I just can’t bear the puns

The fiction: Paddington, released 2014. Director: Paul King. Props master: David “Springer” Horrill.

The newspaper: London Evening Standard.

Hailing from deepest darkest Peru, a lovable young bear makes his way to London. That’s the plot of Paddington, one of the finest family films of recent years, and amid its message of affection for immigrants it’s also a love-letter to the capital city of the United Kingdom. Our ursine hero Paddington comes across the Underground, black cab drivers and plenty of rain — so it’s no wonder he also attracts the interest of Fleet Street and the great British press.

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Vague headlines give no spoilers

The fiction: Red Road, released 2006. Director: Andrea Arnold. Props master: Douglas Ferguson.

The newspapers: Daily Record, Evening Times

Although it involves staring endlessly at screens (and doubtless ruining your eyesight in the process), there’s a sort of voyeuristic allure to the job of monitoring CCTV footage. You get to spy on everyday comings and goings for a legitimate reason… or maybe it’s just me who sees the appeal. Anyway, it doesn’t seem like an especially happy life for Jackie, the central character of Andrea Arnold’s debut film Red Road. But at least she keeps up with the news on a daily basis, thanks to the signs outside every newsagent.

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He is Iron Man

The fiction: Iron Man 3, released 2013. Director: Shane Black. Props master: Russell Bobbitt.

The newspapers: USA Today, The Washington InquirerRose Hill WeeklyThe Daily Times

Tony Stark, you would think, has little call for printed newspapers. His super-cool house is packed with technology and artificial intelligence, negating any need for a few slices of dead tree to deliver the headlines. JARVIS probably reads them to him in the shower. And yet, in Iron Man 3, we see that newspapers are still important.

Because although Stark has no need for newspapers, he does have a need for news. After the Chinese theatre is bombed, ostensibly by the Mandarin, Tony brings up a holographic map of the United States are tries to find other, similar bombings. Thanks to the diligent reporting of the American press, he soon finds what he’s after: an incident in Rose Hill in Tennessee, a suspected suicide bombing. (The man — infected with Extremis technology — did blow up, we find out, but it wasn’t actually his choice.)

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First up and barely visible for more than a frame as JARVIS sorts through the news is this front page story.

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Although only the bottom half of the masthead is visible here it looks like the title might be The Washington Inquirer. This not a real paper, although it does appear in Anna Hastings by Allen Drury. For such a big, dramatic story — and suicide bombings in America are huge news — the headline is a little plain for my taste. It also seems to suggest that Rose Hill (also not real, though the scenes were shot in Rose Hill, North Carolina) is a well-known place, or else it would be stupid to put that in a headline. “TENNESSEE SUICIDE BOMBING” would fit that space just as well.

The second story is headlined “Suspect Named, Six Killed in Blast”. I know it’s an American convention to capitalise every word, except the small ones, but it still irritates me whenever I see it. But it’s probably what the Inquirer would do if it existed with us on Earth-1218.

It’s a little bit strange, though, that is a second story. It has a separate byline, so it must be a different article from the one above it. But that suggests that the big story about the suicide bombing doesn’t talk much about the naming of the suspect (plausible, its focus is on the bombing) and doesn’t mention how many people died (absolutely stupid).

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Next up JARVIS shuffles through to the Rose Hill Weekly, presumably the local paper of the small Tennessee town. And, frankly, they should all be fired.

Local newspapers dream of the day when huge news happens on their doorsteps. They can clear away the news about men caught stealing a single baguette or the success of a charity fundraiser’s jazz band, it’s time to run several pages of coverage on a devastating event with the tastefulness and decency that distinguish its own coverage from the national media.

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I quite like the masthead of the paper — although there’s a small blur that indicates there’s a “The” as part of the title, which I’m less keen on. The red banner line containing the date, price, web address is smartly done. And the serif font for their headline looks blocky and bold enough to work well, even if they do insist on Capping Up Each Word.

But if the font is OK then the words are abysmal. “Small Town Suicide Bombing” says the paper exclusively about the small town. There’s a thing that really annoys some sub-editors when reporters on local newspapers describe somebody as a “local man” or “happening at the local venue…”. Because of course it’s local. Everything in the damn paper is local to the area the paper is sold. It’s hugely unnecessary. And this headline takes that to a baffling extreme. Imagine picking up the New York Post and instead of “Man murdered in shoot-out” you got the headline “Shoot-out in big city”. You’d be scratching your head wondering which big city, and — upon realising it’s New York — you might wonder just what the subs had been smoking.

It just gets worse with the sub-headline as well: “6 Killed In Rose Hill Including Ex-Army Bomber”.

That’s an atrocious sub-head and there’s several reasons why. General style conventions for newspapers — and I can only speak from a UK perspective here, apologies if it’s not the case in America — say to spell out the numbers one through nine, then switch to digits for 10 and higher. Unless you’re starting a sentence with a number, in which case spell it out. You could probably make exceptions here and there for headlines, so the Rose Hill Weekly might just skate by.

Less forgiveable is repetition. “Bombing” in the headline and “Bomber” in the sub — it just looks a bit messy and certainly unprofessional to have two bomb words so close to each other. Worse yet, the end of the sub-head is ambiguous. Is the suicide bomber ex-army or is one of the victims a former bomber for the army? It’s the sort of dreadfully unclear phrase you would type at first then change when looking back over it.

And, worst of all, “Rose Hill”. Not content with calling their own, and only, patch a small town they’ve now included the name in the sub-headline. Why? Again, it’s in the local paper so there is a strong chance it actually happened in the local area. There is no need whatsoever to specify — especially if the town is so small that everybody is already aware.

If we were to be generous, we could speculate that the Rose Hill Weekly was short of time in producing this edition. Or short of almost all their trained staff.

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Finally we come to USA Today. It appears in films a lot. It’s got that very nice, clean and simple design with a big blue circle for a logo. I’m not quite so taken with the large gap after “lives” on the cover of this edition and the matching white-space horror after “son” in the right-hand column. It also seems remarkable that the paper has picked a picture of the bomber as its big splash picture and not some scene of fiery carnage, of which the Rose Hill Weekly appeared to be in possession.

What’s strangest about all of this, of course, is that JARVIS has given Tony three newspaper front pages. I’m not arguing the news shouldn’t be on the front page, because it absolutely should in anyone’s news judgment. No, the oddity is that it’s copies of printed papers. There would be dozens and dozens of articles about this incident online and they’re far easier to pull off the internet than PDFs of newspapers, and yet Tony Stark seems to prefer the print look. Perhaps he isn’t such a futurist after all.

Indeed, when he actually ends up in Rose Hill, Tennessee, he comes across a real, physical example of local news reporting.

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Yep, The Daily Times. I actually quite liked Iron Man 3 — except the portentous narration — but I must have rolled my eyes at this. It just smacks of laziness and the most obvious title for a newspaper. If you asked a seven-year-old to come up with the name of a paper, he’d give you “The Daily Times” and you would smile out of politeness.

So imagine my surprise when I went to thedailytimes.com and discovered that it’s a real newspaper. Not only that, but it’s a newspaper based in Tennessee. If Tony Stark actually found himself in small town Tennessee it’s more than likely he would pick up a copy of The Daily Times. That’s some impressive dedication from Marvel as a production studio, especially given that their vast back catalogue of comic books surely contains dozens of newspapers (which this blog hopes to eventually cover).

The paper itself has an account of how the process worked:

Daily Times Publisher Carl Esposito received a call last year [2012] from a Marvel Studios representative wanting to use the publication as an on-set prop.

“My first thought was, ‘How’d you choose us?’” Esposito said. “They told me they were looking at various newspapers in the East Tennessee region, and ours caught their eye.”

According to Stephen Broussard, one of the executive producers of the superhero film, said he’s “almost certain” the paper — bearing The Daily Times logo and a headline that ties in to a certain plot point of the movie — is clearly visible for a frame or two when it’s held up by actor Robert Downey Jr., who plays the title character and his alter-ego, Tony Stark.

Although the filmmakers could have chosen to create their own newspaper, decisions like reaching out to The Daily Times help sell a fantasy film like Iron Man 3, Broussard said.

“Every movie lives or dies by thousands and thousands of tiny decisions,” said Broussard, who’s also produced such Marvel films as Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk.

“One of the things we strive for, because they’re set in this superhero reality, is to ground them in the real world,” he added. “If the viewer feels like it’s happening in the real world, if the town or the TV station or the newspaper on the screen feels like it’s a part of the real world, then suddenly people are more inclined to go along and buy everything else. They’ll buy that a guy can put on a suit of armor and fly around the world. So choosing (the) newspaper might be a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but we have a masterful prop man.”

There’s one small mistake in there, because the paper in the film doesn’t actually use the same logo. It’s still blocky and red, but the actual Daily Times logo is thinner and has a distinctive S:

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daily times on film

“I wish they had used the actual logo, instead of a knock-off”, says newspaper designer Ed Henninger, who works on The Daily Times. He does, however, call the “knock-off front page” a “reasonable imitation” of the real thing.

When the film premiered, The Daily Times couldn’t wait to boast about its on-screen appearance — which is no bad thing — and decided to announce it by running a copy of the film’s front page on their own front page. But it didn’t take up the whole of the cover, and just hangs around in the middle. It is, honestly, a bit of a confusing eyesore and takes a while to understand.

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I’m pretty sure the actual printed version didn’t have a huge arrow on it, just FYI

Handily, however, this gives us a further peek at the newspaper design chops of the Marvel team… and I don’t want to repeat myself, but they have. “Stark presumed dead… famed Stark… Stark mansion” — and all of that with a huge picture of Tony Stark. It’s a nightmare and I think I’d rather not publish a newspaper than have one go out to the printers like that. It’s not a tricky problem to solve, either.

The headline could remain as it is, with the sub-headlines reading: “Public shocked by the potential death of famed inventor/playboy/hero/Tony”. Delete as appropriate. And at the bottom? “Malibu mansion slips into the sea” (or take out “the”, because hey, it’s a headline).

You may have also noticed that the fake Times also repeats another word, and that word is “local”. Normally this is a stupid move, because what would be in the paper that wasn’t a local issue or local person? But given that the lead story is about a man not from Tennessee being involved in an accident not in Tennessee, this might be justifiable action — unless it’s a devilish HYDRA ploy.