Cry, Baby. Cry!
August 24, 2009 9:06 PM   Subscribe

I've seen a lot of TV shows/movies that have a baby crying (really crying, not dubbing in the sound). When I think about the filming process, it freaks me out.

I'm hoping someone in the industry can tell me that they work around the natural rhythms of the child. Keeping in mind I am not in the industry, it seems that the script would say something along these lines: "Scene 415: Character X kisses Character Y, scoops up the crying baby that is in the path of a Mack truck, and unloads major firepower on bad guys."

Assuming TV/film schedules are even worse than the ones I'm used to, how are crying baby scenes done?
posted by sfkiddo to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's called acting dude.

Really though, babies cry quite a lot. I don't predict it would be very long before a baby started crying on-set whilst being handled by a stranger, surrounded by loads of other strangers.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:14 PM on August 24, 2009

It takes significantly more effort to stop a baby from crying than to make it start crying. I doubt there's any cruelty involved. They cry if you look at them funny. Seriously. I looked at my nephew with a funny face once and he cried. What a baby.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:20 PM on August 24, 2009 [14 favorites]

To be clear, I'm not saying there's some type of abuse involved. I'm really wondering how crews can keep to a schedule with the unknown of baby emoting.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:26 PM on August 24, 2009

The use of babies in films/tv is pretty highly regulated (for eample). I think they can only work for a maximum of 30 minutes at a time, 2 hours total a day. I think there's a reason people don't like to use children in films. It's a hassle.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:29 PM on August 24, 2009

I think a lot of it is in the editing, too -- along the lines of C/U on face of crying baby, intercut with shots of baby facing away from camera or out of frame. A good many of those scenes with an adult comforting an inconsolable infant is probably the actor holding a doll half the time. Cinemagical!
posted by contessa at 9:36 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding contessa. The baby is rarely crying, they just add a crying dub later.
posted by smoke at 9:38 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, these things you think you've seen in movies and TV shows? Many of them you haven't actually seen. If you've ever seen a skilled Flame artist at work, you'll never believe anything you see on screen again.
posted by dersins at 9:46 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

In Australia, babies are only allowed to work 15 minutes at a time. I've worked on shoots where we've had our 'preferred' baby and then, babies being unpredictable little things, we've had as many as 5 'back up' babies to ensure that at least one baby will hopefully come through with the goods. I've heard of one commercial shoot (not mine) where they needed a 3 year old to scream uncontrollably like he was sick. To achieve this, the child had a soccer ball he played with on set, and all that happened was Mum took the ball off him. The kid exploded on cue. Make of that what you will. But in most cases, we just use editing and add crying effects.
posted by Jubey at 10:05 PM on August 24, 2009

Yes, I read a blog by a mom who wanted her baby to act, and she said that her baby was usually one of a few babies on set. That was more for the happy baby scenes, though.
posted by kathrineg at 10:10 PM on August 24, 2009

hey that's me! I'm a Flame artist, and I've had to make rubber babies look alive!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:40 PM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

I remember being really freaked out by the baby crying in Steel Magnolias, when his father came home and the mother was passed out on the floor. That seemed really real, and I don't think it was dubbed over, either... It was probably just something like Jubey was talking about (taking away a toy or setting an already-cranky baby on the floor), but still, it felt very visceral.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 11:06 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is why they often use twins or triplets to play the role of one baby... They're interchangeable, looks-wise, and chances are at least one of them will be crying/sleeping/smiling/cooing when that's needed for a scene.
posted by amyms at 11:18 PM on August 24, 2009

Keep in mind that the baby only needs to cry for the moments its face is actually onscreen- and editing can cheat that a lot- and all the crying you hear throughout the scene is dubbing.

Sometimes they feed the baby drops of lemon juice so she makes a scrunchy face, and then they can just dub in the crying sound. Crew can wait til the baby cries and then get a quick closeup that they can cut away to, and the magic of editing makes it seem that the baby is crying in the moment.

This photographer gets toddlers to cry on cue by taking away their lollipops for a few minutes.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:42 PM on August 24, 2009

The factor you're missing is that any given parent will have a pretty shrewd idea of what makes their own child cry. The director stays on schedule by working with the parents and using this pre-existing knowledge.

So if you know your baby hates getting dressed and will reliably spend five to ten minutes wailing after being changed, then all you have to do is pop them in front of the camera as soon as their costume's on. Crying scene is in the can! Does your baby grin when they've got wind? Let's film that happy scene right after the kidlet's lunch. Job done!

Obviously it doesn't always go as smoothly as that, but generally working with babies is like working with animals, you use their pre-existing behaviours.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:07 AM on August 25, 2009


On the commentary track for the DVD Joe Carnahan talks about shooting scenes with a real baby in Narc as they couldn't afford a prosthetic/CGI baby. So they just went with it. In some scenes the baby is crying, but Jason Patrick calms her/him down during the scene (or not, in some cases) while performing the scene. It works well as the whole film has a very naturalistic look and feel.

So yeah, sometimes they just let the baby do what babies do.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:10 AM on August 25, 2009

I'm really wondering how crews can keep to a schedule with the unknown of baby emoting.

Seconding what everyone says above -- that the mothers of most babies know when their babies tend to cry and what makes them cry, and sort of schedule the baby around that (doesn't like to get dressed? Put him in costume at the last minute!). Although, occasionally there are times when a filming is indeed thrown a little bit by the unpredictability -- in the production diary for Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson had a funny little throwaway entry from one day when they were filming a scene when Hugh Laurie's character was supposed to be ineffectively trying to calm a crying baby. But they were running into a little trouble because "the babies smiled all afternoon. Buddhist babies. They didn't cry once. We, however, were all in tears by 5 p.m. By 8 p.m. we were all in an antechamber telling stories to keep ourselves awake."

From that, though -- notice she says "babIES", but the scene only calls for one baby -- they had a bunch of babies and they would just go with whoever looked grumpiest, and just keep trying to shoot the scene until they got what they needed. If you've got a bunch of babies around for an entire afternoon, odds are that one of them will eventually naturally cry for some reason, and then that's when they all sprung into action and shot the scene, and there you go.

(I wish I could attach the photo she's got in the production diary for this entry -- a very dubious-looking Hugh Laurie studying a baby he's holding, while the baby is reaching out in fascination to touch a camera lens and not paying Laurie any attention.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have GOT to get my boys in movies. Identical triplets who cry a lot! Just take away Elmo or turn off Yo Gabba Gabba! Easy as pie.
posted by pyjammy at 9:11 AM on August 25, 2009

I remember reading that Stanley Kubrick managed to direct the kid who played Danny in The Shining without him realising it was a horror film.
posted by hnnrs at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2009

Ooh, there's a tv ad that shows a young kid looking lost and crying at the top of an escalator (work safety ad - if this is how much your kid misses you now, imagine if you never came home - something like that). I am sure they actually just filmed as the parent nicked off on the kid at the top of the escalator. And kept doing it with different kids until one of them freaked out.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:45 AM on August 26, 2009

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