Ephemera
October 29, 2018 2:16 AM   Subscribe

Ross MacDonald is a creator of fake period paper props - books, documents, packaging etc - for use in movies and television.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (14 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Similarly fascinating: Annie Atkins is a graphic designer for movies (such as The Grand Hotel Budapest); here's a short video profile; here's longer conference talk: The secret world of graphic design for filmmaking.
posted by progosk at 3:55 AM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


Ooh, that's some nice colour-blending on the letterpress work. I saw this demonstrated at Smail's Printworks in Scotland. It looks like a riot of random colour on the press, but the setup is complex and difficult to get right.
posted by scruss at 6:20 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I had to do some of this when I was working in theater. I didn't have anywhere near the resources he had (he has an entire workroom stocked with a variety of paints and letterpress and typeface and such, I had "time and paper stolen from my day job"), but I still had so much fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


What a wonderful profession.
posted by bz at 8:00 AM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


This is probably less of a thing with the use of HD TV and higher resolution consumer movies, but it wasn't uncommon for printed props (especially newspapers) to be filled with all kinds of insane gibberish, jokes and humor that you'll usually never see in the finished show or movie.

In the example of a newspaper, beyond the headlines and titles needed the actual body text of the articles might be made up weirdness like a totally bizarre tabloid rag or something. It might even be a bunch of production in-jokes specific to that filming crew.

Another example is all the packaged food goods they use for prop work. So, say you need a home kitchen with cupboards full of food for a movie. You usually can't, won't or don't stock it with whatever familiar brands you can find in the local store for reasons. Maybe the movie is controversial, maybe there's legal/licensing issues, maybe you can't afford those kinds of lawyers, or maybe you just want all the sweet, sweet product placement money you can get. So most films err on the side of caution and try to avoid showing known trademarked logos at all just in case, barring exterior street shots and cars, usually.

The cheapest variation of this you sometimes see when a familiar soda can or other product is used as-is but with parts of the logo taped over or obscured with a matching colored tape.

The more elaborate ones will buy a bunch of real products and then re-wrap them with entirely new, made up logos and package design, and those designs are ripe, safe places to hide a bunch of random in jokes or weirdness. Even the names of the products can be weird or even downright scandalous, because you'll never see them in focus in a shot. They're just blurred, out of focus colors in the background.

I have no idea how this got started or how it gets communicated from directors and producers to prop makers, but its been a thing for a long time in the movie industry.
posted by loquacious at 8:41 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Quotes like this:

Just for fun, MacDonald also made a working replica of the pistol used to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

and

The book itself contains multiple samples of the real handwriting of every president up to Bill Clinton. You would not believe how hard it is to find the handwriting of most US presidents.

and

So I emailed my friends Orlie Kraus and Daniel Smith at the [Wall Street Journal]. I explained the situation and asked if they could help. Orlie was able to send me a photo of part of the front page of one paper, but after a lot of digging, they weren't able to find anything. Because the WSJ archive had been destroyed in 9/11, there were no copies on file before that date.

Around ten or twelve years ago I became interested in creating Mail Art using Photoshop. It started with postage stamps of invented places and ended up as envelopes, postcards and letters, correspondence with a background story. Eroded fonts and distressed brushes and backgrounds are easy to come by now but I made my own back then. Layers and layers of masks, textures, filters and shadows. I was obsessed. Of course I could only print them out on a color laser printer, a high end printer, but in the end, ink with a sheen on a matte envelope. But very high res.

Just a fascinating read, thanks.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:59 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is probably less of a thing with the use of HD TV and higher resolution consumer movies, but it wasn't uncommon for printed props (especially newspapers) to be filled with all kinds of insane gibberish, jokes and humor that you'll usually never see in the finished show or movie.

I would be nice and actually put the actors' lines in the text if I was making something they had to "read from" - but I also tried to come up with fun stuff to round it out instead of just a "lorem ipsom" kind of thing. (I also ran my creations by the director to make sure I hadn't had too much fun.) There was a quasi-verse play we did where I think I actually wrote an entire letter in iambic pentameter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:08 AM on October 29, 2018


I wonder who put Forrest Gump on the cover of Fortune magazine?
posted by TedW at 11:10 AM on October 29, 2018


The more elaborate ones will buy a bunch of real products and then re-wrap them with entirely new, made up logos and package design...

Let's Potato Chips!
posted by elsietheeel at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who thought it meant he makes menstruation product props for the movies? Like fake tampon boxes and pads?
posted by olopua at 12:01 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I too thought he curated the oddly colored "used" sanitary napkins for TV. Blue menstrual fluid?
posted by Carol Anne at 1:00 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


From the Eric Hart interview:
I did several months of work on John Wick with Keanu Reeves. They initially had this back story where he goes into retirement and gets into collecting and restoring Victorian children’s books, and he becomes this world class book restorer. I actually trained Keanu in all this stuff, and they rented all of my equipment; they emptied out my shop and they put it on a set in Brooklyn. I was on set as technical adviser. They shot all these scenes for all this stuff, and none of that makes it into the movie, not one single stitch of it. You do see my stuff, because it just happens to be in his house, but there’s no explanation. But you don’t miss it at all. It’s just a great story. It would have been distracting.
Beg to differ, Mr. MacDonald.
(I'd binge-watch hours of an actual John Wick: World-Class Book Restorer. Will his contact in Prague come through with the appropriate endpapers? The Molesworth exhibit opens in less than a month!)
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:08 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Great post, fascinating.
posted by mwhybark at 9:44 PM on October 29, 2018


I would be nice and actually put the actors' lines in the text if I was making something they had to "read from" - but I also tried to come up with fun stuff to round it out instead of just a "lorem ipsom" kind of thing

Yeah, I've seen that done, too. I was also going to mention the "lorem ipsom" thing, because I never saw it used in prop text. One of the designers explained that it seems to stand out as obviously fake text on screen because of the word length frequency, because it's kind of designed to neatly fill formatted text blocks for layout mockups and it ends up with too much uniform density.
posted by loquacious at 10:26 AM on October 30, 2018


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