Most movie and TV props are made to be handled, producing little to no sound when messed with onset—and then some props need to be consumed. From bugs to guts and blood, prop makers have to find clever ways to make edible props that look like the real thing.
Food stylists like Melissa McSorley have to replicate an object’s true properties while making something safe to eat. Food stylists are often solving problems like making sure ice cream doesn’t melt or finding a convincing substitute for runny yolks. When recreating things that actors normally wouldn’t eat, McSorely tackles the challenge by using edible ingredients and combining and sculpting them to look like the nonedible prop.
Typical fake human blood isn’t toxic and an actor can have a little around their mouth or in their mouths for a short time. But drinking fake blood requires a little bit of work.
While working on True Blood, McSorley needed something safe enough for the vampire characters to drink in large amounts. She started with a mix of Cran-Cherry and pomegranate juice for scenes where a glass or bottle was just sitting out or being held. Then, she had to replicate the true properties of blood like its opaqueness. McSorley achieved this by adding wheatgrass to her formula and a little bit of blue food coloring.
She thickened her concoction to mimic the viscosity of the blood with methylcellulose. This allows the fake blood to slide slowly down the side of a glass. The fake edible blood tastes like a rich juice due to its thickness, and it is quite hard to stop drinking.
Who doesn’t love a good dinner scene? Before the dinner table is set, the food has to be prepared in the kitchen—which becomes a hazard zone when raw chicken is being featured. To avoid cross-contamination on set, food stylists create edible and safe chicken guts out of carefully disguised food.
While sausage casings make sense for the intestines, meat can easily go bad during long stoot days. Instead, McSorley filled collagen casings with bean curd, then dipped them into yellow food dye to replicate the yellow hue of chicken blood. For the other parts of the gut, McSorley turned to ramen or glass noodles rather than spaghetti noodles because of their pliability.
You can easily create a heart and liver from dyed beats, and use tomatoes and kumquats to replace the unlaid eggs that rest in the insides of a hen. These are the details that can only come from the close eye and in-depth research of a food stylist.
Some props require a special shape that isn’t easy to replicate by hand. In the case of creating worms or maggots, McSorley went down to the bait shop and found molds that replicate the maggots' exact ribbing and size.
She filled the molds with gelatin, which allowed the fake maggots to naturally wiggle. The gelatin couldn’t be one color, because maggots naturally become darker as they age. By using coconut pudding, caramel coloring, and almond milk, McSorley was able to make a range of different-aged maggots.
Maggots are not the only creepy-crawly that you can make come to life through food. Cockroaches are a strange thing that characters tend to eat when they find themselves in a horror predicament. Dates are usually the stand-in when cockroaches are not shown in a closeup, but those wide shots are not always there to disguise the bug.
Chili threads replicate the floppy antennae and dry seaweed is sturdy enough for the legs. Finding the perfect body for the cockroach from a box of dates is a bit of a hunt. You must keep in mind the size of the roach, and the number of wrinkles and make sure they are not too shriveled. Unlike dates, roaches are flatter. Take an Exacto knife, slice the center date from the middle to the end, and remove as much of the meat in the back part of the date as you can. This will create wings and a hollowed body.
When you’re ready to create the head, find a date that is smaller and a little bit darker than the cockroach's body. The natural stickiness of the dates acts as a glue to keep all of the parts of your edible cockroach together. When the edible cockroach is placed on the set, a little bit of wind blowing will move the chili thread antennae to make the cockroach look real, and the date provides the perfect crunching sound that would come from biting into a living roach.
What edible prop are you planning to make? Let us know in the comments!