Monday, 8 February 2016

Hollywood Prop Money

In Hollywood, massive stacks of paper banknotes remain one of the most enduring movie symbols of wealth and excess. No one buys drugs or pays their hitman via credit card.

Perhaps most striking of all are scenes in which huge amounts of money are treated with cavalier disrespect. When watching the on-screen clips of huge amounts of money, it’s rare to see real banknotes – the world of fake movie cash is governed by strict laws.

In the early days of Hollywood, counterfeiting laws prevented the use of real banknotes in film. But in 1920, when the Mexican revolution came to an end, large quantities of Mexican currency hit the market, and were acquired by film studios looking for a substitute for US money. According to the website Paper Money of Sonora, the most common were the $5, $10 and $20 notes from the Banco del Estado de Chihuahua.
When the real Mexican notes ran out, studios began to produce their own mock-ups, based on the original designs (some of which featured the studio's name).

In the 1970s, filmmakers began to demand more realistic-looking money. Strict legal guidelines must be followed. US laws demand that fake cash be one-sided, and less than 75 per cent or more than 150 per cent the size of a real bill.

The Breaking Bad cash pile
The risks of producing too-realistic money were aptly demonstrated during the filming of the 2001 Jackie Chan action comedy Rush Hour 2. A pivotal scene required an explosion at a Vegas casino, during which hundreds of thousands of fake banknotes were shown falling through the air.

But the fake notes, supplied by the Hollywood prop company Independent Studio Services (ISS), were picked up by movie extras and passers-by, who then attempted to spend them along the Vegas Strip. Secret Service agents swooped in, confiscated more than $100 million worth of prop money, and promptly accused the prop maker of counterfeiting.

Banknote featuring Eddie Murphy as the Prince of Zamunda.
When it comes to movie prop collectors lack of realism in a banknote can actually increase its appeal. Many banknotes are custom made for their respective films, often because the movie's plot requires a specific type of note.