Thursday 21st Apr 2016
Send a journalist to the set of a film every week for six months and she’ll come back with hundreds of observations. In this case, a surprising number of them are about cheese.
Hollywood executives have always talked about ‘making magic’ in movies. But they’re generally talking about the figurative, sensory magic of telling a story in moving pictures.
On the set of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we’re talking about making actual magic. Spells, beasts, curses. Wizards, witches, wands. Rogue magizoologists in yellow striped scarves, holding bottomless suitcases. It’s more difficult than ever, really, to know what’s real and what’s not. Especially if you’re a journalist who – full disclosure here – has never made a movie.
Before the movie comes out in November, I’ll be revealing a few showbiz secrets. But be warned; some of my methods of investigation are a little uncouth.
‘Is this Brie real?’ I ask an extra on set, sinking my index finger into a gooey wedge of cheese that’s been sitting on a plate all day. ‘Ah, yes. I can confirm that the Brie in this scene is very real. Have I just ruined the whole movie by denting the cheese? I assumed it was plastic.’
‘Are the plates real, though?’ comes a voice from below. It’s Mitch, who’s in charge of stunt props, crouching on the ground repairing a split wine glass. He’s grinning like the cunning master of deception he is.
I’m pretty sure the plates are real. I touched them earlier. I touch them again now, just to be sure. They’re not real. While I was distracted watching Jon Voight climb a staircase, the props team switched the genuine china plates out for stunt plates.
When the stunt in this particular scene takes place, Mitch tells me these specially constructed plates break cleanly and deliberately – to create the illusion of destruction in a safe, controlled way. I look at him as though he’s just pulled a coin out from behind his ear.
This is not the first time these movie-makers have fooled me with their clever, safe stunt props. Did you know they hollow out books to make them paper-light? That they take a heavy object, make a resin mould of it and then create a light version out of different materials? That some of the tables are made of wood so light you could lift it with a finger?
They make all sorts of fake things that look like reality: bookcases that won’t crush Eddie Redmayne, bricks that won’t graze Colin Farrell’s face and furniture that won’t injure Dan Fogler.
It’s obvious, when you think about it. Of course there are stunt objects. They’re not going to smash real china in the general vicinity of Ezra Miller’s real face. But have you ever stopped to think about it, till now?