Episode 11: Fake News(papers)!

Hello, welcome to Books in the Wild, the podcast about exploring books. I’m Keri Schroeder. It’s been awhile since our last episode; I have been busy with other projects and unfortunately I’ve been neglecting this podcast a bit, so thank you for hanging in there. I have a few updates before we talk about today’s topic, which is all about fake newspapers and prop printing.

If you have listened to this podcast before, you probably know that I’m a bookmaker and artist, a.k.a. “book artist”, and this podcast is about book arts. And if you haven’t listened before, then now you also know that information. I make books and prints and things under the name Coyote Bones Press, and recently I inherited some amazing equipment to add to the studio a.k.a. my garage, a.k.a. I park my car outside on the street now. Some of the highlights are a cabinet full of metal type for letterpress printing, a guillotine paper cutter which is a ginormous overkill of a contraption used for cutting stacks of paper, and my new sweet little baby a Poco Proof press which is a small press that was used to make proofs before you actually printed it, it basically works the same as any cylinder press, but the form needs to be hand-inked and there isn’t really any way to register for multicolor printing, although I have found some people online that have come up with inventive registration systems and create some nice multicolor prints from it. Fixing up the press and trying to work in the studio has been taking up a lot of my time lately, if you would like to hear more I have written a blog post about it on the Inklings blog over at editions.studio

Editions is a book arts co-working space and gallery in Seattle, but it’s also a worldwide community of book artists. The editions.studio website has a blog of all things Book Arts, and the forums are a great place to connect with other book artists, ask for advice, share techniques, and find collaborators. The Editions store has lots of paraphernalia, and you can sign up for classes both in Seattle and online to learn more about book arts, and about the business of book arts. You can learn more at editions.studio.

Another cool thing that may interest you bookmakers and printers is The Paper Carnival’s limited edition book art enamel pins, which you can find at thepapercarnival.com and use coupon code BOOKSINTHEWILD for 15% off your order. The Paper Carnival is a side project from myself and Julie Chen of Flying Fish Press where we make book art related collectibles that aren’t actual books. Right now we have six different book art tool pins, like a nipping press, Vandercook, and pica pole with more to come.

Then on Saturday April 21, 2018 in San Jose, Coyote Bones Press and The Paper Carnival will be at the S.F. Bay Area Printers’ Fair & Wayzgoose. Print enthusiasts, students, educators, graphic designers, typophiles, artists, and printers new or old will enjoy the demonstrations, tours, and array of vendors and exhibitors. All ages are welcome! So come by and say hi and buy some pins and prints! The S.F. Bay Area Printer’s Fair and Wayzgoose will be at San Jose’s History Park April 21st. For more information visit printersguild.wordpress.com or SJ printers guild on Facebook.

There are links to all these in the show notes, and at booksinthewild.com

And now let’s talk about some fake news!

If you’ve watched any television shows or films in the past hundred years or so, you may have seen characters reading newspapers that seem somewhat familiar but somewhat off with titles like the Los Angeles Tribune or The New York World. One particular newspaper that appears in dozens of shows features a woman with dark hair and the caption, "She’s 3rd Brightest But Hard ‘Gal' to See", or a full-color front page image of space titled “Comet Show Leaves Nation Speechless” or ads for Brenner’s Black Cat Brew or M essence perfume.

In the sitcom Married With Children, Ed O’Neil’s character Al Bundy sat down on his mustard yellow floral couch nearly every episode and read the exact same newspaper from 1986 to 1997.

This same newspaper makes appearances in Scrubs, Modern Family, No Country for Old Men, Everyone Hates Chris, Back to the Future, Desperate Housewives, Charmed, That 70’s Show, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and classics like Citizen Cane and Cincinnati Kid… and many many more. There have been several online compilations made with images of various movie characters reading this same newspaper.

So why does this mysterious newspaper keep showing up in all these programs for decades? Well, in 1957 there was a paper shortage caused by rare pulp-eating critters called wigglemorts, from the French meaning “cellulose death worms”. After a particularly bad infestation at the Foghorn Paper Mill in Cincinnati, the government declared a state of paper emergency and banned the production of nonessential paper products. And for the next fifty odd years, Hollywood had only one newspaper in its possession to use as a film prop which was passed from set to set accompanied by an armed guard.

No, I’m just kidding. That was fake news! I don’t know French. See how easy it is?

Check. Your. Sources.

So why does this newspaper really keep showing up on film? Well, it is fictional newspaper created as a film prop, that much is true. And if you’ve never noticed these identical newspapers before, it’s because film props are meant to blend into the background. Just like some would say about typography, it usually only gets noticed if it’s bad or feels out of place. Even people who claim to know nothing about design would think it’s weird to see an obituary written in comic sans, and also would probably notice if an ancient Roman soldier were wearing a digital wristwatch on film.

This particular prop newspaper is simply a stock item prop available for $15 each originating from the Hollywood prop printshop known as Earl Hays Press. Over the years, the newspaper has become a bit of an easter egg for film buffs, and like the Wilhelm scream stock sound effect, filmmakers continue to include it in their films as a wink and a nod to film history.

The stock newspaper is just one of the over 25,000 different printed products that the Earl Hays Press produces. They specializes in custom props and period accurate printing. Let’s say you need a historically accurate newspaper from June 14, 1947. Earl Hays Press can do that for you. They make sure every detail is accurate, and copyright free, so you don’t have to worry about it.

An avid traveler in the early twentieth century, Earl Hays would sketch the license plates and collect newspapers and ephemera from all over the world. He collected famous issues like the London Times announcing George Washington's death, or the sinking of the Titanic.

When he founded the press in 1915, Hays used this collection as reference material to print accurate props for filmmakers. Soon, Earl Hays Press became known for their masterful recreations of printed matter and believable fictional product brands. Today, Earl Hays Press is still family-owned and operated although Early Hays himself has long passed. However, current owner Robert Hernandez Sr. has been dedicated to ensuring the same accuracy and attention to details at the press since the 1960’s. Now semi-retired, Mr. Hernandez’s family and small staff share the workload.

Earl Hays Press are experts at recreating not only newspapers and magazines, but also have made fake brand food and drink packaging, signage for fictional businesses, license plates, passports and state IDs, police and government official badges, and even money. Anything and everything where it might not behoove the filmmakers to have the “real thing” in their movie.  They have a large selection of period specific graphics and typefaces, along with practically a museum’s worth of historical references.

Film production companies use fictional brand props because it’s usually cheaper, and much much simpler than all the legal headache of gaining clearance and licensing, or dealing with product placement fees. So instead, they can pay Earl Hays Press to create products like Morley Cigarettes the preferred brand of the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files. Or they create brands that sound familiar enough to be accepted, but not so familiar that you could get in trouble for it - brands like Teb Soda, Cola-Cola, Captain Sugar or Fudgie Flakes cereal. Altering a trademark logo into something unreadable but still reminiscent of the original is a process called Greeking. The complication lies in that prop masters need their items to be believable, to sell the illusion set in the film, but not so recognizable that it conflicts with the “likelihood of confusion” trademark regulations. The goal is for the audience to glance at the item, recognize it as soda or cereal or whatever it is meant to be, and then move on and not linger. Too many or too few details, or inaccurate details results in breaking audience immersion.

Earl Hays Press owner, Robert Hernandez recalls seeing a performance of Annie, which is set in the 1930’s. During a scene where a man runs onstage presenting a telegram, Hernandez saw that the paper was a modern-day telegram design, with a big bar from the State Department on top. He was so disturbed by the discrepancy that he called the prop man the next day and sold him a dozen telegram blanks from the correct time period.

It seems innocuous, but someone will notice. It reminds me when some friends and I saw an advertisement for bookbinding that showed a paperback book being squished inside a nipping press, and we laughed and laughed.

What sets Earl Hays apart from their competition isn’t necessarily the printed products themselves, but their authentic feel, largely due to their impressive collection of reference material. They have an archive of all kinds of printed materials throughout history, with font and paper samples to match. Though some of the processes are digital these days, many clients want the props to feel as authentic as possible, and so Hays often still prints from their old presses with period type, woodcuts, and plates. As owner Hernandez mentions in an interview, most of the time is spent on research and planning; the actual printing is the easy part.

To recreate a newspaper, one would need to be familiar with the history of newspapers. Though there were bills posted with news on them dating back to ancient Roman times, the newspaper as we know it, an inexpensive widely distributed periodical of contemporary happenings and announcements started in the early 1600’s in Germany, about 100 years after the development of movable type which made printing more accessible. From there, the printing of newspapers developed and spread, with most major cities having their own newspaper (and even sometimes multiple competing newspapers) by the 19th century. Then as now, publishers raced to have the most up-to-date news faster than the competition, resulting in the daily newspaper by the mid-19th century, which because typesetting was still all done by hand meant that compositors would work overnights setting type to be ready to print before morning. The development of Linotype machines in the late 19th century, lead to even faster printing and laid off a lot of type compositors. The linotype machines were attached to a keyboard that composed text, casting type, and redistributing the type molds. The linotype operator used the keyboard to assemble molds, or matrices of letters of sequential letters, then molten lead was put into the mold creating a line of type, linotype, to be printed. Sometimes the metal type was still hot as it was pressed into the paper, spawning the term “hot off the press”.

To make a newspaper, first a blank form is created with sections divided to be filled with news stories, ads, and headlines. This blank form is called a dummy. Then all the articles need to be have the appropriate size and style of font and spacing (called leading and kerning in typography) to fit into the allotted spaces. This process is called typesetting, because it literally used to require setting individual pieces of type into a form to be printed. Now most typesetting is done electronically, at least in the newspaper world.

Once the typesetting is complete, the digital page is then transferred to film via laser. I should mention that what I am describing is how they make newspapers now, as we didn’t really have this laser photo imaging technology in the early days of newspapers. So after the laser does its work, the film is processed into negatives, which are then used to make printing plates. Then these printing plates are used to print newspapers. This is usually done with an offset press, where the plates transfer the image onto large cylinders, which the paper is run through and the image is off-set onto the paper. Today, some commercial offset presses can be ginormous, two stories high and can print up to 60,000 copies per hour.  

Most prop masters don’t usually need newspapers in such quantities, so smaller presses are typically used. But the typesetting, layout and printing process is more or less the same. The difference being that many newspapers in films are entirely fictional, and rather than editors focusing on accuracy of facts, they focus on the believability of the contents.

But prop masters don’t necessarily choose to use fictional newspapers because it’s difficult to get real newspapers’ approval. Many well-known papers such as The New York Times or Los Angeles Times, will gladly allow for their papers to shown on film, provided that they are recreated exactly as the originals. Exactly, down to the typeface and layout, every advertisement and headline and ornament. When Earl Hays Press was tasked with printing replica newspapers for the montage scene in The Godfather, they had to find the original papers from the 1950’s, recreate the design to a t, and print new old copies, which then need to be cleared by the publisher. 

One really fantastic resource for old newspapers is The Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” archive of historic American newspapers at https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov
This site lets you browse and search a fully digitized archive of newspapers from all across the country. It is a very cool site to get lost in, if you’re into reading old news and advertisements, or are looking for reference material to recreate a particular era of print design.

Earl Hays doesn’t only make props for films. They have made fake ID’s and badges for undercover police, FBI, and Homeland Security for sting operations and drug busts.  In exchange, Earl Hays’ work with law enforcement has allowed them access to items like badges, warrants, and other official documents that aren’t easily accessible to the general public.

One of the more complicated items for prop companies to make is money, because you have to walk that fine line of believability and authenticity, and this is illegal currency and you’re going to jail.

All reproductions of U.S. currency were banned in the Civil War era, but starting in 1958, certain black-and-white illustrations were permitted "for philatelic, numismatic, educational . . . or newsworthy purposes." So in older movies, prop money didn’t try too hard for realism because the rules were so strict. By the mid-1980’s currency reproduction laws became a little more lax when Time Inc. challenged the federal government’s definition of “educational or newsworthy” after they got into hot water for featuring a photo of cash stuffed into a basketball net on the cover of their magazine. This led to the 1992 counterfeit detection act, which states that:

The Code of Federal Regulations permits the printing, publishing or importation, or the making or importation of the necessary plates or items for such printing or publication, of color illustrations of U.S. currency provided that:

The illustration must be of a size less 75% or more than 150% the size of a real bill, in linear dimension, of each part of any matter so illustrated;

The illustration must be one sided; and

All negatives, plates, 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 shall be destroyed and or deleted or erased after their final use in accordance with this section.

Black and White Reproductions
Title 18, United States Code, Section 504 permits black and white reproductions of currency and other obligations, provided such reproductions meet the size requirement.

So how does the film industry work around these restrictions? Very very carefully. One trick that filmmakers use is to glue a real bill onto a stack of blank paper, because contrary to popular belief you can use real money in movies, it’s just that in scenes where you have millions in cash on the screen, one usually doesn’t want to carry and transport millions in cash to a set where dozens of people are coming and going. Small changes will be made to text, like “For Motion Picture Use Only” instead of “United States of America”, using pictures of David Crosby instead of Benjamin Franklin, and nowhere can the bill claim to have been issued by the US Treasury.

One source for money in early films was old Mexican pesos rendered obsolete after the revolution in 1920, and many films over the next few decades featured these bills. However, as film quality and clarity advanced, it became easier for the audience to point out phony props, and so prop designers had to step up their game when it came to details and believability. Now thanks to High-definition television and 4K, images are so clear that you can see every minute detail, images look so clear and so real that they look fake. In addition to seeing every hair and every pore on an actor’s face, you will also be able to see things like make-up and prosthetics, and any miniscule mistake on a prop will stick out.

Prop makers need to make the money look real enough to be believed on film, but not so real that it can be considered counterfeiting. But even after following all the rules, it’s almost inevitable that trouble can arise when dealing in the phony money biz. In a scene from the film Rush Hour 2, an explosion causes thousands of bills to rain down in a casino in Las Vegas. This fake money found its way into a few anonymous extras and onlookers pockets and were passed off as the real thing in more than a few transactions on the Vegas strip. The makers of the dubious currency, California-based prop company called Independent Studio Services received a cease and desist to end production on their fake currency, and were ordered to turn over all their digital files and inventory. Although ISS still maintains that they followed all of the rules for printing the money – there were at least 28 differences, different size, and did not claim to be issued by the US Treasury, the props were deemed too realistic. The Secret Service confiscated and destroyed approximately $200 million dollars in prop money from ISS, a loss of about $160 thousand dollars in real money.

The Earl Hays Press is so careful when dealing with printing prop ls that each printing plate is sent to the Secret Service for pre-approval, and then destroyed after the print run. But even with these precautions, Earl Hays ran into for the 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid, where the 1930’s era prop money from Steve McQueen’s poker game looked a little too real. Hernandez recalled the incident in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek “The whole thing is a stud poker game, so for an hour and a half money is going to be flowing all over that table. “So we did artwork on the money. The law says you cannot use any part of a real bill. So we did everything phony, the numbers, everything was original art, all the way through. But it looked amazingly good, even though nothing was from an original bill.” But then the money showed up in bars and clubs in New Orleans, and Earl Hays Press got a knock on their door from the Secret Service.

Then again in 2000, a metal band filming a music video in Florida threw prop bills into the crowd, and some of it didn’t make it back and ended up later being spent by some of the audience members. The props were approved, but then trouble arose when the fake bills started showing up in shops and banks across the country, and were traced back to the creator, Earl Hays Press. The Secret Service came to the press and collected the plates, then they had the printers burn their remaining paper bills in the lot behind the press while they supervised. After over 100 thousand dollars of fake money was burned, the Secret Service then even confiscated the ashes.

The moral of the story? Be careful when printing fake money and fake news? I guess?

I hope this mini dive into prop printing piqued your interest. If you would like to learn more about Earl Hays Press, or how newspapers are made, or what not to do when printing fake money, I have posted links to all my sources in the show notes.

For more information about Books in the Wild podcast, you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook @ Books in the Wild Podcast, or visit booksinthewild.com. I can also be reached at booksinthewildpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you so much for listening.



www.booksinthewild.com – Books in the Wild podcast site
www.coyotebonespress.com – Keri Schroeder artwork
www.thepapercarnival.com – book art ephemera by Keri Schroeder and Julie Chen
printersguild.wordpress.com – S.F. Bay Area Print Fair & Wayzgoose April 21, 2018 in San Jose
editions.studio – book art co op in Seattle

Articles/Links about Prop Newspapers and Prop Money: