Seen but not Heard: Craftily Designed “Silent Props” for Movies & Television

Snaps, crackles, pops and other unwanted sounds can be a bane to media producers but a boon for clever designers who create a wide range of quiet props for use in films and TV shows.

Some solutions are relatively ad hoc while others are quite sophisticated. Above, Scott Reeder shows racquetballs painted to look like pool balls for those noisy bar scenes; also, vinyl “paper” bags to reduce rustling when actors are pretending to grab takeout. The classic brown paper version Reeder highlights is just one of many — there are versions for department stores, corner shops and other settings, too.

Experienced production teams are great at finding workarounds and clever solutions when budget constraints kick in, so there are also a lot of do-it-yourself hacks for those who can’t afford higher-end options. And, of course, a lot of work goes into post-filming sound design, too.

Sound is one factor driving these decisions, but there is also safety to consider, hence a wide range of plastic and rubber props made to look like wood or metal (for use in fight scenes and the like). And when something needs to look real but break, there are props for that, too.

A veteran props master, Reeder has a whole slew of fakes for virtually every occasion and is all too willing to demonstrate what they can do by (among other things) breaking props over his own head:

The art of creating on-screen illusions relies in part on skilled acting and special effects, but props can make or break a scene. These objects help hold imaginary worlds together, and if their designs sometimes go unnoticed, it may be because they are working as intended.

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