How Hollywood Figured Out A Way To Make Texting In Movies Look Less Dumb

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Typing on screens is, as we know, pretty boring to watch. But Hollywood has lately gotten a lot smarter about depicting this ubiquitous technology on screen. A radically new film convention, what we might call the "beyond screen text message," is emerging right before our eyes.

Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting has cut together this very funny and very enlightening video essay on texting and the internet on film. We all remember (and rolled our eyes) at the clunky early conventions: cut away to a phone with an absurdly large font, or a character reading a text out loud like a doofus.


But lately, you've probably noticed text messages popping up directly on screen—an idea so obvious in retrospect you have to wonder what took Hollywood so long. The "beyond screen text message" is both cheaper (no more closeups of all those screens!) and more dramatically effective (you can watch an actor's face instead of a hunk of phone).


Scene from Sherlock.

The most fascinating part of Zhou's video essay is when he traces the origins of the floating text message and catalogues its variations. Tiny design details—like whether the text is encased in a bubble or moves along with the actor—actually make a real difference on screen. Zhou favors the minimalism of BBC's Sherlock (above), which has been lauded for seamlessly integrating cell phones into the action on screen. As odd it sounds, these are exciting times for texting on film. [Every Frame a Painting]