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Movie tears: Real or fake? The secrets behind on-screen water works
Mid adult man comforting woman crying while watching movie in cinema theater - photo by Steve Biggs
Movie tears smell like cough drops.

Why? Because some of the methods used to induce the tears include the same ingredients that help to squelch a pesky cough.

On demand, a skilled actor can produce a full range of emotions. Screaming rage is easy compared to a tear-filled moment of emotional tenderness. It is those tiny drops of salt-water that present the challenge. So, how does exactly one cry on film?

In most scenes, tears are produced in one of four ways:

The first is a product called a tear stick or menthol stick. It is a stick of wax packaged in a standard lipstick tube with the key ingredient of menthol the same thing that creates the cold sensation in cough drops and breath mints. When the actor or makeup artist puts a streak of wax close to the eye, the eyes water, giving the flood of tears the actor can then use as part of the performance.

A more complicated device called a tear puffer or tear blower is a small, hand-held cylinder that shoots a single puff of menthol-laden air into the actor's eye. The clear plastic tube is spring-loaded and held in the cocked position until the actor triggers it. The puff creates instant tears in the affected eye. The skills required for this illusion is the ability to hide the device from the camera or audience and to puff both eyes at the same time.

The third method is for the actor to simply remember a sad moment from their private life. The director will give the actor a few minutes to recover the memory of a death in the family or some other sad memory. The actor then delivers the required lines.

Finally, many old-timers take a pair of tweezers, find a hair in the nostril and give it a good yank. The procedure seems to work best if a hair is pulled in each nostril.

A motion picture has done its work if the audience weeps at the end of the movie. Amateur directors seem to believe that if you want to make the audience cry, all you need is a shot of someone in tears. A few tender-hearted souls may respond to this kind of shot, but it lacks emotional investment.

We weep for the characters with whom we have traveled an emotional journey. A classic example is Rocky Balboa from the "Rocky" films starring Sylvester Stallone. We spend two hours with this character and end up loving him like family. Scarlet O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind" refused to weep, always putting it off for another day, leaving us to weep for her.

A great movie might have a few fake tears, but it will always have some real ones the kind that you wipe away from your eyes.
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