If Hollywood’s Listening…

Yes, I’m a bit of a nerd. I think most photographers have a nerdish streak. Some are full-nerd, I think I just have nerdish tendencies. It’s not that I’m obsessed with kit or camera specifications, but where my nerdishness manifests itself is when I’m watching a film or TV drama and there is a representation of a photographer or a group of photographers.

This is when, without fail, the writers, directors or whoever is responsible for checking the accuracy of a scene seem to drop a cog.

One example is when you have a court scene in a UK-based drama. The defendant will leave the court room (triumphant or defeated) and step out into the court corridor only to be assailed by a mess of grubby, black leather-jacketed blokes with cameras all jostling to get their “snaps” and shouting “over ‘ere mate!”

The very first thing wrong with this scenario is that in the uk, photography is banned within the precincts of court, which not only covers inside the building but also an area around the exterior too (at the very least the court steps and apron around the main entrance).

Taking pictures inside the precincts of court is a contempt of court and risks a fine or imprisonment, so quite how these photographers managed to get past security with all their kit without being challenged is anyone’s guess.

Often in this scenario, and this happens in all kinds of scenes involving photographers, you’ll see the extras holding their cameras like iPads, vaguely waving them in front of their faces, one hand either side of the body with nothing supporting the lens. They’re stuffing a large telephoto lens into the hapless lead actor’s face. Presumably to get a super-fuzzy close-up of a left nostril, I really couldn’t say. It just looks daft.

DVD cover of Salvador, an Oliver Stone film featuring James Woods.

Oi James! The action’s behind you!

The other staple cock-up is when you see a police stakeout. In this case they tend to make the opposite mistake of the court photographers in that they have a woefully underpowered lens to get the closeup mug shot of a perp who’s ambling around about half a mile down the street from where the cops are sitting. You see the camera lifted, the lens is focussed and then the director cuts to the viewfinder view of the scene and the target fills the frame from the tip of their head to the tops of their shoulders. Normally this kind of framing would require a mahoossive lens, yet these cops either have amazing kit no one else can buy, or the suspension of disbelief has to be suspended. Or you’re not a photographer and you neither notice, nor do you care.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t care, but some of the inaccuracies are so blatant I almost expect one of the extras to turn to camera and shout, “See this Tim Gander? See how I’m holding my camera?! HAHAHAHAHA!” or something.

Maybe I should chill out and watch more cartoons, but it isn’t always thus. Though it’s a long time since I watched Salvador with James Woods, I always recall it being a reasonably accurate depiction of the experiences of a press photographer in terms of how the actors handle their cameras. It’s a film I’d like to watch again some time and I hope I don’t find myself distracted by poor attention to detail. Maybe I should get a photographer friend to check it through first.

In the meantime, if Holywood (or BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Netflix et al) need me as an on-set consultant, they know where to find me.

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  • tom waugh March 4, 2015   Reply →

    Mr Gander. You are a man after my own heart. I often think that the TV programme makers should enlist the aid of someone with at least a modicum of photographic knowledge.

    • Tim Gander March 5, 2015   Reply →

      When they go to such lengths with things like Wolf Hall where they insist on buying candles of a very particular wax to emulate the candles of the time, you’d think they’d pay the same attention to all the props, extras and so on. GRR!

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