The great responses to my first installment of Only in the Movies totally caught me off guard. I expected nods of agreement on my theory that answering machines are anachronistic movie props, but quite a few of you put me in place. Thank you.
As it is, however, I stand by observations (and was quite proud, as you can see in the comments, that Elegy featured three answering machine scenes). I also have an interesting update to report from the conversation Fox and I had in the comments about the difficulties of filming a "voicemail" scene, and how if you're not going to use an answering machine, you also couldn't really show a character with a cell phone up to their ear. Well, two movies I've seen since writing that post - Boy A and In Search of a Midnight Kiss - quite prominently use voice messages without featuring beeping answering machines! In both films the messages are used as narration in the form of a voiceover, and in Boy A we even get a couple shots of characters physically holding cell phones up to their ears and listening to the messages as we hear them at the same time. So it's not so hard after all, is it? An interesting phenomenon to keep your eye on - that is, if you keep your eye on minute, mostly meaningless details while you're watching movies. Anyway, this time around I'm targeting cab culture in film.
Why don't movie characters ever pay their cab fares?
If I believed that everybody in movies was like me, then it would make some sense. For the most of the cab rides I've had, it's taken a minute or so to disembark, and I would add about another minute or so per passenger, up to a max of three minutes. The variables that affect this formula include, but are not limited to: clarifying the exact drop-off location ("Yeah, up on the left is fine"; "Just across the street past the light here", etc.); triple-checking the seats to make sure you're not leaving anything; waiting for passing traffic or curb access so you can open the door; and, of course, the actual financial transaction, which is complicated exponentially if you have more than three people: Who has cash? Who has change? How much do you owe?
Maybe it's just me, but my experience has proven that there are few instances in life involving as much concentration as the last 30 seconds of a cab ride. I've got one eye on the destination, one eye on the fare meter, and a third eye on the cash in my hand. Inevitably, even if you hold your breath and use the Force, the meter jumps $0.65 at the last second and totally throws off your tip calculation, causing you to either stiff the cabbie or shrug your shoulders and hand over a $20, which of course means you have to overtip because he or she won't have correct change.
None of this ever happens in the movies because the characters simply don't pay their fares.
Typically, the character simply raises their hand for a second (or even just whistles!) and has no problem hailing a cab. This is generally followed by instructions to "Follow that car!", or simply no instruction at all as the cab drives away and the character either gazes introspectively out the window or maintains eye contact with another character until out of sight. They don't need to tell the cabbie where to go; he or she just takes off driving.
After arriving at their destination - again, with no complications - our character will a.) simply get out and get going without paying, b.) walk away after giving the driver the exact amount including tip, or c.) take off running. Actually, I only remember that happening in The Pursuit of Happyness, but the fact is that it's one of the most memorable scenes in the movie because the actual reality of paying a cab fare is addressed.
What do you think? Are filmmakers getting out of this easy because they know cab fares are a minefield, or am I just crazy and everyone's real-life cab rides happen exactly like they do in the movies?