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How Diploma Movie Props Set the Stage!

Lights, camera, action.... diplomas?

When you think of a prop in a movie, you're probably picturing a wad of cash that an actor playing a banker might be holding? Or maybe the license plate on the car of our hero? Props such as these are often used during the production of a movie or TV show, to heighten a character and best set the scene! In fact, props are often so memorable that some of are sold to fans through auction sites.

One particular type of props often spotted on sets are diploma movie props. You may have see one of these during movie that has a graduation scene. Maybe during the ceremony, a student walks across the state to get their diploma. That diploma would be a movie prop. in some cases the prop may seem more realistic at times than others, but they still play a vital role in setting the stage and making the moment work.

You may have also seen a movie where somebody walks into a massage parlor and the woman working her hands has a massage therapist certificate, looking a lot like this, on her wall. Since we want to believe the parlor is legitimate and the therapist is valid, the certificate - although bogus - is important for setting the mood.

How a scene plays out with or without diploma movie props

For this test, let's consider the 2015 comedy film "Ted 2" from Universal Studios. In one scene Ted, whose a teddy bear that's come to life, needs to prove he's legally a person and meets with a young attorney. The attorney named Samantha played by actress Amanda Seyfried, discusses the matter with Ted.

Around the thirty five second mark of the following clip, you can see what appears to be three law degrees hanging up on her wall. Watch below and carefully look behind her back:

Now you may be asking yourself, "just how important are these diplomas to this scene". First off, she is playing an attorney and wouldn't you expect a real attorney to have a diploma? Sure you would, making the documents behind vital to making the scene work.

It's also important to spot how the film makers here didn't try to oversell the diplomas either. They carefully displayed the diplomas behind her but didn't let the camera focus on them til she stands out to introduce herself to Ted. The moment is important because she's trying to sell herself as a legit attorney and again, the diplomas, help that happen.

The question then becomes, what would happen if we took the diplomas out of this scene. Would you still believe that Samantha is an attorney? Maybe. BUT you can't argue that it doesn't help sell us on this character.

Although watching a scene like this, we may overlook diploma movie props, their presence is there and important.

Hollywood has been using diploma props for years!

As long as movies, tv shows and commercial spots have used characters that would normally have their own diplomas, diplomas were used as set film props.

Consider old ads for cigarettes, where actors were hired as doctors to proclaim that smoking was actually good for your health. Of course, we can look back now and laugh about the absurdity of it all. BUT at that time, those tv marketing advertisements featured actors playing doctors and they used fake diplomas on set. The novelties helped hit home the message the cigarette companies were trying to convey to their audience.

Watch this old tv spot from way back when and keep a careful eye on the wall props behind the actor playing the doctor. Can you spot diploma movie props yourself?

Just how realistic is a diploma movie prop, to the real thing, in a movie?

Each movie or tv show may have different uses for the prop and how it will be used. Take into consideration the 2005 comedy "Herbie Fully Loaded" from Walt Disney Pictures. In one scene Maggie played by Lindsay Lohan gradates from the fictitious Los Angeles University. For whatever reason, the producers decided to not use a real school in the story.

Even though the school does not actually exist, they still created a realistic looking diploma movie prop for Maggie.

When looking at the image above, spot how close the camera gets to the diploma. We can clearly make out a seal, Maggie's name, four signatures and more details about the documented. Since they knew it was going to be shot closeup, the prop department for this movie spent a great deal of time making a detailed prop.

In other cases, props are less fancy. As an example, in the 2002 movie "Crossroads" from MTV Films, Lucy played by Brittney Spears, attenders her high school graduation. We see her and all of her classmates holding their diploma scrolls. Since a scroll is nothing more than rolled up paper that is exactly what the prop department used for that scene... rolled up paper.

But in some cases, diploma movie props have to bring out their A game. This is when they need to showcase a real diploma fro a real school and make it look well, real! This was the dilemma that the prop department for the 2006 movie "The Departed" faced, when Colin played by Matt Damon pulls a diploma out of a box which almost identically matches a real one it's pretending to be.

Movies like The Departed shows us that diploma movie props when done right, can be very impressive. Although the document shot was framed and showcased behind glass, the attention to detail here is spot on and worth noting.

How are prop departments able to accurate replica diplomas for scenes like these?

In most cases, prop departments will make up a school like Los Angeles University and recreate a diploma for filming that has all of the common characteristics one might expect. In case of what The Departed did, they took a real diploma and carefully replicated it.

The process was achieved by studying the actual diploma's layout, where the seal is placed, the number of signatures it has and more. They then created the diploma movie prop with that knowledge.

That same method of replicating degrees is how fake diploma websites operate. These businesses such as diplomacompany.com create original diploma templates replicated from real school degrees. They then create custom documents with these resources, selling  phony diplomas for replacement or novelty purposes.

There have even been a number of prop departments who have called on suppliers such as Diploma Company to create diploma props for features and shorts.