View Full Version : Tears - Fake or Real

08-21-2004, 10:54 PM
I hope this is not the wrong place to ask this question - it is kind of a directing / acting / special fx question.

I am preparing to shoot a short film and one of the actors needs to cry in a couple scenes. What I was hoping for in particular for one scene, is to have the actor looking straight ahead, then the eyes well up and one tear comes out and rolls down the cheek.

If the actor/actress is unable to cry on command, are there other ways of getting the tear in the film? I don't have access to skilled CGI people that will work for free (no budget film), so I can't put a CGI tear in. Are there other ways of accomplishing this? Is there a "Hollywood Secret" for getting tears?

Thanks for you time and any help,

08-22-2004, 12:07 PM
Eye drops, have everything rolling - a few drops in the eye and let the tears flow, and hope your actor/actress has a sense of humor.


08-22-2004, 12:48 PM
Probably better to use non-medicated eyedrops. No sense in constricting blood vessels unnecessarily.

Could always smoosh up some onions and gently waft the vapors toward the actor. :-)


08-22-2004, 03:04 PM
Slap Her/Him really hard.

08-22-2004, 04:10 PM
In soaps, they use what in Brazil we call "chinese crystals".

J.R. Hudson
08-22-2004, 08:12 PM
Slap Her/Him really hard.

Bwhahahaa! :D L M A O !

08-22-2004, 09:11 PM

08-22-2004, 10:07 PM
Get a new actor? That will get you the best result... or make them feel like so much crap (but not too much they'll walk off set) to get them upset enough and in the mood. Shoot the scene, then make up with them afterwards and let them know you were tricking them...

08-23-2004, 05:17 AM
Um...to offer a dissenting opinion.

If you have a good actor, they should be able to cry in the scene. Contrary to popular opinion, most actors cannot cry on cue, but in the process of accessing all the emotion they've applied to their situation and character, crying is a common culmination of that work.

The thing is, most directors here donít have the knowledge or the abilities to be able to coax an actor into crying. It requires a lot of trust, it requires an intimate understanding of their acting process, and it requires a very empathetic director to be able to lead an actor in that direction. Those are things that are hard to learn from books or classwork, so itís difficult to approach something like that without extensive experience working emotionally with actors.

Insulting an actor, or trying to hurt them emotionally to get the result of crying is a bad idea in most cases because that isnít how actors are trained to work. Most times, that sort of approach will totally shut an actor down, if not cause them to leave the set entirely.

Slapping them would be funny, but only if you got it on camera.

Iíd suggest that you might want to try approaching the scene as if you yourself were acting it. Come to a strong understanding of the characterís internal world going into each scene where this emotional breakdown is supposed to occur. Itís important to explore every facet of the characters emotional state and the relationships that character is experiencing within the context of the script.

Then, Iíd suggest that you ask why it is important for you as a director to have that character cry in those scenes. There are a lot of ways that emotion can be expressed, so sometimes it helps us as directors and writers to justify why we want a specific emotional result.

Sometimes not crying can be just as externally miserable as crying.

Once you have a thorough understanding of the character, itís up to you to work with that actor to help them understand that character as you do. Explore the script together, discuss each moment so that you both have an understanding of what the other person sees in each moment.

If your actor is trained, they will begin to do their own internal work, depending on their method, and internalize the character in order to further identify with the emotions exhibited by that character.

If your actor is untrained, then itís up to you to help them explore the emotions, perhaps finding moments from their personal history that might be similar to the characters situation. Then that person must explore those moments until they have an emotional understanding of the character.

From that point on, itís just how you work with them on set and what kind of mood you establish during shooting.

You could still resort to using fake tears, but the problem with fake tears is that itís usually just icing on a fake face. If your actor canít get close to the emotion needed, having fake tears on their face wonít do much to bridge the gap.

Also, have confidence in the work you accomplish. Be faithful to the story and character rather then to your expectations of the story and character. If the actor is able to give emotion to the character that is true, but different then what you expected, consider using it anyway.

I find that actors teach me the things about a story that I couldnít learn by writing it.

Still, you could just slap them in the face.

08-23-2004, 06:04 AM
Thanks for your responses, most of them were helpful ;D

J_Barnes - Thank you for that thorough post, there was a lot of though put in to that and I appreciate it. You have helped me begin to see the production in a different light. And you are right on the mark in regard to the need for the emotion to come through regardless of whether or not the actor can produce a tear on command.

I know the actress I am using pretty well and feel confident she can give the emotion for the scene. And for most of the "distressing" scenes the presence of tears is not necessary. However, there is one scene where having the one tear roll down the cheek would really punctuate it, so thanks for the tips.

And, the actress is my sister, so if it becomes necessary I will just walk on set and slap her! :o

Thanks again everyone,

08-23-2004, 09:49 AM
Nice Barnes. Good acting is much better than crying. But it's not so hard to cry on cue. Just try to breathe the same way you would if you were actually nervous. You will get the adrenaline rush you fell before crying, and if you are not as shut as I am, you might be able to get a tear running. But there is this powder soap actors smell that make their eyes run. It's funny because acting for soap operas just mean look good, and that powder makes just that. You can look good when you are crying. No runnung noses, no bad faces, just tears. Kinda remembers me of the movie ghost. Lot's of tears, a brick solid actress.

08-23-2004, 11:47 AM
Yeah, Demi Moore is eerie in that film. Tears streaming down the face, eyes held wide open and crystal clear white, no furrled brow, no clenched jaw, no tight lip...no other signs of distress other then the tears.

Completely calm and collected while tears drip down the cheeks, catching every moment for the camera. Very disturbing indeed.

08-23-2004, 06:11 PM
I prefer to shoot my tears with a lot of nasal mucus, and some high viscosity saliva, but unfortunately, not a lot of products in that range...l ;D

08-27-2004, 09:15 PM
Hey and don't forget you're shooting SD video, so get TIGHT on those tears.

A short I just acted in... there's a similar scene.... lone tear rolling down the cheek. And we did a couple takes, and on the third take I actually got it. I was like holy s%$# what am I an actor or something? I almost busted out laughing in the middle of the take cause I was so proud of myself. So I guess I'm not really much of an actor. :P

Anyway, the point is, that it was only like a medium close-up. And the tear is nearly impossible to see. Like NOBODY sees it w/o being pointed-out. It was pretty soft lighting so it didn't really get a nice glint/highlight or anything. And the shot just wasn't tight enough.


11-19-2004, 03:50 PM
I personally know of several actors who use a rather unorthodox method of producing real tears. They think of a person they love dearly lying in a casket in a funeral home.

11-20-2004, 03:54 AM
thats not very unorthodox

11-20-2004, 09:05 AM
Horrifies some, fascinates others but it works like a charm.

11-20-2004, 01:25 PM
Why don't you try the good ol onion trick. Or you can tell the actress that her dog died.

12-06-2004, 08:06 AM
I just had to create a digital tear for a project recently... here's a rough (dark) early version:

http://www.kylestauffer.com/dvx/testtear4.mov (7MB)

Larry Rutledge
12-06-2004, 01:39 PM
Kai - That looked pretty good, but needs to be lit more. I couldn't see the tear until I resized the QuickTime window to full screen and then clicked through the image frame by frame and even then I barely saw it. If I just let it play I couldn't see it at all.

It looked real ... just was hard to see.

12-06-2004, 03:11 PM
right. The final is brighter. This is just the first version I came across to upload. :)

12-13-2004, 03:38 PM
your best results will come from real tears, and a solid actor. In my first film, we could never get to this point. The actors were new and i was inexperienced. I then worked with the same actor on another film where i worked as crew. He was well prepared and he adn the director worked on the character for months. The emotional crux of the film came and although he was not asked to, tears started flowing down his cheeks. We had essentially finished filming, but luckily i was still rolling and grabbed a close up. i was really proud of him.

On the new film i am directing i am using lots of non/first time actors. The girl playing my lead has a lot of first hand divorce experience she is drawing from. We worked one on one for a few months improving scenes together and working on characterization. Every time she was going through something emotional at home, or having a bad day, she would do the scene where she needed to cry and it would happen. I still wasn't sure if we would be able to do it with the cameras rolling because that is a TON of pressure for someone when they are starting out. Because of scheduling problems we had to jump to that scene the second day of shooting with her. It was not ideal, but her months of practice really helped.

She brough an onion with her and kept it in her backpack. Before the scene she would rub her fingers on it and then rub her eyes. It looked ok, but more importantly, it gave her a crutch so she would not be as nervous/pressured. We did about 5 takes of the first half of the scene and then worked on the more emotional part.

I pulled the other actor (the one i spoke about above) aside and gave him some new topics to talk about to better engage her. He did and instead of acting they were suddenly talking to each other and she started balling. I was so proud of both of them. My biggest mistake was not reshooting the first half with real tears. NOw that we did this with improv and they are more comfortable we may reshoot the scene and push it even further - making it more raw and having her lose control completely.

The biggest thing is - don't rely on tricks. Work with your actor to make an emotional bond with that character. And don't focus on the tears, per se. If it isn't happening, just make sure it is an honest performance.

good luck!

12-15-2004, 02:57 PM
The biggest thing is - don't rely on tricks. Work with your actor to make an emotional bond with that character. And don't focus on the tears, per se. If it isn't happening, just make sure it is an honest performance.


12-17-2004, 10:33 PM
hey if worst comes to wrost. Before the actor is getting ready to cry. Just cut to black and have titles "He or She is crying." Just like what it says in the script. Saves you lots of time and money. If that's too cheezy then I don't know what to tell you. Trying playing music in the background during the scene. Like sad piano or something. You can ADR later.

12-18-2004, 04:52 AM
i dunno...if you're actor is having a tough time crying they are gonna have a tough time doing adr and you could have a scene which is double sapped of emotion.

Larry Rutledge
12-20-2004, 10:36 AM
I appreciate all the various comments I have received. I did a couple tests with eye drops and that seems to work well for what I am after. If you put a few drops in each eye, then they have the appearance of the eyes "welling up with tears" and then one or two drops roll out and slide down the cheek - it was beautful. Just have to light it correctly and zoom in, so it stands out.

Thanks again for all the comments, ideas, thoughts, tips, etc, etc.