The Story of the Newspaper Prop Used in Different Movies for Over 50 Years
Take a typical scene in the movie: a character picks up the nearest newspaper, reading it while still continuing the conversation. What we don't notice is the exact same black and white newspaper has been used in hundreds of other movies. From some angles you can see a discernible portrait of a girl with black long hair or a photo of a 1960s era man with a hat if you've got very good eyesight.
Blink it and miss it.
The same newspaper has reappeared time and time again throughout the years in various movies and TV series, such as No Country for Old Men, Back to the Future, 10 Things I Hate About You, Casper, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family and lots of others.
Some of the headlines from the newspaper we can read that are always there:
- "She’s 3rd Brightest But Hard ‘Gal' to See"
- "Compromise Housing Bill Sent to President for OK"
- "Valley Area Records Record Growth"
- "UN Debates Mideast Crisis: Hopes for Early Solution"
- "Board Waives Hearing For Two University Teachers"
- "Compromise Divorce Reform Measure Passed"
The main reason why most of us have never noticed the newspaper is because of our selective attention. We tend to focus on a specific aspect of a scene while ignoring other aspects, such as passing of the balls on the video embedded to the right.
In our case, the aspect being ignored is the newspaper. It is a trivial piece of information that unless being pointed out by the character in the show, the viewer would not have given it any importance. And that is the exact reason why movie makers have been able to use the same prop over and over again.
Where Did This Newspaper Come From?
Digging a little deeper, I found that the paper came from a small American prop company called The Earl Hays Press in California, one of the oldest newspaper prop manufacturers. They also specialize in creating custom product design and packaging for movie productions, those including newspapers, books, magazines, posters, signs, cans and bottles, product labels and so on. Despite a lacklustre online presence, you can still find the newspaper under the relevant category.
The paper in question was first printed in the 1960s, then offered as a "period paper" which explains the photo of the man with a top hat. The screenshots on the website don't actually reveal the same prop - just various printings of the same file. The front is blank and can be customized, but the inside and back page are always identical.
Why Use a Prop Newspaper?
Unless the production house has a contract to use a newspaper of a certain publishing house, it is far safer to use one that doesn't entail any legal bounds. If a movie is made with an appearance of a notable product in it (including newspaper), you should know that it's not a coincidence. The arrangement is made either by licensing the product name, or in many cases, promoting it instead. The product placement fees in recent Transformers trilogy practically covers the budget of the movie.
Nevertheless, since creating an entire page of newspaper every time a character is picking up one for a glance is a time-consuming process, it is far better to just purchase a stack of Earl Hays fake papers for just $15 each. Sometimes if they have some left over they'll recycle them for another job.
Whether it's a running gag in the industry, a movie easter egg, or a very popular prop, it has certainly caught our attention. Keep an open eye for the next time a character picks up a newspaper on the show. You might go "Aha! That's the same prop I've seen in Back to the Future!" and surprise your peers with this exceptional knowledge with a keen eye.
Check out some other clear shots of the paper below.