Monday, October 10, 2016

The Unreality of Movie Money

The Brink's Job (1978)
It has always bothered me that money can look so fake in old movies.  I can accept a fake baby in a scene more than I can accept fake money.  Look at this scene from 13 Ghosts (1960).  It seems silly for these people to get so excited over bills that no sighted merchant could possibly believe are real.

The scene really got me thinking about this subject.
Chris Tucker shows his love of money in Rush Hour 2 (2001).
In 2000, a film crew got together to stage an explosion at a Las Vegas casino for Rush Hour 2 (2001).

You see the fake bills floating through the air?  Extras and passersby stuffed these bills into their pockets and tried later to pass off the bills as legal tender throughout town.  Zachary Crockett of Priceonomics website wrote, "Secret Service agents glided in, swiftly detained somewhere north of $100 million worth of prop money, then accused the prop maker - Independent Studio Services (ISS) - of counterfeiting, and ordered a cease and desist on all of their faux cash."

Fred Reed compiled the history of movie money in a 2005 book, "Show Me the Money."  Reed found that the earliest known film to make money part of the action was Cockfight (1894).

A brief history of movie money was provided by Crockett as follows:
[J]ust as film began to flourish in the early 1900s, counterfeiting crimes rose; as a precaution, Federal laws were enacted that barred the use of real currency in full-scale photography.  Studios found a replacement in 1920: when the Mexican Revolution ended, vast quantities of Mexican currency, rendered worthless by the war, were acquired by Hollywood producers and used in lieu of U.S. tender.  When the supply of these notes diminished a decade later, studios began replicating other Mexican currencies.  By the 1960s, this crude prop money was in widespread use.

Gradually, prop houses in Hollywood began sensing producers' demands for more believable U.S. currency, and a new era of movie money was born.  Between 1970 to 2000, nearly 270 types and 2,000 sub-varieties of movie money were produced for Hollywood's use.
According to the Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992, the money used in film production must be significantly larger or significantly smaller than real money, it must be a different color than real money, and it can only be one-sided.

Gregg Bilson Jr., the CEO of Independent Studio Services, does whatever it takes to produce believable movie money without getting himself arrested for counterfeiting.  He said that, if you get a good look at his bills, you'll see that they look "pretty god awful."  He pointed out that the writing on his bills include the phrase "In Dog We Trust."  He believes that he still has an obligation to make the bills look real on screen even if it means skirting the law.  He said, "Honestly, if you followed their instructions, you may as well use Monopoly money.  Feature films demand a certain bar of quality, so everyone is asked to break law in a sense by making prop money."

The manufacturers of prop money are always busy in Hollywood.  It's raining money in crime films.  The climax of the original Rush Hour (1998) had an even bigger money shower than its Las Vegas sequel.


Other films have had their own showers.

Peter Sellers and Ian Carmichael in I'm All Right Jack (1959)
Queen Latifah, Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes in Mad Money (2008)
Robert Downey Jr.
Owen Wilson in Masterminds (2016)
 In films, a person will sleep like a baby in a bed filled with money.
Lavell Crawford and Bill Burr in Breaking Bad ("Buried," 2013)
Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in The Getaway (1972)
Money turns up in films in all sorts of places.

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad
Phil Collins in Buster (1988)
Don Cheadle and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2 (2001)
The Hangover (2009)
The Other Wife (2016)
Masterminds (2016)
Crockett wrote, "Today, [Bilson] manufactures stacks of blank paper, then tops them with one real hundred-dollar bill - a practice that is permitted legally."

Robert Downey Jr.

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