How to deal with annoying audio quirks? Check out these inventive and practical silent movie props that make sound mixers happy.
You're on set – today it's a crowded pool hall – preparing to have a confidential conversation between your two leads. The lighting, the atmosphere, the props, the costumes, everything is absolutely authentic.
And just seconds after calling action, you realize that you have a serious problem: your audio is completely cluttered with the constant clicking, rattling and hitting of pool balls in the background. So what now?
Completely quiet pool balls, that's what.
Welcome to the surprisingly large world of silent movie props first introduced to the mainstream by Scott Reeder, an extraordinary TikTok user / papa joke. Let's take a closer look at this on-set solution and examine a few ways you can order it for your next production or make it yourself. Trust me, your sound mixer will thank you!
Introduction to silent props
In the TikTok above (shot in the warehouse where he works as a prop master for film and television), Scott Reeder introduces a new generation to the weird and fascinating world of silent movie props and their benefits on set.
The first example Reeder presents is a vinyl paper sack that eliminates the wrinkled, crispy, and conversational noise that occurs when handling shopping bags. It's a situation that happens on-screen more often than you might think (usually with a nice, long baguette), and according to the shipowner, the vinyl helps reduce propeller noise by up to 90%.
In the same video, he shares a surprisingly practical solution to a long-running production problem – the noisy pool balls we mentioned above. Instead of asking your background extras to mime what plays billiards (which makes authenticity a challenge), Reeder suggests a smart, amazingly simple solution – paint some rubber racquetballs. Genius!
Purchase of silent bags and props
For something that a lot of people are just finding out about, silent props are pretty easy to come by. The vinyl bags featured in the video above are available from a company called Prop Trx.
And Prop Trx doesn't stop with grocery bags. They offer a wide variety of non-paper products, and most come in a variety of styles – lunch bags, wine bags, crime scene bags, manila envelopes, and even silent gift wrapping paper and cellophane. Prices vary (depending on the needs of your bag), but most are around $ 20. Seems pretty reasonable to me and it's about what you would be spending on time and raw materials if you were to make them yourself. Speaking of which. . .
Make your own silent props
While purchasing industry-specific props is ideal for productions on a larger budget, you can actually use many of the same noise reduction principles and tricks to make your own everyday props quieter.
As you can see in the video above (via The Film Look), adding neoprene rubber to your props – shoe soles, plates, cups, pretty much anything – can reduce the noise a lot.
Neoprene sheets of fabric can be bought in large quantities in any hobby or specialty store. This video shows you how to make some custom instant embroidery clips that you can quickly apply to any movie props you need.
Other handy movie props
Reeder continues its series on TikTok, showing off some bespoke movie props that can be used as weapons in battle scenes – including metal pipes, wooden two-by-four, and even cast iron frying pans – all made of rubber and safe to use in contact. You can browse and purchase some of these options from online stores like Barkode Props.
Reeder is also showing propeller weights – including some used in the making of Friday Night Lights – made of dense foam that can be used in gymnastics scenes, as well as some pliable rubber versions for battle scenes. You can get a number of these fake weights online at a store called – Wait For It – Fake Weights.
And finally, the most popular film prop for maximum impact in bar fights and fight scenes, the infamous tear-off bottles and coffee cups. While it is important to note that these breakaway props can still be very dangerous and should be used with the utmost care and professional supervision, they can also be purchased online from one of the biggest names in movie props – New Rule FX.
For more tips, tricks, and insights on filmmaking, check out the articles below.
Cover picture from Stokkete.