By 2014, the standard props used to depict alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking on set have been well-established within the film industry. But how do studios and producers handle scenes in which their shows’ characters have to light it up with some weed? Flavorwire has a fascinating piece that investigates that very question, and the short answer — like the policies around the substance — is that it’s complicated and ever-evolving.
Based on interviews with Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, creators of Brooklyn weed delivery web series High Maintenance; Stephen Falk, former executive producer of Showtime dramedy Weeds; and Doug Benson, comedian and host of interview-format web series Getting Doug with High, prop choices are based on budget constraints, personal preferences, and state laws.
Here’s how Weeds, which has a relatively big budget, handles it:
While the actors mostly “smoked” herbal cigarettes, the massive quantities of prop weed the show required (think ounces, not eighths) were custom made out of moss and other plants, spray-painted, and bound together. “And they would paint individual hairs — you know how weed has purple hairs or whatever,” Falk said. “They’d get really granular with how detailed it could be.”
Since Weeds also involved a fair amount of growing, not just selling, the art department also had to supply “plants.” Entire grow houses were outfitted with plastic plants — like the fake flower you might use to spruce up your cubicle, except weed, and lots of it.
High Maintenance takes a more creative, low-budget approach:
Sinclair and Blichfeld initially had their actors smoking the contents of herbal cigarettes, slicing the props open and packing the herbs into bowls. But prop cigarettes are notoriously disgusting, so Blichfeld and Sinclair did the proper Brooklyn thing and went to their local Ditmas Park apothecary, Sacred Vibes (it has an Etsy shop!). There, they picked up a smokeable herb blend — commonly used for rolling with joints anyway — with ingredients like lavender and catnip, which they’ve been using ever since.
Since the herbal blend doesn’t actually look like weed, though, Blichfeld and Sinclair had to come up with another solution for the dealer’s actual product. So the baggies The Guy doles out to customers are actually cotton balls, doused in glue and rolled around in another herbal blend: dried parsley, cilantro, and rosemary, which gives the “weed” a “stemmy vibe.”
On set with comics like Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson and Cheech and Chong, Getting Doug with High, they do the real thing:
Surprisingly, the law isn’t much of an issue when putting together a show about smoking (real) weed on camera. California has extremely accessible medical marijuana — the state law regulating it is called, no joke, SB420 — and Benson himself has a medical card, as do most of his guests. Plus, the penalty for smoking without a card is just $100, and “[I] don’t really expect anyone from law enforcement to track anyone down and squeeze them for the hundy,” Benson wrote over email.
Still, there are some logistical concerns; all guests are provided with a ride to and from the show, and there’s always an EMT on hand, though “he hasn’t had to do much. Last week he gave Michael Ian Black a lozenge.” Occasionally, comics will decline Benson’s invitation, though not for the expected reasons: “Some people don’t want their employers seeing them smoke on the Internet, or their families. But a lot of comics just don’t want to give up their sense of control while they are on camera. Most comics who smoke do so after they perform, not before or during.”
(Photo: Brett Levin)