Dynamite where the rear projection shows Chicago Wind's car making some pretty big turns, despite him not looking at the road or moving the steering wheel. Then he turns to look at the road and instantly screams as he's about to run over a cliff that wasn't in the rear projection.
  • Most scenes from The Wages of Fear inside the truck cabins are shot on a sound stage with back projection.
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the T-1000 climbs on the back of the escaping police car from the insane asylum, in shots featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick the scene noticeably switches from live driving stunts to a stationary police car with the asylum and street becoming rear projection. Many of the nighttime driving scenes, particularly in the police car with its lights turned off, are also process.
  • Three Wise Girls had Boating A Desk in a scene where Cassie takes a ride on Jerry's yacht.
  • In Bringing Up Baby this is used not only for exterior scenery, but also for the rear of the car interior, to create the illusion that Baby the leopard is on the back seat.
  • In Midnight Lace as the characters travel by taxi around London.
  • In White Dog, Julie plays a small role in a movie that involves sitting in a gondola while footage of the canals of Venice plays on a screen behind her.
  • The climatic Chase Scene in the spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine features plenty of this, though Goldfoot's portrayer Vincent Price does a nicely hammy job of acting queasy and carsick.
  • Seen throughout The Love Bug and its sequels, Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo, and Herbie Goes Bananas.
  • The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent has some driving scenes that actually consist of the actors sitting in front of LED screens.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of The Goodies (Punky Business) parodied this and then subverted it. The three Goodies are in the back of a van and we see the road in the van's back window via backscreen projection, then it starts showing footage of punks. The subversion comes when Bill shoves Graeme and Tim out of the back of the van and we see a screen with the punk footage projected onto it, being watched by several policemen.
  • Done in many Sit Coms, including Everybody Loves Raymond and Dharma & Greg. Particularly jarring on Sit Coms shot at a different frame rate than the backgrounds, or when the footage is rather grainy and of obviously lower quality than the main footage, like in Joey's Big Break on Friends, when he and Chandler are driving out of Manhattan for Las Vegas. The footage is also of the Queensboro Bridge, not the George Washington Bridge.
  • Lucifer does this deliberately in the 5th season episode It Never Ends Well For The Chicken. The whole episode is done as a story that Lucifer is telling to Trixie about something that he did back in the 1940s, and all the visuals are handled like something straight from a noir film of the time. Of course the driving scenes would therefore have to use this trope rather than show the characters actually driving like in most episodes.
  • Nearly all car scenes on 3rd Rock from the Sun budget-savingly took place at night with a car mockup simply placed in front of a black background.
  • Seinfeld did this all the time in its later seasons. It looks especially cheap because the backdrop footage is shot at a faster framerate than the bluescreen footage.
  • Pee-wee's Playhouse did this with Pee-Wee's scooter in the end credits. It was a combination of this trope and the Chroma Key regularly used by the show.
  • Police Squad! did this, and would employ some sort of gag nearly every single time. Some were obvious, like the "Little Italy" gag (which was reused for The Naked Gun), or the bit where Lt. Frank Drebin narrates that he "drove back to the office" and is then shown driving his car in reverse. And some were more subtle, like the times Drebin drives through red lights and barely avoids getting hit by cross traffic, or the bizarre scene where Drebin is seated in the backseat of the car with his disembodied hands steering.
  • Often averted on Quantum Leap, but very visible in the episode "It's a Wonderful Leap", which has Sam driving a taxi against a very obvious Chroma Key background. The episode is heavy on conversations in the cab, and it allows Sam to do things such as check out his brand-new reflection in the mirror - which, in-universe, causes him to take his eyes off the road and hit a pedestrian.
  • Garth Marenghis Darkplace, being one of the most thorough examples of Stylistic Suck out there, HAD to do this, and they didn't even bother with the backdrop, just lights moving on an obviously non functional car. Seen at the beginning of that clip. Plus there's that awesome motorbike variant.
  • In MADtv (1995)'s parody of Trapped in the Closet, there's a scene where R. Kelly drives in front of a green screen image without a car (he at least still has a steering wheel).
  • Aussie variety/comedy show Hey Hey It's Saturday had host Daryl Somers occasionally driving his desk around the studio. Unlike the Conan O'Brien example above, though, he didn't just have the desk mounted onto a normal vehicle, but had the wheels and engine built-in while he stood on a small platform jutting out of the back and using a pair of recessed dials to control it.
  • The more-than usually surreal The Prisoner (1967) episode "The Girl Who Was Death" has a car chase sequence in which the super-assassin of the title tries to make Number Six crash his car by making the back-projection road behind him spin around.
  • Done extensively in Perry Mason.
  • Done in The Aquabats! Super Show! episode "EagleClaw!" with Eaglebones' motorcycle ride, mixed with real time footage of Eaglebones actually driving down the road.
  • A truly glaring example in an early I Love Lucy episode; there is no "desk," usually there is at least the windshield frame between the viewer and the characters, usually with windshield removed, whence no rear view mirror, portions of the upper dash may even be visible. In this case there is nothing between Lucy and Desi in the front seat except a steering wheel and a steering column which is visible below where it would be hidden by dash or even engine compartment. In fact the passengers are visible down to, and briefly past, the waist line. Possibly Rule of Funny.
  • Done purposefully in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This is seen in Xander's dream in "Restless" when his girlfriend Anya is driving their ice cream truck. "I think I've figured out how to steer by gesturing emphatically."
  • Like everything else in Bottom, the back projection when Richie and Eddie are "driving" was sped up to such a ludicrous rate that it couldn't help but be hilarious.
  • Commonly observed in Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, usually when the minister is being driven from the airport to his office.
  • The MythBusters have done this a few times, though generally they show the chroma key background to the audience at some point as a Lampshade Hanging.
  • Norwegian comedy trio KLM spoofed this when they parodied a movie from The Great Depression era. The road behind the driver is apparently going the wrong way, or upside down. The most hilarious take is when you get a sideways angle of the driver, and the road is passing away from you in the window beside him...
  • The 200th episode of Bones, "The 200th in the 10th, is a Homage to movies of The '50s. As such, this trope is in full force whenever the characters are driving a car.
  • Modern Family: In "Manny Get Your Gun", the Dunphys are seen driving to Manny's party. The steering wheel fails to turn in spite of curvy streets. In one of the cars, the steering wheel seems to be locked.
  • Brazlian sitcom Os Normais had an unusually elaborate car scene setup for a series made already in the chroma-key era. The rig basically consisted of a car mockup between two huge rotating physical cylinders with wraparound backdrops of store fronts, buildings and the like printed on their surfaces, so their rotation would give the impression of stuff on either side of the road passing by. The scenes usually took place at night so the middle part of the road was just pitch black darkness the backgrounds faded to. A chase scene from The Movie that took place during the day (and used deliberately bad Miniature Effects for external shots of the cars for comical effect, think Danger 5) got around this by only showing profile shots of the driver, so only the cylinder itself (outfitted with an appropriate daylight image) would appear.
  • MacGyver (1985): Unfortunately painfully obvious in "Three for the Road" where much of the plot involves Mac being in a car with the two guest stars.
  • Mr. Robot: Used to highlight the unnatural nature of the scenario during the sitcom sequence in "m4ster-sl4ve.aes". Attention is even drawn to it when Tyrell Wellick crashes into the green screen at the back of the set while trying to escape.
  • Used with projection in pretty much any driving scene in Murder, She Wrote, even into the mid 1990s when Chroma Key became a more common method.
  • NCIS: While this show is usually pretty good about avoiding this trope, In the Season 15 finale, Vance is driving a car that is clearly still in park.
  • Referenced in Top Gear during the Alfa Romeo challenge, when Jeremy notices how far he can move the steering wheel of Richard's Spider without the wheels moving:
    Jeremy: You could drive this through an American movie!
  • Doctor Who had the worst case of this in "The Claws of Axos." The effect used blue-screen... but the driving footage wasn't overlaid onto the bluescreen.
  • Harry Hill's TV Burp: Done literally when Harry converts his desk into a car, drives out of the studio, then onto the highway... then a racetrack... then a ski slope... then he takes flight before finally returning to the studio.
  • Naturally occurs in Columbo as a series that mostly was filmed in the 70s, but Requiem for a Falling Star stands out for a fakeout where it looks like the murderer of the episode is fleeing the cops in an obvious Driving a Desk moment... and then the camera zooms out to reveal it is an in-universe Driving a Desk moment — she's filming a driving scene for her movie.
  • Parodied on Schmigadoon!, where the Countess drives Melissa down an obviously projected road in an obviously stationary car — so obvious that she has a whole musical number while shimmying around in the carseat.
    Melissa: Shouldn't you be...driving right now...
  • The season 3 opener of The Ministry of Time is a homage to Alfred Hitchcock. As such, the driving scenes use this method deliberately to make them look more like a Hitchcock movie.

    Music Videos 
  • Used surreally in Pepe Deluxé's "Go Supersonic" video. The racecar drivers are just sitting in chairs, holding steering wheels that aren't attached to anything, sitting in front of a projected backdrop... and every camera shot is positioned to draw attention to this. Then, in some scenes, the chair actually do move as if they were cars. At one point, a chair even breaks down and starts belching smoke.
  • The video for Yello's "The Race" features one band member sitting in front of a rather abstract rear projection holding an unattached steering wheel. (Surreal, colorful rear projections were something of a Signature Style for the band.)
  • In the video for "Vacation" by The Go-Go's, they're supposed to be the water skiers seen in the video (and on the album's cover). The band members were actually filmed standing on boxes, invoking this trope.note 
  • Played for Stylistic Suck in Devo's video for "Through Being Cool".
  • In Rebecca Black's video "Friday" the car is clearly not moving.
  • Played for Laughs in the music video for Madness's Driving In My Car, where random footage is used for the backdrop.
  • In Robbie Williams's Millennium music video, the background projection suddenly changes from a moving background to what's seen at the end of the film.
  • Green Day's video for "Holiday" is primarily centered around this trope.
  • Used for humorous effect in Abney Park's music video of their cover of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    Puppet Shows 
  • H.R. Pufnstuf: Witchy-Poo drives her Flying Broomstick with a steering wheel, except her movements of the wheel don't seem to affect which way the broom goes at all.

  • In the Madness Jukebox Musical, Our House. Joe and his friends sit in his alleged car while a moving road is projected into the background to the tune of "Driving In My Car". The road changes to a rollercoaster track, then Death Star trenches while the gang swing lightsabers.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner features an especially low-tech variation. For any driving scenes in the various in-universe Dangeresque movies, Strong Bad would film himself in a stationary car, outdoors. To simulate the car's motion, another character would repeatedly run past the window while wearing a prop on their head.

    Web Original 
  • Italian Spiderman, in its many homages to poorly-made foreign movies, includes this in the motorcycle chase scene.
  • Kitboga is a scambaiter popular on Twitch and YouTube. Kit sometimes uses green-screened backgrounds to simulate him either driving or jogging somewhere to supposedly get gift cards for a scammer. This can sometimes result in this effect, such as here where it looks like Kit is jogging in place and the background is moving behind him.

    Western Animation 
  • Taz-Mania: In "To Catch a Taz" (a homage to Alfred Hitchcock films, especially North By Northwest), this is revealed to be happening during a chase scene when Wendal gets out of his car (which is on rollers) and casually walks up to Taz as the scenery continues to race by in the background.
  • Parodied in the South Park episode "Mecha Streisand" when Chef's driving and the background behind him is a live action mountain road.
  • Spoofed in Carrotblanca, where during a flashback the rear-projection is actually live-action to further distract from the animated characters.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Obvious Blue Screen, Rear Projection


Turn It Up?! Okay

In the Kitboga scambaiting call "Security Guard Stops INSANE $5,000 Scam," Kitboga turns on some music to piss off the scammer while pretending to drive to his bank. The scammer asks him to turn it off, asking how he can help him if he has that music on. "Turn it up?! Okay," replies Kitboga's character, blasting the music, singing along, and continuing to chatter at the scammer, who grows so annoyed that for the first time on the call he swears in Hindi.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ICantHearYou

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