Often when we think of a prop in a movie or tv show, we visualize a knife used during a street fight or maybe a first basement’s glove in a movie about baseball. Still, a very common prop is a diploma or a certificate of somebody’s degree.
Yes, something as simple as a sheet of paper can often symbolize momentous occasions in a character’s life and become front and center in the telling of a story.
How to spot fake diplomas in Hollywood!
In an office setting
There have been many known scenes, where we see our main character talking to their boss or visiting a doctor.
In some cases, these scenes are shot in an office setting where there is a wall, and on it there are hung many framed certificates and diplomas.
In most cases the camera films from so far away from the diplomas that you can’t make out signatures of part of the language on on the diploma themselves but particular elements such as the gold seal and the school’s name are more visible. Regardless enough is showcased to help you truly believe, if even for a split second, that the character we are meeting actually has a diploma.
Of of my favorite examples was from the hit tv sitcom, The Office, where diplomas were often showcased during multiple scenes. Although a few times the camera got close up, most of the fake diploma props seen in the back drop help make the office setting feel more real.
During a school graduation
Let’s say in a scene, a character is graduating school and they are handed a diploma as they walk across the stage. That diploma is also a prop.
In some cases, a prop for such a scene can be nothing more than a rolled up blank piece of paper with a ribbon tied around it. Other times, a camera may zoom in very closely to the diploma allowing us to spot certain characteristics of the prop.
Consider the hit tv show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In season 3 episode 22 which aired May 18, 1999, titled “Graduation Day”, Buffy graduates from high school and is given a diploma. The prop which we can spot at the end of the episode, says it is from Sunnydale High School, the made-up school created for the tv show. It is being presented to “Buffy Summers”, the main character on the show and also features a shiny gold foiled seal that includes the main California state seal within it’s design.
Due to the show’s popularity, the original diploma was recently obtained and sold on a website where fan’s collect memorabilia from their favorite shows. This is just one more example of how diplomas are used in productions and can often become play an important role in it’s history.
In this case, the diploma for the Buffy show was created from a school that did not exist. The producers of the show were not concerned that somebody who attended Sunnydale High would watch the show and call out the diploma as a fake because Sunnydale was not real. Other times, real diplomas need to be showcased and this is not such a luxury for the prop staff working on the film or show.
When realistic diploma fakes are required for movies!
In most cases, mentioning the names of actual schools and showcasing diplomas from real institutes is not necessary to the story itself. Therefore most filmmakers will instead opt to use made up school name’s when they can.
Other times, real diplomas are showcased front and centered.
Take into consideration, the 2016 movie Inferno where Sienna Brooks, played by Felicity Jones, shows off her diploma from a real UK school.
The diploma was not real because it featured Sienna’s name and was mocked entirely for the movie but it was an example of an actual diploma, with the real school seal, being used for a movie scene as a prop.
Obviously, the people who worked on that movie were fearful that somebody who went to that same school may spot the diploma, realize it’s a fake, and the scene could instantly loose any credibility. They put a lot of time and energy into carefully replicating all aspects of the actual diploma ensuring that a high quality replication was made.
How do they match up real diplomas to ensure they look legit?
When a screen-used diploma prop has to capture the look and feel of an actual graduate’s certificate, the bar is raised, and much more work is put into capturing the document’s elements and characteristics.
Often a team of researchers, when given permission to feature a particular school’s diploma, will begin researching everything about the diploma they need to be precisely recreated.
They will consider the graduation year, as a diploma from 1962 will often look entirely different than a diploma offered by that same school in 2015 (different paper, different inks, maybe a different seal altogether, etc).
Once all of the resources are gathered, a team of designers will painstakingly recreate the original diploma into a fake version of it, with names and dates edited, so that it can be used for shooting important scenes.
How does what a prop team do compare to a fake diploma shop?
This process of researching diplomas from the past, studying their layout, structure, individual characteristics and more, is in a lot of ways, very much similar to how a fake diploma shop works.
These businesses recreate individual documents everyday that capture the look and feel of real diplomas. Typically sold as high end diploma gags or self esteem boosters, the custom made recreations can be proofed by buyers and shipped quality to their homes.
For more information on creating fake diplomas, we invite you to visit diplomaprinters.com.