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January 4, 2013 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Jonathan Chait questions the editorial judgment of the Hill Valley Telegraph in Back to the Future Part II.

Related: 11 Predictions That Back to the Future Part II Got Right. The recurring prop newspaper in movies and TV. An explanation for the recurrence.
posted by Cash4Lead (65 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dear The World: I just realized that this gimmick in a movie from 25 years ago was actually a joke, why couldn't I have seen it earlier?

Also, when Zazu's beak comes out of Scar's mouth to say "Impeccable timing" in the first scene of The Lion King, that was a pun.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:27 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Marty had been thinking he would have traveled through time with a radio that only reports important plot points and generic teen dance music.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:36 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really enjoy that "Hill Valley Man Wins Big at Races" leads over "Khrushchev Becomes New Soviet Premier."

Also that Biff is opening a "dioxin plant." What a jerk.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:36 AM on January 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Related: 11 Predictions That Back to the Future Part II Got Right.

To go further down the rabbit hole, I checked 11 Predictions That Back to the Future Part II Got Wrong and found this little gem under "The Cubs and the World Series":
If you want 100-to-one, you're going to have to bet on a team with no shot AND no rabid fan following, like the Nationals.
The Nats, of course, made it to the division playoffs this year and were thisclose (as in one frickin' out...no I'm not bitter why do you ask) to the league championship series. Plus, barring crazy injuries and/or trades, they have a solid chance through 2015, if not later. And they packed the stadium for a good part of the season.

TL;DR: Listicleception.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:47 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ha! Can you believe the nerve of those guys not writing a proper news story for the fake paper device and its 1.5 sec screen time!
posted by Mister_A at 8:47 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The one thing that often bugs me about prop newspapers is how often they get the typesetting so wrong in the headlines. So often, the type is set too small and too widely set for the space, and no self-respecting typesetter would have ever set lonely, lost headlines like that.

The NYMag link has some great examples of the right and wrong way from the movies.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:48 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


The author hints at this near the end but it bears repeating: perhaps rather than questioning (or announcing as 'terrible') the editorial choices of a small market newspaper that still publishes a print version in 2015, in both dystopian and non-dystopian timelines, we should be emulating it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The recurring prop newspaper in movies and TV. An explanation for the recurrence.

I have seen props stores in several film-production-friendly cities where you can buy leftover props and costumes (Own a shirt Clint Howard once wore! Buy the address book where Katherine Heigl jots down a phone number! Pick up Jason Statham's boots!) but I have never seen this famous newspaper for sale. Where can I find one?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:56 AM on January 4, 2013


Dear The World: I just realized that this gimmick in a movie from 25 years ago was actually a joke, why couldn't I have seen it earlier?

Dear Metafilter: I just realized this blog post I read about Back to the Future headlines was a joke, why couldn't I have seen it earlier?
posted by empath at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I got to the part where he said "considerably worse sequel" then my eyes glazed over as my brain got caught in a loop as it contemplated one word: hoverboards.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can someone please send a time machine back to 2009 and tell the author of the "11 Predictions" article about the Kinect?
posted by The World Famous at 9:06 AM on January 4, 2013


New Petitions Against Tax
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


The amazing thing is that there appears to be more than one newspaper prop company!
posted by Mister_A at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2013


Heh - I liked the 'Nixon wins 5th Term' story.

If anything, this reminded me about how much I hated the characters of Biff Tannen - as well as Johnny Lawrence (the antagonist from the Karate Kid).

To the pre-adolescent me, those were the ultimate villans
posted by bitteroldman at 9:18 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


using a movie newspaper to clean up a soda spill on my stove. Variety Headline : PROPS TOPS AT COOKTOP POP SOP.
posted by boo_radley at 9:36 AM on January 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


" It’s not clear why a veto would merit a banner headline — normally reserved for declarations of war, presidential election, or assassinations and the like — "

I suspect he's never seen a small town newspaper....
posted by HuronBob at 9:42 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne: "If Marty had been thinking he would have traveled through time with a radio that only reports important plot points and generic teen dance music."

"You're listening to K-PLOT."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:46 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


perhaps rather than questioning (or announcing as 'terrible') the editorial choices of a small market newspaper that still publishes a print version in 2015, in both dystopian and non-dystopian timelines, we should be emulating it.

Not only that. Think:

These time travelers are going around using this newspaper as their determining factor for whether the world fits their notion of rightness, and are determined to keep rewriting history until they are satisfied. A canny editor who realizes this could reconstruct the world to his specifications by simply publishing the right headlines in order to get the time travelers to remake reality to his liking. "Breaking news! Biff Tannen to rule world forever unless $50,000 delivered to this P.O. Box by midnight tomorrow. Don't ask how, it's complicated quantum butterflies."

All time travelers depend upon the independence and honesty of the press. The First Amendment is the temporal tamperer's best friend.
posted by JHarris at 9:52 AM on January 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


These time travelers are going around using this newspaper as their determining factor for whether the world fits their notion of rightness, and are determined to keep rewriting history until they are satisfied. A canny editor who realizes this could reconstruct the world to his specifications by simply publishing the right headlines in order to get the time travelers to remake reality to his liking. "Breaking news! Biff Tannen to rule world forever unless $50,000 delivered to this P.O. Box by midnight tomorrow. Don't ask how, it's complicated quantum butterflies."

This sounds like a good idea for a videogame, tbh.
posted by empath at 9:54 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Prop newspapers and news magazines from The West Wing are some of the worst ever, given heightened expectations
posted by Bwithh at 9:59 AM on January 4, 2013


I have never seen this famous newspaper for sale.

Newspapers usually get recycled, or occasionally kept as a souvenir or perhaps as an example for someone's portfolio. The only way to really get them is to know someone who makes them.

I've had to make newspapers like this before, for TV. Usually the script specifies what the headline needs to say. Yes, it's often ridiculous, or at least not something that would be above the fold in a newspaper. At least the Hill Valley Telegraph has the advantage of being a small-town paper, which means they would plausibly report on something like gambling winnings or the local clock tower.

It's really hard to get the headlines screenwriters want to fit in a real newspaper layout. They are almost always too long, and the director usually wants them blown up to maximum size so the important headline is easiest to see. This can be a tough compromise.

Sadly, if predictably, "what the writer and director want" wins over verisimilitude in Hollywood every time.
posted by Sara C. at 10:07 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem I always have doing prop newspapers for my amateur dramatics (community theatre groups) is that I don't have a printer that does anything other than A4. My latest attempt is to use an image background that colours the printed paper to match newspaper paper and cutting out and pasting to the actual newspaper, which I thought worked well. I use Google Image search at lot for a guide for what kind of fonts and text layout was common, and for bits of the page.
posted by alasdair at 10:21 AM on January 4, 2013


Best newspaper front page in a movie: The Coneheads. All the type was in... cones. I just wish I could find the image online.
posted by cccorlew at 10:40 AM on January 4, 2013


Newspapers usually get recycled, or occasionally kept as a souvenir or perhaps as an example for someone's portfolio. The only way to really get them is to know someone who makes them.

It is not the dummied-up front pages I am interested in, it is the identical interior and back page. Per the links, it has been used in dozens of film/TV productions and has been kicking around for half a century now. I am wondering how come one never shows up in the prop places -- does it just fall beneath their radar? Do they reckon that there is a better return on investment on their higher profile items and no one could be interested in a generic newspaper when John Leguizamo's hat is up for grabs?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:42 AM on January 4, 2013


I like how 'Emmett Brown Committed' and 'Emmett Brown Commended' are basically the same photo, with the same composition, but key differences.
posted by memebake at 10:59 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


alasdair, you can print on newsprint with most modern laser/inkjet printers. You will probably have to tweak the settings, though. Photos never come out quite as good, though, so if your newspaper prop depends on a clear photo, you may be out of luck.

Here are my tips:

For stage plays, you should be OK with printing A4 pages and then taping them together (or possibly taping them to a larger substrate sheet). Nobody's going to see that from the audience as long as you use clear tape with a satin finish rather than glossy. I'm not sure if it would be better to tape down a whole sheet, or clip single articles and tape them all up. My guess is that less tape would be better, but YMMV.

When I worked in a TV art department, we would buy large sketchpads of newsprint at an art supply store. We then cut it down to size with an exacto knife. If you are precise about it you can do 4-5 sheets at a go, because newsprint is thin and cuts easily. Some stationery stores will cut paper down to order, but they may not be willing to work with something like a sketchpad.
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Per the links, it has been used in dozens of film/TV productions and has been kicking around for half a century now. I am wondering how come one never shows up in the prop places

Because it's just filler printed on cheap paper. When the prop department is done with them, they get thrown out. They're garbage. It's sort of like asking why you never see McDonalds cheeseburger wrappings at Goodwill.

Though I'll also say that, in my experience, we don't really use specially commissioned interior "filler". We just wrap a real paper with our fake front page. For inner pages, we'll usually make a few extra pages for the actor to flip, or if they're going to do some funny angle where pages besides the "hero" article might be seen.

The only way we would use an entire special movie prop newspaper would be if there was a long complicated scene with several actors reading different sections and heavily referring to different articles in different parts of the paper. And, again, something like that is as likely to end up in a resale shop as an actual newspaper is likely to end up at the Salvation Army.
posted by Sara C. at 11:10 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like how 'Emmett Brown Committed' and 'Emmett Brown Commended' are basically the same photo, with the same composition, but key differences.

My guess is that this is a deliberate choice. Since the image will only be onscreen for a few seconds, it's important that the audience take away, "whew, crisis averted! Instead of something bad happening to Doc Brown, something good happens instead!" If you redesigned a whole different article, it wouldn't be as immediately apparent.

I thought that was pretty clever, actually.
posted by Sara C. at 11:14 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


As I recall, the shot actually faded between the two Emmett Brown headlines as the timeline sorted itself out.
posted by ckape at 11:19 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect he's never seen a small town newspaper...



That pretty much sums it up.
posted by Atreides at 11:23 AM on January 4, 2013


(Sorry, haven't seen the last two BTTF movies in ages. But that makes it even more important that they use identical layouts with only a few words and images changed.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:23 AM on January 4, 2013


Because it's just filler printed on cheap paper. When the prop department is done with them, they get thrown out. They're garbage. It's sort of like asking why you never see McDonalds cheeseburger wrappings at Goodwill.7

You are missing my question again. Let me try to be clearer: per the links, this celebrated prop newspaper with the addition of a custom front page has been used since the sixties. The same stories and layout appear over and over again in numerous films and TV shows . Are the stories from this venerable prop (a) actual newspaper stories from decades ago that have been reused over and over again, (b) lorem ipsum gibberish that has been handed down for then to now, or (c) actual invented content written by the creator of the prop decades ago and reused ever since?

In any event, there is something on these pages (reused actual content/lorem ipsum/mock newspaper stories): where can I see what it is?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2013


ricochet biscuit: "In any event, there is something on these pages (reused actual content/lorem ipsum/mock newspaper stories): where can I see what it is?"

Probably by ordering one from Earl Hays Press.
posted by boo_radley at 11:30 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a break and enjoy a crisp, refreshing Teb soda.
posted by boo_radley at 11:32 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


All time travelers depend upon the independence and honesty of the press.

"The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?"
posted by rough ashlar at 11:37 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't see it on Earl Hays Press' site as linked by boo_radley. (Though I have seen that photo of a jet taking off at sunset before!)

Short of zooming in on a high-res screen shot, I don't know that you can really find out exactly what the text of the "famous" paper says (hint: I think all of Angel -- mentioned in your link -- is available on Netflix streaming. If you have a nice enough large TV, you can probably just pause it and read the headlines). From the photos in the link, I can read one headline, next to the picture of the girl. It says something nonsensical like "She's Self-Righteous, But A Hard 'God' To See." No idea if that was once relevant to some movie's plot and just got printed a million times, if it's an inside joke, if it's copied from a real newspaper, or if it's just words that fit in the hole.

The body text is probably is not Lorem Ipsum text. We were typically never allowed to use that, because the actors are going to want the props to feel real. It needs to really say real words on it.

When I made up body text for filler newspaper articles, I would typically invent a lede that was similar to the scripted headline, then I would copy and paste from wikipedia a lot, formatting creatively so it looked like some of the wiki text was in the form of quotes. Or I would just write drivel like, "The driver of the truck that caused the accident, Pike County resident [Insert Friend's Name Here], is in stable condition but did not offer comment."

When pressed for time, I would frequently go find a newspaper I'd made in the past and just copy and paste body text wholesale. So you'd get a headline that said "YOUNG BOY SLAIN IN HARLEM", a lede that went along with that, and then a bunch of text about whatever the last newspaper article was about, as long as it wasn't going to be distracting to the actors.

My guess is that the stuff you order from prop houses or custom printing houses is similar to that.
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you are dead set on getting your hands on one of these, I would use IMDB to find out who Modern Family's prop master is, and then try to get in touch with that person via social media. Ask her or him this question. People like that are very approachable, and she/he may even forward you a digital copy if it's convenient.
posted by Sara C. at 11:48 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


What was the last plot headline you wrote, Sara C.?
posted by boo_radley at 11:51 AM on January 4, 2013


ricochet biscuit: this is the best I found -- Above the photo of the young woman with long, thick, dark hair: "She's 3rd Brightest But Hard 'Gal' To See." On the opposite page above what turns out to be a warehouse burning: "Compromised Housing Bill Sent to President for OK."
posted by brain_drain at 11:51 AM on January 4, 2013


Usually the headlines are specified by the writers. I got to do headlines on background filler articles sometimes, though. I would typically keep it very nondescript like "ACCIDENT INJURES FIVE" or "TEENS ARRESTED". Sometimes I would do an Onion homage and refer to an "Area Man".

Typically when we had to do these on my last art department job where I was doing graphic design work, we were always in a huge hurry and would just come up with stuff to get it done. There are no really memorable headlines.

(Also, on preview, WOW my vision is not so great.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:55 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The First Amendment is the temporal tamperer's best friend.

Hey. Where'd you get all that money, JHarris?
posted by mmrtnt at 11:57 AM on January 4, 2013


AREA MAN REALIZES HIS DENSITY
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:03 PM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Probably by ordering one from Earl Hays Press.

I do not see the prop paper in question here. I am asking specifically about this oft-used prop, the Wilhelm Scream of prop newspapers. You misapprehend my level of interest in fake papers in general.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:04 PM on January 4, 2013


Yeah, I think your best bet is to check out your link, find some shows mentioned that are still on the air, use IMDB to discover who the prop masters are, and then attempt to connect with said individuals via social networking sites.

Which prop house this paper comes from is not a state secret, and if they are reproducing it in-house (which is equally likely), they may be able to just email you a pdf.
posted by Sara C. at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2013


Sara C.: Thanks -- my interest is cursory at best (and I have acquaintances who work in props in the Toronto film biz, so I might drop a line to one of them -- at least then I am not the weird guy out of the blue asking about a prop newspaper but just the weird guy they have seen twice since high school asking about it).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:15 PM on January 4, 2013


Eh, they get emails and such. It would not be considered weird at all.

Once, our production designer got an out of the blue email from a viewer who really liked this one photograph we had hanging in one of our sets. He dispatched me to figure out where it came from so she could possibly buy a copy. It was a fun afternoon.
posted by Sara C. at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


...you can print on newsprint with most modern laser/inkjet printers. You will probably have to tweak the settings, though. Photos never come out quite as good, though, so if your newspaper prop depends on a clear photo, you may be out of luck.

B/W photos should be converted to halftones before printing on newsprint. They'll look much cleaner and clearer, especially from a distance.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:43 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Best newspaper front page in a movie: "Boy Trapped in Refrigerator Eats Own Foot"

That is all.
posted by mosk at 12:44 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuit: " at least then I am not the weird guy out of the blue asking about a prop newspaper but just the weird guy they have seen twice since high school asking about it"

They are a business, you are a customer. Is your money green? Yes? It is? Come in, we have much to discuss.
posted by boo_radley at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2013


I'm always confused by people who say things like 'we only have two more years to invent hoverboards'.

We only have six more years to come up with offworld colonies and artificial humans.

Worry about that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:47 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


FWIW I was suggesting contacting a prop master to ask where they got this particular newspaper. In that scenario the person in question is unlikely to profit from the exchange. That said, most people who do this are friendly and will probably help you. This information isn't confidential at all.
posted by Sara C. at 12:48 PM on January 4, 2013


oh, I thought we were talking about Earl Hays. Sorry, I'm distrac
posted by boo_radley at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2013


Did someone "just" stop boo_radley's parents from meeting at the prom years ago?
posted by JHarris at 12:55 PM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


We only have six more years to come up with offworld colonies and artificial humans.

Check out The Real Housewives of Mare Crisium on Bravo.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:55 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm always confused by people who say things like 'we only have two more years to invent hoverboards'.

We only have six more years to come up with offworld colonies and artificial humans.

Worry about that.


It's all been downhill since we blew the HAL 9000 deadline 21 years ago.
posted by COBRA! at 1:01 PM on January 4, 2013


It's all been downhill since we blew the HAL 9000 deadline 21 years ago.

Don't be so quick to assume that, just because you didn't hear about it, it did not happen.
posted by The World Famous at 1:27 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's all been downhill since we blew the HAL 9000 deadline 21 years ago. lunar interceptor, purple-haired moon maiden, SID, and other assorted Straker-related deadlines in 1980.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:44 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Check out The Real Housewives of Mare Crisium on Bravo.

Coming soon on TLC: Breaking Replicants! A provocative look at the lives of four synthetic beings who left the Off-World Colonies and are trying to make it in sunny cloudy L.A. From tough-guy Leon, to sexy Zhora, to sporty Pris, to brainy Roy, each of them tries to live life to the fullest. It's not as easy as counting electronic sheep, however:

LEON: Don't talk about my mother!

ROY: I'm not here to make friends!


Breaking Replicants: There's nothing "retiring" about these folks! Coming Tuesdays on TLC!
posted by Cash4Lead at 1:45 PM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


They are a business, you are a customer. Is your money green?

Only some of it. In any event, Sara C. has the gist of it:
I was suggesting contacting a prop master to ask where they got this particular newspaper. In that scenario the person in question is unlikely to profit from the exchange.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2013


My hastily-thought-up theory is that Doc actually founded the Hill Valley Telegraph and left instructions, Hari Seldon style, on certain headlines that had to be published on certain days to make sure that these otherwise unimportant stories make it to the front page when he and Marty needed to see them.
posted by ckape at 4:29 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, can I say in this topic how it sucks that BttF the Ride is not at the Universal theme Parks anymore?

I mean, Zemeckis' other film, Forrest Gump, still lives on at Bubba Gump Restaurants, but the BttF Ride was meant to keep the series alive, at least until the Cafe 80s chain gets off the ground.
posted by FJT at 4:49 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


alasdair, you can print on newsprint with most modern laser/inkjet printers. You will probably have to tweak the settings, though. Photos never come out quite as good, though, so if your newspaper prop depends on a clear photo, you may be out of luck.

Photos will come out much better if you convert them to pre-screened, black and white images instead of letting your printer driver or printer software do it. Most consumer inkjets are going to use a stochastic screen instead of a halftone and will lay down WAY too much ink for newsprint.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:54 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


For anybody that is looking for a copy of this 'Recurring prop newspaper':
I own one of the original November 5, 1955 Hill Valley Telegraph newspapers that was screen-used in Back to the Future,
and have had replicas of most of the prop newspapers from the BTTF trilogy reprinted for prop collectors and to help raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

They are actually printed on a press like the originals, on the correct newsprint paper.

All of the newspapers shown in the Jonathan Chait article linked above are my replicas.
I also own a full copy of another authentic 'Recurring prop newspaper' which I have used in the making of these replicas.
(There are several different versions of the recurring paper. The better known version is seen after the mid 1980s,
and they all have the same back page.)

If you would like to get a copy of these papers, they are available here.
(Be sure to let me know that you want both versions.)

Also, for anyone interested in these and many other movie prop replicas,
be sure to check out the Replica Prop Forum at therpf.com
posted by DB537 at 2:06 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here is a scan of the "3rd Brightest" article and photo. The text in each of these newspapers is usually the same 8 or so paragraphs repeated in random order.
This headline was copied from a 1962 LA Times story about Mariner 2 and the planet Venus.
posted by DB537 at 2:17 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, DB. I would mark this 'best answer' if I could.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:15 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


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