Are Actors Really Drinking Coffee On TV?

TV, like the movies, tells us stories by making us believe in things that aren’t real. We don’t really believe that Jon Snow was fighting an ice-dragon on “Game of Thrones,” but when we watched the scene, it certainly felt real. Shows like “Game of Thrones” make extensive use of special effects to tell a story about a place that does not actually exist. What you may not realize is that most TV shows are using some sort of trickery to make you believe the story. So here is why your favorite TV character’s coffee mug is probably empty.

The complicated special effects:

Even the most simple, straight-forward sitcom is using some sort of effect to convince you that what you are seeing is real. Scenes set in a grocery store probably weren’t shot in a real store. They also probably didn’t build an entire set of the store. Instead, they put the props that the characters need to touch in front of a green screen. This is a very commonly used effect where the actor stands in front of, well… literally a green screen. The background is digitally inserted later on. It is much cheaper than actually building that grocery store.

The simple special effects:

When a set is used on a regular basis, it is usually easier for them to simply put a large photo in the background. We have all seen tv shows where the view from an apartment window is clearly a photo. But there is probably a lot that you miss. Sometimes things that you see in the background (such as soda and candy machines) are actually just photos.

Don’t spill it!

So what does this have to do with empty coffee cups? Let’s break this down and look at coffee drinking logically. First off, you need to be careful. We have all spilled coffee at some point. Some of us have spilled it on ourselves, and that can be dangerous. You can actually get a third-degree burn from hot coffee. So if you are an actor, trying to remember lines and give a good performance, you shouldn’t also have to worry about spilling your hot coffee. Of course, in Method Acting, the actor wants everything to be as real as possible. In real life, you would be at least somewhat concerned with spilling that coffee, so that actor wants that to show in his performance.

The practical issue:

If you are a director or producer, you know that time is money. You want to get the best performance out of the actors in the quickest amount of time. Even still, it sometimes takes a very long time to shoot a scene. In a complicated scene, the actor could expect to be sipping that coffee all day long. All that coffee means a lot of bathroom breaks. Which disrupts the shooting schedule. The director would certainly rather that you “act” drinking the coffee

The perfect coffee zone:

Anyone who drinks coffee knows that over a long period of time, the hot coffee becomes cold. And the cold coffee becomes lukewarm. Either way, that temperature has moved into that zone most people would prefer to avoid. This is even worse in the case of your Frappuccino drink. The whipped cream melts, and the whole thing starts to look unappealing. Food, of course is even more problematic. When that beautiful roast sitting on the table has been under hot lights all day, it starts to stink. Actors often complain about having to eat food that has gone bad.

More money:

Producers are always concerned with keeping things under budget. Every production crew has a team of accountants who are trying to save money, and often nitpicking over what others would say is small change. Coffee (especially good coffee) can be expensive. Why bother giving it to an actor who isn’t actually going to drink it? It is much cheaper in the long run to keep those mugs empty. Can an actor demand coffee? Well, that probably depends on the actor. Chris Hemsworth? Yes, he’ll likely get coffee if he wants it. An unknown actor on a new sitcom? Probably not.

They’re lying to you, but it’s for your own good:

Ultimately, it is just plain easier if that coffee mug is empty. The actor doesn’t spill it. The director is happy. The producer is happy. The accountants are happy. The work is completed on time, and the show is produced on schedule. That means when you settle in with your own cup of coffee, you get to see your favorite show when you want it. “Game of Thrones” was notoriously slow at producing episodes. We can only assume that they were providing coffee on-screen, and that slowed down the production time.

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