newborns in movies
May 14, 2010 8:51 PM   Subscribe

How do movies find real newborn babies for birth scenes?

Whenever I watch a movie in which a woman gives birth I always wonder how the movie finds a newborn baby to appear on-screen? Are there special rules for this? Who are the parents bringing their newborns in to appear in a movie? It all just seems kinda weird.

Can anyone enlighten me as to the process, rules and requirements for casting a newborn baby in a movie?
posted by fso to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you pay attention to the sizes you'll see many times the baby are improbably large to be newborns.
posted by 6550 at 8:54 PM on May 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

What 6550 said, and also sometimes they use a rubber baby model. Cover that thing with goo and have the actors wiggle their hands as they hold it, and you'd never know the difference.
posted by ErikaB at 8:56 PM on May 14, 2010

If the question is about how minors are protected against abuse on movie sets, you want to read about child actors:

The other responses make sense, too.
posted by dfriedman at 8:59 PM on May 14, 2010

A lot of the time they're not newborn. Make that "all of the time, except for that one movie".
posted by dunkadunc at 9:05 PM on May 14, 2010

Best answer: from Mental Floss:
Child labor laws vary from state to state, but in California, where the majority of those productions are made, a baby has to be at least 15 days old in order to get a work permit. Of course, most full-term babies have lost that “newborn” look after two weeks – their eyes are wide open, they’ve gained some weight, and their heads have begun to round out. So casting directors seek out “professional preemies” – babies born before their scheduled due date (twins preferred, in order to skirt around that 20-minutes-max camera time rule) but who are healthy enough to be brought to the studio. The law counts the actual date of birth, not the expected date, so, for example, a baby born after only seven months’ gestation is still going to look tiny and fragile and appropriately “newborn” at the age of fifteen days. The law forbids smearing makeup on newborns, so cream cheese and jam are used to give them that authentic “fresh out of the uterus” look.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:28 PM on May 14, 2010 [39 favorites]

I'm on the mailing list for the Pittsburgh film guild and there are a few major studio level movies and shows filmed here every year. Every once in a while, among the calls for extras, there are very specific requests, skinny people for the Road, people in 1980s clothes for Adventureland. Once in a blue moon there will be a specific listing for a baby under two months for a birth scene. Parents with some extra time and a need for quick extra cash will answer, usually alerted by word of mouth or the email list itself.

Usually, all of the calls get filled pretty fast. People love movies.
posted by Alison at 9:37 PM on May 14, 2010

I remember being shocked at how real the birth/baby looking in this when I first saw it (5:30 or so), but after doing it myself it looks less real. Still better than most birth/newborn scenes though.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:20 PM on May 14, 2010

Movie newborns look a LOT different than my son when he was born. He didn't look quite human at first, but a few hours later he looked fine.
posted by zardoz at 2:04 AM on May 15, 2010

Since it's a baby and they all look the same, it's easy: they use file of an actual birth.

They don't smear "cream cheese and jam" on a baby.
posted by L'OM at 8:05 AM on May 15, 2010

Sorry, L'om. You're totally wrong on both counts. I say that having worked in film production for years. Oriole Adams is correct.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:35 AM on May 15, 2010

Yes, that's a patently ridiculous suggestion. The entire motive behind having a scene with a birth is to see the reaction of the parent holding the newborn, not to actually see the mechanics of birth. The doctor handing the baby to the principal actor and seeing them melt is the money shot, and you can't get that with stock footage of a random pair of faceless arms holding a baby.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:48 AM on May 15, 2010

A preemie born at 7 months gestation is going to be in NICU for weeks and definitely not healthy enough to be on a set at 15 days old.
posted by Linnee at 10:28 AM on May 15, 2010

In this article about the crowning scene in Knocked Up, Jude Apatow discusses how he wanted to get a real birth for the crowning scene, but couldn't because it was impossible to get a labor permit for a unborn child until it's actually born.
posted by jrishel at 10:32 AM on May 15, 2010

A preemie born at 7 months gestation is going to be in NICU for weeks and definitely not healthy enough to be on a set at 15 days old.
No, but perhaps when he's released from NICU one month later he'll still have that "just born" look and will absolutely pass the 15 day law. And, as unpalatable as it might seem, there are parents out there willing to use their "just sprung from NICU" infants as a foot into the movie business.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:32 AM on May 15, 2010

>...and also sometimes they use a rubber baby model....
Ah, so it seems the casting for V probably wasn't as difficult as I had imagined...

posted by blueberry at 1:04 PM on May 15, 2010

I work in VFX, and have worked on both older-baby-with-jam shots, and making-a-rubber-baby-look-alove shots, so yea, those are both methods that are used.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:20 PM on May 15, 2010

I remember an article about an animatronic baby on ER who was surprisingly, even distrubingly, realistic. This baby was intended to be a patient though, not a birth scene baby. My mom and I always laugh when they hold up a "newborn" baby and try to guess the actual age of the infant... "that baby looks at least 6 weeks old."
posted by IndigoRain at 2:42 PM on May 15, 2010

I have a shot a number of newborn scenes in feature films and in the past not only were there people with stop watches on the set taking moment by moment records of when the infant was "working", but there were also strict guidelines on how much light (in footcandles) you could project onto the infant.

By comaprison, the last time I shot a newborn was on "Legion" and no one gave a hoot about the conditions or amount of time or light levels.

Often the company will bring in multiple babies for many reasons like the parents not willing to allow jelly and makeup to be put on the newborn, or they they melt down and cannot be handled on set. On Legion one of the baby's brought in for the delivery scene was like 6 months old, it was hilarious when they brought the baby in for the director to look at. Needless to say we didn't use it at all.

We also had an animatronic baby that was really quite good, I think we only used it finally. The creepiest part about that is that when it is not on camera you can do things like put a cigarette in its mouth and have it pretend to say unflattering things, but no one is supposed to know about that stuff.

posted by silsurf at 3:38 PM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

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