Cry me a river
March 8, 2006 7:24 AM   Subscribe

How do they get little kids to cry in movies or on TV? Do the people filming cause them to cry, or does the crew have to wait until the child starts bawling?

I'm talking about little little kids, the ones who can't follow directions enough to cry on cue.
posted by katiecat to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Presumably they're hired because their parents have some way of making them cry. But that's just a guess.
posted by GuyZero at 7:43 AM on March 8, 2006

Allegedly, Charlie Chaplin got Jackie Coogan to cry in a shot by threatening to kill Coogan's dog.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:49 AM on March 8, 2006

So parents make the little ones cry? Jeez, I thought show-biz parents were weird, but not mean!
posted by katiecat at 7:52 AM on March 8, 2006

Is this inspired by last week's Lost?
posted by S.C. at 7:54 AM on March 8, 2006

In Shirley Temple's biography, she describes how one director told her that her mother was missing after she was unable to cry on cue. This produced the desired reaction. Apparently glycerin tears were used if the child couldn't cry on demand.
posted by amber_dale at 7:56 AM on March 8, 2006

I know that with babies at least they tend to obscure their faces from view and use stock samples.
posted by rc55 at 7:57 AM on March 8, 2006

Not with newborn babies on ER, rc55. That's the group I'm really interested in. Basically, there's a real bastard I work with and my colleagues are trying to find the perfect job for him. If there's a position that makes babies cry for entertainment, I reckon I've got it cracked.
posted by katiecat at 8:04 AM on March 8, 2006

To make Jackie Cooper cry during the filming of Skippy, Norman Taurog told him that his dog had just been run over by a car. The kid got an Oscar nomination and Taurog got an Oscar, so it all worked out fine.
/unhelpful answer
posted by goatdog at 8:10 AM on March 8, 2006

I've wondered this myself, since watching Extras. In Extras, Ben Stiller as a director gets a kid to cry by threatening to shoot the kid's mother in the face.
posted by veedubya at 8:46 AM on March 8, 2006

Watch crying scenes closely (you'll probably have to play them back to see this). Almost ALL of them, whether the actor is a child or an adult, cut away from him before tears appear. Usually, the sequence is something like this:

Shot 1 (close up on mean mom):
Mom: You're grounded for the rest of your life.

Shot 2 (close up on kid):
Kid: B--b--b--but... (kid's face scrunches up, but no tears yet)

Shot 3 (back on mom):
Mom: No "buts", Mister!

Shot 4 (back on kid, tears streaming down his face):
Kid: I hate my stupid LIFE!

If you see this sort of thing (and you feel like shattering the illusion for yourself), be very VERY suspicious of the tears. They are fake. They were inserted between shots 3 and 4. Glycerin is what they usually use. The Glycerin is usually put right in the eye, so that you can see that moment when it trickles out and runs down the cheek.

The really amazing shots are the ones in which you see someone go from tearless to tearful, without a cut. Nowadays, there are so many laws to protect children, it's doubtful that anyone threatens to kill their dog or anything like that -- that way leads to lawsuits.

Instead, they just use good actors. Many good actors -- including children -- have better access to their emotions than the rest of us. They can just think of something sad and start crying.

Also, remember that screen acting is not stage acting. You can keep shooting over and over again until the actor is able to produce tears.
posted by grumblebee at 8:50 AM on March 8, 2006

I always thought that they just used crying stunt midgets. But having interviewed Dakota Fanning, I know that she can make herself cry on cue.
posted by klangklangston at 9:05 AM on March 8, 2006

According to the Futurama DVD commentaries, for babies, they just get Frank Welker to overdub it.
posted by Capn at 9:15 AM on March 8, 2006

I have some friends in the industry ...

* Babies are often simply unswaddled. Also, the shield-the-eyes trick works. But more often than not, you never actually see the baby crying in a production -- the sounds are added in post-production. Have the actor hold the baby and ... well ... act like they're holding a crying baby. With audio and smart edits, the illusion is pretty good.

* If your actor (adult or children) can't cry on cue, there's always saline eyedrops and quick edits.
posted by frogan at 9:35 AM on March 8, 2006

The baby crying on LOST was pretty darn convincing. I wondered this myself. I thought maybe they put something itchy or stingy on its skin, that could be washed off easily or would wear off quickly. But that was just a guess.
posted by matildaben at 9:41 AM on March 8, 2006

i had the opposite reaction to lost... there was one scene where claire was walking on the beach with her baby and it was clearly a prop. it was also crying at the time (IIRC) so clearly that was just overdubbed. maybe you have to be watching it in HD to notice this stuff, though.
posted by joeblough at 10:05 AM on March 8, 2006

The first time I ever wondered about this was in Steel Magnolias, after Shelby goes into a coma and her baby is left in the high chair screaming and crying. He was definitely too young to be faking anything, so I figure they either had to wait for him to start crying on his own or do something to make him cry. I'm hoping it was the former, but either way, to just let an obviously very upset little kid just cry his eyes out without trying to comfort him seems cruel, even if it is for "art". (Steel Magnolias is art, right?)
posted by cilantro at 10:33 AM on March 8, 2006

I've worked on a few films here and there that included shots of crying children. Most actorly kids are able to cry on cue. I was told that they usually cast children for parts based on whether or not they can cry on command. So I suppose that it's part of an actor's skillset.

Filming babies crying is probably just a matter of waiting a few minutes.
posted by dobie at 10:43 AM on March 8, 2006

Here's a tidbit from IMDB with regards to a kids that cries during 'City of God':

"To prepare the Runt for the scene in which he cries when Zé Pequeno shoots him in the foot, (acting coach) Fátima Toledo worked with the child (who had never acted before) and discovered his biggest fear was having a toothache. So, when the time came to shoot the scene, she told him to just remember his toothache, and when he was shot in the foot, to pretend his toothache pain had moved to his foot."
posted by greatgefilte at 10:51 AM on March 8, 2006

(Not child actors, but...) I recall an actor mentioning that he/she, upon needing to cry, would put their hands to their face in grief, covering a forefinger and thumb in the process, and pluck a nose hair. Guaranteed to elicite tears.
posted by UnclePlayground at 11:17 AM on March 8, 2006

A common method is like the one greatgefilte describes. For both children and adults they prepare themselves by thinking about all the horrible things that have happened in their lives. This brings them closer to the emotional state they need to be in to start crying.
posted by raaka at 11:33 AM on March 8, 2006

My daughter can make herself cry, unassisted and unprovoked, and takes glee in demonstrating this to horrified adults. No glycerin required.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:35 AM on March 8, 2006

Listerine makes me water up, personally.
posted by disillusioned at 12:23 PM on March 8, 2006

Huh. I'm wondering if the "your dog died" story is apocryphal, because I always heard it in relation to the scene in Meet Me in St. Louis where Tootie goes berzerk and decapitates the snowman. I can't find a source for that on the 'Net right now though...
posted by web-goddess at 12:56 PM on March 8, 2006

Filming babies crying is probably just a matter of waiting a few minutes.

True, but keep in mind, though, the severe child-labor law restrictions when dealing with children, especially infants, where at some ages (e.g. infants) the child literally can actually be on set "working" for only 15 minutes per day. The infant spends the day in a trailer near the set with its parents and nannies (in the case of infants, one nanny assigned per child, regardless of how many parents or family members are available), and the child is only whisked onto the set and into the scene when all the other actors and crew are ready for that 15 minute window to open.

This is why twins and triplets are so darn valuable as child actors -- you're doubling and tripling the available "time on set" for that single "actor."

So, while you can unswaddle a baby and wait a few minutes ... make it quick. Otherwise, we go with the doll, the obscured camera angle and the post-production audio. ;-)
posted by frogan at 1:58 PM on March 8, 2006

I heard Steven Spielberg made Drew Barrymore cry in ET: The Extra-Terrestrial by abusing a much-loved toy (a teddy bear?).
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:14 PM on March 8, 2006

A lot of babies and toddlers just cry pretty damn easily - it doesn't take more than, say, removing them from their mother's arms and putting them into a stranger's to get them going.

Hustle and Flow had a few scenes where the baby was absolutely screaming and crying, and I felt that it was probably a combo of taking it from its mom and throwing it at Terrence Howard and the intensity and noise of the scene itself (adults screaming at each other and crying).
posted by tristeza at 3:47 PM on March 8, 2006

A lot of babies will cry as soon as they are put down and a stranger is pointing a camera at them (speaking from experience as a children's photographer).
posted by nadawi at 4:02 PM on March 8, 2006

Can I make good money if I turn my kids into child actors? I can't get them to fucking STOP crying.
posted by surlycat at 1:16 AM on March 9, 2006

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