Actors pretending to drive in films (badly)

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There are three main ways to create the illusion that an actor in a movie is driving a car. 1) You project a video of the moving road on a green screen behind a stationary car. 2) You place a car on top of or behind another vehicle so that the car is being, in effect, towed. 3) You actually get the actor to drive a car and film him doing it. This third one isn’t strictly an illusion, I grant you.

But the point is, in those first two examples, the actor isn’t actually driving. That’s fine. Focus all of your concentration and mental faculties on the dark art of ‘acting’. But don’t, whatever you do, start moving your fake steering wheel left and right like a crazy person enthralled by the bubble in a spirit level.

Do you know what would happen if you did that in real life? You’d veer from left to right in a bizarre and dangerous snaking movement and your passengers would be constantly thrown from one side of the vehicle to the other. Yet according to the view behind you, you’re travelling in a perfectly straight line. I know some models of car have a lot of under-steer, but you’d think your erratic movements would have some kind of impact on your trajectory.

And here’s another thing. A lot of roads in America – a country in which a lot of the films I watch are based – are unwaveringly straight. The highways are surrounded by so much nothing that the requirement for an obstacle-avoiding bend in the road is pretty much non-existent. And many of their cities have grid systems; there’s very little need to turn the wheel unless turning 90 degrees left or right. But actors appear to believe that the best way to maintain a straight line whilst driving is to wildly rock the steering wheel as if weaving through a set of tightly packed traffic cones.

Stop doing it. It’s bad acting. It’s taking me out of the film. I can’t concentrate on the exposition you’re spouting because I’m too busy fixating on your impression of a Formula One driver warming his tyres behind the safety car.

Maybe it’s because a lot of actors don’t drive in real life. Still, that’s no excuse. I mean they bring in experts to tell them how to fire a gun or hold a sword or ride a fucking horse, so why can’t someone take five minutes out of their hectic schedule to inform the star of their movie that real cars don’t handle like the vehicles in Mario Kart.

6 comments

  1. Aghhh this drives me crazy… and no I won’t apologize for the bad pun.

  2. fRed Herring

    I searched “people driving in movies move the steering wheel too much!” in google and this came up. I am satisfied. I too had speculated that some actors may not drive in real life but I also wondered: is there perhaps an iconic movie or two to which this peculiar form of over-acting might be traced? Or a specific acting school?

  3. Kay

    2 Films came to mind straight away when I read this, the first was Kubrick’s The Shining (at the beginning) and second The Birds, when Tippi is driving around Bodega Bay. It always bugs me, there are probably more! Love your blog, though I wonder if reading it at work is a good thing?

  4. Dan

    I wonder if the reason behind it is to give the look of motion. If the wheel doesn’t move, like in real life, then it might seem like they are just sitting there, and any appearance of motion, even the wrong kind, might be the actor trying to display that they are in the act of driving

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