How U.S. Counterfeit Laws Impact Hollywood Prop Money

iStock
iStock

Hollywood studios may spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make a movie, but you’ll rarely ever see any real money on the screen. Due to the liabilities involved in having large sums of money in front of cameras, especially when a script calls for thousands or millions of dollars to be shown (or destroyed) in a scene, the movie industry relies on prop currency to create everything from a mobster’s briefcase full of hundreds to a madman's pile of burning bills. But there’s a fine line between creating the perfect prop and unintentionally bringing counterfeit currency into the world.

In the wake of the Civil War, crimes involving counterfeit U.S. currency were on the rise, with some estimates claiming that anywhere from one-third to half of all the country’s money was fake. This prompted the creation of the Secret Service, which was originally conceived to investigate counterfeit crimes. In the immediate aftermath of the war, there was a nationwide effort to crack down on this fake cash, and at one point in the early 20th century, a federal law was briefly put on the books that forbid the use of actual money in full-scale photography.

Up until this point, the nascent movie industry had been using real money in its productions, so according to Pricenomics, the only real solution to this law at the time was for filmmakers to use Mexican currency that was rendered useless after the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920.

That solution turned out to be nothing more than a Band-Aid; as the decades went on, the supply of Mexican currency purchased by the studios began to shrink, leaving producers looking for alternatives. One quick fix came when studios began printing their own prop money, albeit with original designs on the bills, including the studio’s name front and center on each note (since any reproduction of U.S. currency was forbidden at the time, this prop money was based on the Mexican design).

Though the early 20th century laws forbidding real money from being filmed didn’t last long, the problem of finding props that looked authentic persisted through the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is when movie prop houses began to create more believable money that was based on the designs of actual U.S. currency. As the laws surrounding the reproduction of money were loosened, this new prop money passed muster with the Secret Service. Much of this was achieved through black-and-white reproductions of U.S. money that was passable in quick shots.

Over the decades the laws regarding currency reproduction have changed, and today we abide by the Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992. According to the law, filmmakers can reproduce full-color U.S. currency, provided that they adhere to the following restrictions on each bill:

    (1) the illustration is of a size less than three-fourths or more than one and one-half, in linear dimension, of each part of the item illustrated;
    (2) the illustration is one-sided; and
    (3) all negatives, plates, positives, digitized storage medium, graphic files, magnetic medium, optical storage devices, and any other thing used in the making of the illustration that contain an image of the illustration or any part thereof are destroyed and/or deleted or erased after their final use.

If a prop company comes too close to the real thing, they can expect a not-so-friendly visit from the Secret Service, as Independent Studio Services found out after some of its faux money from Rush Hour 2 made its way into the local economy. The company was ordered to destroy its entire inventory of prop money at a considerable loss, which led Gregg Bilson Jr., the CEO of Independent Studio Services, to rethink the prop money strategy. To avoid more run-ins with the Feds, his company now prints stacks of blank bill paper and places a lone, authentic $100 bill on top to simulate a large sum of cash.

Today, prop money still gets passed off as authentic from time to time, even if the bills follow the federal guidelines of reproduction. As Secret Service special agent Chuck Ortman explained to the Los Angeles Times, “[If] it's green and it says '20' on it, somebody will take it."

The First Full Trailer for The Crown Season 3 Is Here

Des Willie, Netflix
Des Willie, Netflix

Star Wars obsessives aren't the only people in for a trailer treat today: Nearly two years after the second season of The Crown debuted, the award-winning series about the early days of Queen Elizabeth II's reign is just weeks away from its return. And on Monday morning, Netflix released the first full trailer for The Crown's new season.

While we've known some of the basic details about the new season—like the time frame in which it takes place and that Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies would be taking over the roles of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip—this is the first in-depth glimpse we've gotten at what's in store for season 3.

The role duty plays in the lives of the British royal family appears to be an overarching theme, with the trailer showing the country in distress but each of the characters putting on a smiling face for the public. While Elizabeth and Philip's relationship will continue to take center stage in the pricey period drama, Princess Margaret (now played by Helena Bonham Carter) will struggle with her role of being the Queen's sister. And Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor) will have to choose between his love for Camilla Parker Bowles (played by Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell) and his duty as the heir apparent to the throne.

Netflix will debut The Crown season 3 on November 17, 2019.

10 Facts About the Beastie Boys's 'Sabotage' Video

Beastie Boys via YouTube
Beastie Boys via YouTube

With their raucous mix of rock and hip-hop, the Beastie Boys were a band everyone could love. They also made killer music videos, and their 1994 video for “Sabotage” is arguably one of the greatest in the history of the medium. Directed by Spike Jonze and inspired by ‘70s cop shows, “Sabotage” finds the Beasties in cheesy suits, wigs, and mustaches, cavorting around L.A. like a bunch of bootleg Starskys and Hutches. If you were alive in the ‘90s, you’ve seen “Sabotage” a million times, but there’s a lot you might not know about this iconic video.

1. It all began with a photo shoot.

Spike Jonze met the Beastie Boys when he photographed them for Dirt magazine in the early 1990s. The band showed up with its own concept. “For years, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz had been talking about doing a photo session as undercover cops—wearing ties and fake mustaches and sitting in a car like we were on a stakeout,” Adam “MCA” Yauch told New York Magazine. Jonze loved the idea so much he tagged along when the Beasties went wig shopping. “Then, while he was taking the pictures, he was wearing this blond wig and mustache the whole time,” Yauch said. “For no apparent reason.” So was born a friendship that begat “Sabotage.”

2. Spike Jonze filmed “Sabotage” without permits.

The Beasties weren’t big fans of high-budget music videos with tons of people on the set. So they asked Jonze to hire a couple of assistants and run the whole production out of a van. “Then we just ran around L.A. without any permits and made everything up as we went along,” MCA told New York. They’re lucky the real cops never showed up.

3. The Beastie Boys did all their own stunt driving.

After binge-watching VHS tapes of The Streets of San Francisco and other ‘70s cop shows, the Beasties knew they needed some sweet chase scenes. “We bought a car that was about to die,” Mike D told Vanity Fair. “We just drove the car ourselves. We almost killed the car a couple of times, but we definitely didn’t come close to killing ourselves.”

4. “Sabotage” inspired the opening sequence of Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle's 1996 film Trainspotting famously opens with Ewan McGregor and his buddies running through the streets of Edinburgh to the tune of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” In the DVD commentary, Boyle revealed that the scene was inspired by “Sabotage.”

5. Two cameras were harmed in the making of “Sabotage.”

“Sabotage” was supposed to be a low-budget affair—and it would’ve been, had Jonze been a little more careful with his rented cameras. He destroyed a Canon Scoopic when the Ziploc bag he used to protect the camera during an underwater shot proved less than airtight. He apparently told the rental agency the camera stopped working on its own, but he wasn’t as lucky when an Arriflex SR3 fell out of a van window. That cost $84,000, effectively tripling the cost of the video.

6. MCA crashed the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards to protest “Sabotage” being shut out.

At the 1994 MTV VMAs, “Sabotage” was nominated for five awards, including Video of the Year. In one of the great injustices of all time, it lost in all five categories. When R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” won Best Direction, MCA invaded the stage dressed as Nathanial Hörnblowér, his Swiss uncle/filmmaker alter-ego. “Since I was a small boy, I had dreamed that Spike would win this,” MCA said as a confused Michael Stipe looked on. “Now this has happened, and I want to tell everyone this is a farce, and I had the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”

7. There’s a “Sabotage” comic book you can download for free.

After MCA’s death in 2012, artist Derek Langille created a seven-page “Sabotage” comic book in tribute to the fallen musician and filmmaker. You can download it for free here.

8. There’s also a “Sabotage” novel.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Sabotage,” Oakland-based author and Beasties super-fan Jeff Gomez wrote a five-act novel inspired by the video. He spent months researching cop movies and real-life police lingo, and he watched “Sabotage” about 100 times, keeping a detailed spreadsheet of all the action unfolding onscreen. “They created a really great universe, and I just wanted to play around in it for a little bit,” Gomez told PBS.

9. There’s a “Sabotage”/Sesame Street mashup on YouTube.

In 2017, YouTuber Is This How You Go Viral, a.k.a. Adam Schleichkorn, created the video “Sesametage,” a reimagining of “Sabotage” made with edited bits of Sesame Street. It stars Big Bird as himself, The Count as Cochese, and Oscar the Grouch as Bobby, “The Rookie.” Super Grover, Telly, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie also turn up in this hilarious spoof of a spoof.

10. “Sabotage” nearly became a movie—kind of.

Jonze and the Beasties had such a blast making “Sabotage” that they wrote a script for a feature film called We Can Do This. The movie, which they later abandoned, was set to feature MCA in two roles: Sir Stuart Wallace, one of his “Sabotage” characters, and Nathaniel Hörnblowér (whom he portrayed during that 1994 VMAs protest). Jonze told IndieWire the film would’ve been “ridiculous and fun,” which sounds like the understatement of the century. “There were no 1970s cops in it, but it was definitely in the same spirit,” he said.

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