What’s wrong with this picture? When movie photographs go wrong | Movies

Your film’s plot needs to be moved along, perhaps, or a close connection between characters has to be revealed. Maybe our hero just needs a moment to die. Time for a closeup of a nicely framed photograph. A simple shot, you’d think – but no. There are so many examples of terribly edited photos that keen-eyed film fan Justin Gerber went viral with a Twitter thread of the botched images he spotted in a single year, spanning three decades of cinema from 1990’s The Amityville Curse to this year’s The Adam Project.

Gerber found in-film portraits where faces didn’t match their heads, body parts were out of proportion, the lighting was inconsistent and backdrops were unashamedly fake. This phenomenon popped up time and time again, irrespective of the films’ genre, release date or scale of production. But why had such poorly formed images been left in for all to see?

“Scream 2” (1997) pic.twitter.com/eKT5jv5iXN

— Justin Gerber (@JustinGerber7) March 5, 2022

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“Sometimes it’s just kind of a nightmare,” assistant art director Seth Rutledge says about the process of putting such photos together. “The scripts get written without any idea 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 portraits for a Disney+ teen romance movie. That means creating lots of phone selfies and family photos designed to dot around the characters’ houses.

“Primarily I do sets and locations, which is how I get involved in doing these Photoshop pictures of people in backgrounds,” he says. “Often the art department will need something and be like, ‘Hey, can you make this background picture of this guy’s kids that we never see on the TV?’”

If the script calls for a cozy shot of two characters embracing, Rutledge has to make that happen. The obvious solution is to arrange a photoshoot with the actors, but there are conflicting schedules to consider. If the actors can’t make it on set at the same time during preproduction, they’ll be asked to submit portraits of themselves instead that can be spliced ​​together. But this doesn’t always go to plan either. Veteran art director Dan Yarhi says: “You ask them for photographs, and then their agent sends you actor’s headshots. It’s like, ‘No, you’re supposed to be playing a homeless guy!’”

Yarhi has been working across art departments in film and TV since the early 1970s and his team were responsible for the framed photos that appeared in Resident Evil: Retribution in 2012 – which turned up in Gerber’s thread as an example of questionable editing.

“You have to remember, too, that things happen on a set spontaneously,” Yarhi says. “They do a camera blocking first thing in the morning, and then sometimes I come back in the afternoon, and they’ve turned the set around and are now pointing another way.”

The Change Up (2011) pic.twitter.com/e2C9yA7KLd

— Amusing Pseudonym (@iekobrid) March 7, 2022

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This can cause a headache. Imagine prepping a photo frame designed to sit out of focus on a distant shelf, then an improvising actor picks it up while the camera is rolling. The photo has just been upgraded from set dressing to an action prop with nowhere to hide.

Before 4K quality came along people didn’t really notice this stuff. Now we have HD TV that any keen viewer can pause and inspect, so small cracks in production stand out like dry ravines, and the film industry has had to adapt. “Up until the early 2000s no one cared, and just gradually over time, it’s getting to be more of a problem,” Rutledge says.

But he wants to make something clear: this isn’t the result of lazy or uninspired work. “Everyone I’ve ever seen working on these things really cares, they want to do the best they can,” he says. “When these things happen it’s either because no one had time or no one had the necessary resources to get it done right, and somebody probably feels bad about it.”

“It is wows per dollar,” says Yarhi. “It’s, ‘Where are you going to put the money where it pays off?’” And for many productions, prop pictures just aren’t top priority.

“Please remember that they are called motion pictures and are meant to be viewed on a large screen, not to be stopped and zoomed into. I will remind you that the Mona Lisa is famous for her smile, not the soft-focus dodgy background of the painting.”

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