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Letter Writing in the Movies


speedracer5
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I've always wondered:

 

In films when they show a character writing a letter, does the studio film the actor writing the letter? Or do they employ "handwriting doubles" to be filmed writing the letter? I am just curious, as it would be fun to know if we're being treated to seeing an actor's real handwriting.  I know that if we see them writing something on a chalkboard (for example) then we're seeing a sample of the actor's handwriting as the entirety of them is in the scene.

 

In a film like "Sabrina," where Sabrina pens her suicide note, are we seeing a sample of Audrey Hepburn's real handwriting or did Paramount just employ someone who had good handwriting to be filmed?

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I can't give specifics about films, but I do know commercials employ "hand doubles" to handle the product in closeups. TV Guide ran an article about the practice when I was a kid.

 

The only time this ever stayed in my mind was an episode of MASH. Alan Alda's Hawkeye wrote many letters home, but the one I'm talking about was the time Wayne Rogers as Trapper wrote one. We hear the contents of the letter in his narration while we see him writing on a pad (but do not see what he's writing). Rogers' hand movements clearly do not match his narration... Alda was much more skilled at the technique.

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The handwriting in old movies is always extremely neat, textbook cursive writing. I'm pretty sure the actor/actress is not actually doing this writing. You see a "wild shot" of a hand with a pen, scribbling a letter in the most exquisite penmanship. It's like piano playing, (or some other instrument) - you might get a close up of the hands playing the piano, but it's fairly easy to tell that it's not the actor's hands. (There may be one or two exceptions to this, like Oscar Levant...)

 

Whenever I'm watching a film with my husband and there's a letter-writing scene, he always barks out "Movie handwriting !" meaning what I just said above.

(He also tends to bark out things like "painted backdrop !" or "wild track !" or "rear screen projection !" or "continuity error !"  Mostly only when he wants to annoy me.)

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The handwriting in old movies is always extremely neat, textbook cursive writing. I'm pretty sure the actor/actress is not actually doing this writing. You see a "wild shot" of a hand with a pen, scribbling a letter in the most exquisite penmanship. It's like piano playing, (or some other instrument) - you might get a close up of the hands playing the piano, but it's fairly easy to tell that it's not the actor's hands. (There may be one or two exceptions to this, like Oscar Levant...)

 

Whenever I'm watching a film with my husband and there's a letter-writing scene, he always barks out "Movie handwriting !" meaning what I just said above.

(He also tends to bark out things like "painted backdrop !" or "wild track !" or "rear screen projection !" or "continuity error !"  Mostly only when he wants to annoy me.)

I doubt whether too many actors won penmanship awards in school, as Claude Daigle did.

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I imagine it depended on the actor's own handwriting.  One actor could have impeccable handwriting, and they might use it in the close up.  If I were an actor however, they'd need a double as even pharmasists have trouble deciphering my chicken scratch.

 

But I've also noticed that when an actor or actress in a movie is asked to sign for something, like a letter or package, it looks like they just make a wavy line, and take too short a time to sign what their character's name is.

 

Sepiatone

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I've always wondered:

 

In films when they show a character writing a letter, does the studio film the actor writing the letter? Or do they employ "handwriting doubles" to be filmed writing the letter? I am just curious, as it would be fun to know if we're being treated to seeing an actor's real handwriting.  I know that if we see them writing something on a chalkboard (for example) then we're seeing a sample of the actor's handwriting as the entirety of them is in the scene.

 

In a film like "Sabrina," where Sabrina pens her suicide note, are we seeing a sample of Audrey Hepburn's real handwriting or did Paramount just employ someone who had good handwriting to be filmed?

 

Given the logistics and time it takes for lighting the close up of the hand writing the letter, that is usually done as "pick up" shots by the assistant director or, in some cases, the second unit director with a small crew and a hand writing double, usually someone with good penmanship.

 

That way the director and the cast and crew could concentrate on getting the necessary shots (close ups of faces, over the shoulders, wide shots, reaction shots, etc) where the stars were needed to be seen on camera.

 

Thinking was the time was too valuable for the director, stars and crew to spend on small shots that could be done at any time and didn't require any recognition of the actor's face or body in the close up of the handwriting.

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I imagine it depended on the actor's own handwriting.  One actor could have impeccable handwriting, and they might use it in the close up.  If I were an actor however, they'd need a double as even pharmasists have trouble deciphering my chicken scratch.

 

But I've also noticed that when an actor or actress in a movie is asked to sign for something, like a letter or package, it looks like they just make a wavy line, and take too short a time to sign what their character's name is.

 

Sepiatone

When you puchase something for $2 with your credit card, and you have to sign for it at the register, do YOU sign your full name, rather than a wavy line?

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When you puchase something for $2 with your credit card, and you have to sign for it at the register, do YOU sign your full name, rather than a wavy line?

 

Maybe he abbreviates it a little bit and signs it: "C.P. Atone"?!

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This might not be relevant, but Gracie Allen said that she was tired of actors not taking the time to do simple things on screen and that it was obvious. So she made sure that whatever little task she did she actually did it. If you watch the Burns and Allen show you will see her actually cooking for instance.

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Whenever I'm watching a film with my husband and there's a letter-writing scene, he always barks out "Movie handwriting !" 


"painted backdrop !" or "wild track !" or "rear screen projection !" or "continuity error !" 


 


Haha TikiKid loves yelling out "TOY" when she spots a miniature boat, plane, train, city.


 


Last night we watched HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT featuring a kiss off letter written in cursive. They no longer teach cursive writing in school and I asked, "Can you read that?" and she said NO. I had to read it really fast for her before it faded off the screen.


Cursive writing comes in handy when parents want to leave notes for each other that you don't want the kids to read!


 

Yes, the writing in movies generally was done by the art department. There's always someone with good handwriting around to do this. Same with hands. My hands were often called upon when I worked for a photography studio doing catalogue shots. I think my feet have even been in shots too. I was the only female employed there and was in my 20's, so it worked out fine.
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Do you know who "wrote" the Declaration of Independence?   Not Jefferson, not Adams.   His name was Timothy Matlock.  It is his copperplate calligraphy we see on the parchment, acting as their official engrosser.   

 

In movies they have handwriting hired out, either in feminine hand or masculine, because it always must be legible.  but  when I try to recall of how many male character's handwriting makes it to the screen, I can only think of J.D. Durrance in Now, Voyager.  I can recall far more women having the role. 

 

Now in today's movies, it's more likely characters writing on a keyboard (don't they type fast?) .  I have a few of those scenes in my specs, being as they are another format for screenwriting in the sample.

 

I watch these notes  for how we the audience are coaxed to respond to them.  When you write a "note" in a script, you have the character's voice-over of what's she's/he's writing, and watching the letter created, revealing their thoughts, or the setup in the plot. It's a handy way to mindread the character.  But when you write these notes, you must keep the note short-- or else you have the audience reading the movie!   Even in the movie, Love Letters (Ha! I thought of another male)  we see Allen Quinton's  handwriting, there is very little of the actual writing, although we see a long page of it at the beginning.. but then that is Ayn Rand for ya .   ;)

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Do you know who "wrote" the Declaration of Independence?   Not Jefferson, not Adams.   His name was Timothy Matlock.  It is his copperplate calligraphy we see on the parchment, acting as their official engrosser.   

 

In movies they have handwriting hired out, either in feminine hand or masculine, because it always must be legible.  but  when I try to recall of how many male character's handwriting makes it to the screen, I can only think of J.D. Durrance in Now, Voyager.  I can recall far more women having the role. 

 

Now in today's movies, it's more likely characters writing on a keyboard (don't they type fast?) .  I have a few of those scenes in my specs, being as they are another format for screenwriting in the sample.

 

I watch these notes  for how we the audience are coaxed to respond to them.  When you write a "note" in a script, you have the character's voice-over of what's she's/he's writing, and watching the letter created, revealing their thoughts, or the setup in the plot. It's a handy way to mindread the character.  But when you write these notes, you must keep the note short-- or else you have the audience reading the movie!   Even in the movie, Love Letters (Ha! I thought of another male)  we see Allen Quinton's  handwriting, there is very little of the actual writing, although we see a long page of it at the beginning.. but then that is Ayn Rand for ya .   ;)

They were going to make a film about him. Andy Griffith was all set to play Timothy Matlock.

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@Finance:  Yes, I do sign my full name.  Not that anyone could read it anyway, much less pronounce it.

 

But little actions like that are often foregone in movies.  A full cup of coffee is never poured and rarely drank, food that never gets eaten, a cigarette that's extinguished after two puffs( at 10 cents a pack, they could afford it, I guess),  people jumping out of cabs without paying, etc.  So why should handwriting get special notice?

 

C.P. Atone

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Most close up shots of handwritten letters in old movies betray the discipline and style of the

old "Palmer method", widely taught in schools at one time. Some of them are almost text book

perfect examples. Viewing such film shots, I could almost visualise the "3 lines" used to teach

penmanship: the top and bottom lines controlling how high and low the script is; the middle one

controlled the height of the small letters.

 

A producer's number one concern regarding such a letter shot would have been that the cursive

script be absolutely legible and readable to everybody. No chance could have been taken that

the person actually writing the movie letter show a quirky individual style. Avoiding that meant

commissioning a ghost writer who went strictly by a book that was familiar to the audience from

their grade school experience.

 

Some of those movie letters look like they were written by a first or second grade teacher that

ran a tight ship when the subject was penmanship! Some of them probably were; perhaps they

were moonlighting with the studio!

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ThelmaTodd wrote:  "Some of those movie letters look like they were written by a first or second grade teacher that ran a tight ship when the subject was penmanship! Some of them probably were; perhaps they were moonlighting with the studio!"

 

 

But when I look at Allen's writing in Love Letters, some of it seems pretty juvenile, but not Palmer method.

 

2h50kes.png

 

 And yet, lol, not too far from my handwriting.  

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This might not be relevant, but Gracie Allen said that she was tired of actors not taking the time to do simple things on screen and that it was obvious. So she made sure that whatever little task she did she actually did it. If you watch the Burns and Allen show you will see her actually cooking for instance.

I love Gracie Allen, that great philosopher!  Do you think she was really playing the accordion in We're Not Dressing?

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No disagreement, ThelmaTodd, I just noted the style was different.   Now below is a important note from Ms. Addie Ross, to her dearest, best friends. Celeste Holm is the voice-over for Addie's letter, although in the movie we never directly see her face. 

 

A Letter to Three Wives

 

11cgqa8.jpg

 

Now, maybe it's just me, but doesn't this hand remind you of Allen's handwriting too?

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I love the scene in: Tovarich (1937) when Claudette Colbert sits to write a reference dictated by Charles Boyer:

 

Claudette Colbert: What shall I say?

Charles Boyer: The undersigned, Grand Duchess Tatiana Petrovna, Princess Ouratieff, states that she has had in her service -"

Claudette Colbert: "How do you spell "service"? With an "S" or a "C"?

Charles Boyer: Which looks better?

Claudette Colbert: I like "C."

Charles Boyer: "C," then. ...in her cervice Michel...
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I wouldn't be surprised if some of today's method actors insisted on writing the letters themselves. By the way, my favorite letter/voiceover was Richard Pryor's line from "Which Way Is Up?" (1977).  His character, Leroy Jones, writes to the folks at home and adds a postscript that is something like: "I was going to send you some money, but I've already sealed up the envelope."

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Most close up shots of handwritten letters in old movies betray the discipline and style of the

old "Palmer method", widely taught in schools at one time. Some of them are almost text book

perfect examples. Viewing such film shots, I could almost visualise the "3 lines" used to teach

penmanship: the top and bottom lines controlling how high and low the script is; the middle one

controlled the height of the small letters.

 

A producer's number one concern regarding such a letter shot would have been that the cursive

script be absolutely legible and readable to everybody. No chance could have been taken that

the person actually writing the movie letter show a quirky individual style. Avoiding that meant

commissioning a ghost writer who went strictly by a book that was familiar to the audience from

their grade school experience.

 

Some of those movie letters look like they were written by a first or second grade teacher that

ran a tight ship when the subject was penmanship! Some of them probably were; perhaps they

were moonlighting with the studio!

In general, if you see an example of someone's writing, can you tell whether it is from the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, or today? Is most people's penmanship different from what was the norm 80 years ago?

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I can't remember if I mentioned it here, or in the "Off Topic" room, that I've noticed many young people, mostly girls, who have beautiful penmanship.  Yet, you STILL can't read their writing!  I mean, it LOOKS good, but has flourishes that make it indecipherable.  Both a niece of mine and a girl who works at my doctor's office write like this.  I wonder if this is a newer trend in handwriting instruction, or if any time is SPENT on it in schools anymore. 

 

Sepiatone

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I can't remember if I mentioned it here, or in the "Off Topic" room, that I've noticed many young people, mostly girls, who have beautiful penmanship.  Yet, you STILL can't read their writing!  I mean, it LOOKS good, but has flourishes that make it indecipherable.  Both a niece of mine and a girl who works at my doctor's office write like this.  I wonder if this is a newer trend in handwriting instruction, or if any time is SPENT on it in schools anymore. 

 

Sepiatone

Doctors have always been known for having terrible handwriting. This is dangerous, because of the likelihood of pharmacists misreading prescriptions.

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Doctors have always been known for having terrible handwriting. This is dangerous, because of the likelihood of pharmacists misreading prescriptions.

 

I believe that the main reason many believe that doctors have bad handwriting is that prescriptions are not written in English and so a layman can find no meaning in them. It is common for a person to see a thing such as: "q.d.s. w cib." on a prescription and believe that it is poor handwriting which causes them to not understand what is written when they are in fact recognizing the letters as written and meant.

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