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What is a Fake Shemp?

The advancement of technology has helped the film industry reach new heights in creating movies with excellent visuals. But what do they do when their actors aren’t available to play their roles anymore?

Fake Shemp is the practice of using one actor as a replacement for another actor in the film. The Screen Actors Guild has banned the practice after Back to the Future actor Crispin Glover filed a lawsuit.

The Fake Shemp

A fake Shemp is a person who replaces an actor in a film. This is very different from a stunt double. A stunt double only replaces an actor to perform a stunt if an actor cannot physically perform it or is unwilling to risk physical injury. (Source: LinkedIn)

Director Sam Raimi coined the term Shemp. Raimi, known for his works such as Spider-Man, referenced the practice to Shemp Howard. Howard, one of the original Three Stooges, unexpectedly died in 1955. (Source: Mental Floss)

The stooges had already started a four-project contract with Columbia Pictures, and to complete these projects, they hired the first fake Shemp, Joe Palma, as a stand-in for the original Howard.

Since then, fake Shemps have been utilized in the film and television industry. In TV shows, there were times that storylines required the return of a guest star or recurring characters. There were also instances where a regular character unexpectedly quit or passed away. The show needed to go on, and fake Shemps were the answer. (Source: TV Tropes)

The Crispin Glover Lawsuit

Crispin Glover, an American actor, mostly known as the Thin Man of the Charlie’s Angels reboot in 2000, has played several roles, including Mary McFly’s father in the science-comedy series Back to the Future.

In 1989, Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis was set to film the famous movie’s sequel. However, Zemeckis encountered a challenge. Glover disagreed with Zemeckis’ approach to the story. (Source: Screen Rant)

I said to Robert Zemeckis I thought it was not a good idea for our characters to have a monetary reward because it makes the moral of the movie that money equals happiness, love should be the reward.

Crispin Glover, Sirius XM 2013 Interview

(Source: The Vintage News)

To top this off, Glover demanded a $1 million fee to agree to resume the role for the sequel. The filmmakers refused and instead proceeded with an advanced version of a fake Shemp.

The filmmakers hired actor Jeffrey Weissman to play Glover’s role. They then used the face mold of Glover to create prosthetics and made Weissman appear as Glover in the sequel. This led to Glover filing a lawsuit against Universal Pictures in 1990.
Glover filed a lawsuit claiming his rights of publicity were infringed. Glover won the case and was awarded $760,000. His lawsuit also paved the way for new clauses in the Screen Actors Guild to help protect actors. (Source: Yahoo)

The Modern Fake Shemp

Though using fake Shemps has been prohibited, the advancement of technology has helped many filmmakers advance this method. From fake Shemps rose digital Shemps. The practice was first used in 1994 with the movie The Crow.

In 1994, The Crow’s main protagonist, actor Brandon Lee, unexpectedly passed on the set after a prop accident. The producers were forced to finish the film with a stand-in actor but utilized technology to create a digital mask for the stand-in. Footage previously shot was also incorporated in the scenes. (Source: Mental Floss)

Perhaps the most famous use of this method in filming was with the movie Furious 7. As we know, Paul Walker passed away unexpectedly before the film was finished in 2013. Weta CGI had to digitally overlay Walker’s face and expressions to his body double, John Brotherton. (Source: Screen Rant)

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