This month our ‘How To’ article looks at how to make convincing fake drinks for your performers. We supply all kinds of vessels for a production that needs to feature food or bar scenes, whether that be period or modern. But how do you make a convincing alcoholic drink? If an actor has to do multiple takes, or there is a large movie production, it is not practical to provide real beer, champagne or cocktails. The actors would soon be rolling in the aisles. Movie and theatre prop designers have a number of tricks to help them fool the audience.
Consult with your costumes department when making a fake drink, as it will help you decide what to put in your recipe. Some scenes require that a drink be thrown, for example, and you need to check with the costumiers whether this is going to cause major problems with laundering. Again, multiple takes can cause real issues in a scene like this, so make sure everyone knows the score, so they can have new costumes on hand once the second take is set up. Speak with the lighting department too, and see if the drink is going to be picked out with lighting, and if the scene lighting will affect the colour of the liquid. A perfect ‘red wine’ recipe might look spot on in your brightly lit workshop, but like tar on a gloomy set. Work with others to get the perfect balance.
Make sure you can recreate the drinks you make, and that they are not too expensive to produce in quantity, should you need to. Write your successful recipes down – continuity is essential.
Dark liquids – Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon, Sherry
These can all be made with the old standby – tea. Tea has been used in theatrical productions for decades, as a perfect imitator of dark alcoholic drinks. There are plenty of teas available now, so experiment widely to get the look you want, altering steeping times, water temperature and dilution. Another technique for making dark coloured drinks is to add some burnt sugar to water and mix. Caramel colouring from the baking aisle is perfect. Cola Sodastream flavouring is effective, but you will have to experiment to get just the right recipe. Try is watered-down apple juice as a substitute for whiskeys.
This can be difficult to make, but persevere. If you need bubbles visible, try carbonated water and experiment with colourings.
White and Red Wine
Some very pale Japanese teas could pass for white wine in the right dilution. If you find a very light coloured apple juice, you may be able to dilute it to the colour of white wine. If money is tight, just try adding a little food colouring to water. Weak limejuice cordial, and diluted grape juice are both good substitutes too. Cranberry juice, blackcurrant, and cherry juice are useful to experiment with when making red wine, but make sure your actors like the taste of the drinks you prepare or all your hard work could go to waste.
See if your cast are happy to drink alcohol-free beer. It will save a lot of trouble. You can find recipes for making a fake frothy head for your fake beer, using powdered egg whites and an acid, such as lemon juice. If this sounds too complicated, just try placing a Mento into a pint mug, then adding some ginger beer or root beer a few minutes before the prop is needed. As the top begins to foam up, spray it with hairspray. It will work for a relatively short scene.
The simplest alcoholic drinks to recreate are spirits! Just use water. Tonic water is best if you are serving a gin and tonic however, and don’t forget your accessories – ice and a slice just adds to authenticity.