Thursday, July 22, 2010

Movie Magic: The Apple Box

Post by Trai

Ever wonder why everyone’s so tiny in Hollywood but looks so heroically sized on screen? Me, too. How can icons like Al Pacino be only 5’2” – in heels? And those girls in the tabloids who look the epitome of what a woman ought to look like, and in real life they’re barely topping 5’0”, so tiny they’d be placed in the front row of the 4th Grade Class photo. Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the biggest (literally) action heroes ever, is only 5’9”? And Tom Cruise? Forget it – he’s 5’6”.

The rumor in Hollywood was that Tom Cruise wrote a clause into his prenuptial with Nicole Kidman (5’9”): she wasn’t allowed to wear heels when in public with him. She didn’t. When they separated, she famously, snidely commented that now she could finally wear heels. Tom’s gotten over his height inadequacies with “Kate,” but moviegoers will never accept a short leading man with a tall leading lady. We’re just heightists that way.

A game I find myself playing at the movies is How’d They Rig the Apple Box. An apple box is the device they used in the ancient days of movie-making to even out the heights of their actors (especially anyone who had to be in a scene with John Wayne, who was 6’3”). It was a wooden box originally used to tote apples to market, flipped over. Modern apple boxes are far more sophisticated: they’re wooden boxes specially built in a range of heights to compensate for our petite leading men. They live on the grip truck and kept handy for emergencies. Ah, movie magic!

Anyway, I’ll watch a movie like “Knight and Day” and try to figure out all the ways they made Tom Cruise seem anywhere near as tall as Cameron Diaz (5’10”). Keep her sitting, keep him standing, for one; keep them both sitting, but with Tom on a booster, for another. Heels for Tom, flats for Cameron, etc. But there’s lots of action, lots of running around, so the standard apple box just isn’t adequate. They’d have to block the scenes in such a way that the camera doesn’t pick up on how they had to build the sets on a slant.

More fun was “Julie and Julia,” the movie where Meryl Streep played 6’2” Julia Child. I loved watching how they made her seem like a giant compared to everyone around her. They must have broken out all the old sleight of hand, tricks not used since the forced-perspective antics of down-sizing Elijah Wood’s Frodo in “Lord of the Rings.” The sets must have been built smaller, they must have placed her closer to the camera then shoot the scene with a long lens, they must have had actors squatting discreetly, they must have tilted the floor. Acres of apple boxes must have been employed.

But there’s a shot where she’s standing with a row of men and women, head to foot, and not only is she taller, she’s wider. Bigger, a giant of a woman. I have no idea how they did it. Meryl’s talent makes her a giant of a woman, but in real life she’s only 5’7”.

It must have been CGI.

Any movies you can name that got an apple box boost?


Linda L. Henk said...

Can't say that I can name any movies but you're "spot on" with the height business. Maybe it's similar to the idea that women should attach themselves to older men. Otherwise, they're "robbin' the cradle!"

Kay said...

What an example that movies are pure fantasy! Or, it that slight-of-hand?

Name: Luana Krause said...

I heard that they boosted Clint Eastwood in some of those early westerns. And possibly Sylvester Stalone.

I didn't know Tom Cruise was that short. WOW! He's one inch taller than me!

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