Is it ethical to posthumously put an actor into a film?

Mar 24, 2014


US actor Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the screening of ‘The Master’ during the 69th Venice Film Festival on September 1 , 2012.; Credit: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images

When an actor or actress dies during the filming, production teams are often left at a crossroads. Can they continue on and adapt the film to fit with the footage they have? Will they have to scrap everything and start from scratch?

After the tragic deaths of actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Walker, rumors have started about how production of their films (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts I and II and The Fast and the Furious 7, respectively) will proceed. Reports about both sets of productions have speculated that the films will use technology to fill in the gaps — from CGI to voice recreation and body doubles.

In the past, directors have used different tactics to keep a deceased actor in a film, including editing, recasting, and digital recreation. Is using movie magic to bring an actor “back to life” onscreen ethical?

How is digital manipulation or editing in this kind of situation different from other tricks of “movie magic” — we’re used to seeing stunt doubles, body doubles, and CGI in film, but is there a line drawn when it comes to death? How will production companies and actors deal with rights of publicity after death in the future?

Lionsgate and Universal declined to comment.


Robert Thompson, Director, Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University

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