We all know that what we see on the silver screen isn’t real. While still photography captures a moment in time, enabling people to bear witness to events they weren’t around to see, filmmaking is illusion.
To begin with, narrative cinema creates the illusion of time. In a play, a selection of scenes in a ninety-page script would translate to ninety minutes in the theatre; in a film, the same length script can give the impression of days, weeks or more spent in a whole world implied by the movie and inferred by the audience.
Then there’s the detailed creation of sets and locations, and the application of props and costumes used to turn familiar actors into totally different people - but with filmmaking of greater complexity there’s camera trickery too, playing with a shot in action or manipulating footage after the fact. Today’s CG techniques can map and remodel what’s in front of the camera to create environments, even people that don’t even exist in the real world.
Optical illusions and hi-tech magic tricks, sleight of hand and virtual reality - today’s moviemakers conjure wizardry more arcane than anything up Doctor Strange’s sleeve. Sometimes the explanation as to how it’s done is so simple you can’t believe you didn’t think of it yourself - but sometimes the technique itself is so elaborate it’s worth a film all on its own.
Let’s dive into some of the art, the science and the secrets behind how moviemakers pull off the impossible.
10. The Shining (1980) - Danny Lloyd Had No Idea He Was In A Horror Movie
Sometimes it’s as simple as staging a long con of Ocean’s Eleven proportions on a pre-schooler to get them to commit to the level of performance you need. Simple? Riiight. This scam lasted five years.
Auditioning for the fun of it, young Danny Lloyd had no idea what he was in for when his whole family moved to London for the planned 17 week shoot of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. A year later, they were still filming.
Part of the delay was due to an on-set fire in February 1979, but the rest was all Kubrick and his notorious perfectionism. Little Danny, however, had the time of his life. Why? Because he didn’t even know he was in a horror movie.
Through all of those long, arduous working days, through all the delays, Kubrick, the cast and the whole crew engaged in an elaborate deception, having told Danny he was making a drama about a man who lived in a hotel. Danny was kept away from set during the more unsettling scenes, and saw none of the violence, ghosts or gore.
The year after release, Danny was shown a ten-minute of The Shining at a cinema near his home which measured up to the kind of film he thought he was making. It wasn’t until he was ten or eleven that he saw it in full. Even then Danny couldn’t see the horror in it. Thanks to all his memories of the fun, adventurous shoot in a foreign country - he got to ride his tricycle indoors! - it just felt like a home movie to him.