What’s wrong with this picture? When Film Stills Go Wrong | Movies
Yesthe plot of our film needs to be moved, perhaps, or a close connection between the characters needs to be revealed. Maybe our hero just needs a moment to cry. It’s time for a close-up of a well-framed shot. A simple swipe, you’d think – but no. There are so many examples of terribly edited photos that keen-eyed movie fan Justin Gerber went viral with a Twitter thread sloppy footage he spotted in a single year, spanning three decades of filmmaking, from 1990s The Amityville Curse to this year’s The Adam Project.
Gerber found portraits in the film where faces didn’t match their heads, body parts were disproportionate, lighting was inconsistent, and backgrounds were shamelessly fake. This phenomenon has happened again and again, regardless of genre, release date or production scale of the films. But why were such badly formed images left for all to see?
“Sometimes it’s just kind of a nightmare,” associate art director Seth Rutledge says of the process of putting such photos together. “Scripts are written without any idea of what exists or not.” Rutledge has worked on several notable TV shows in recent years, from Snowpiercer to Batwoman and Supergirl, and is currently in charge of sourcing portrayals for a Disney+ teen romance movie. This means creating lots of phone selfies and family photos designed to dot the characters’ homes.
“I mainly do backgrounds and locations, which is how I get involved in making these Photoshop photos of people in the background,” he says. “A lot of times the art department will need something and say, ‘Hey, can you do that background shot of this guy’s kids that we never see on TV?'”
If the script calls for a cozy shot of two characters kissing, Rutledge has to make it happen. The obvious solution is to arrange a photo shoot with the actors, but there are conflicting schedules to consider. If the actors cannot make it to set at the same time during pre-production, they will be asked to submit portraits of themselves that can be put together instead. But that doesn’t always go as planned either. Veteran art director Dan Yarhi says, “You ask them for photos, and then their agent sends you actor portraits. It’s like, ‘No, you’re supposed to play homeless!’ »
Yarhi has worked in the art departments of film and television since the early 1970s and his team was responsible for the framed photos that appeared in Resident Evil: Retribution in 2012 – which appeared in Gerber’s thread as an example of questionable editing.
“You also have to remember that things happen spontaneously on set,” Yarhi says. “They block the camera first in the morning, then sometimes I come back in the afternoon, and they’ve turned around and are now pointing in another direction.”
It can cause a headache. Imagine setting up a picture frame meant to be brought into focus on a distant shelf, then having an improv actor retrieve it as the camera rolls. The photo just went from a set to an action prop with nowhere to hide.
Before 4K quality arrived, people didn’t really notice this stuff. Now we have HD television that any avid viewer can pause and inspect, so little cracks in production are sticking out like dry ravines, and the film industry has had to adapt. “Until the early 2000s nobody cared, and little by little, over time, it becomes more and more of a problem,” Rutledge says.
But he wants to clarify something: this is not the result of lazy or uninspired work. “Everyone I’ve seen working on these things really cares, they want to do their best,” he says. “When these things happen, it’s either because no one had the time or no one had the resources to do it right, and someone probably feels bad about it.”
“It’s wow per dollar,” Yarhi says. “It’s, ‘Where are you going to put the money where it pays off?'” And for many productions, prop images just aren’t the top priority.
“Please remember that they are called movies and are meant to be viewed on a big screen, not to be stopped and enlarged. I remind you that the Mona Lisa is famous for her smile, not for the dubious blurry background of the board.