Back in the days when the film industry was young and innocent, someone clever noticed that real snow, when brought onto a set with really hot lights, immediately melted.
The solution was to pile up a shitload of soap flakes or white-painted cornflakes (no, really), but those had… issues. Bugs and rats love cereal flakes and when humans are exposed to soap flakes for long periods of time the line for the toilet starts to get very long – not to mention the mess when it rains.
Then, someone very, very, clever devised a solution. A substance called Phoamaide or Foamite, very similar to the stuff in fire extinguishers, mixed with asbestos or those trusty soap flakes.
This is what we used for years – well, except the asbestos. I think they stopped using that last year*.
Then, someone came up with the brilliant idea to use small flakes of plastic. It won’t melt, it glitters just like real snow and it wafts gently to earth just like those nice big perfect flakes you want to see on Christmas morning unless you have to drive.
Also, it can be quickly vacuumed up (and reused) and won’t attract vermin or give your expensive actor a weapons-grade case of the shits.
The plastic is still used in cases where the snow needs to fall from the sky.
But if the snow is just sitting on the ground productions usually use a combination of paper snow, blankets, and foam (keep it away from animals and foliage). It doesn’t fall nicely, but it won’t kill fish if it washes into the watershed (okay, maybe the foam will make them sick but they’ll get better), so there’s a satisfying lack of guilt.
But the paper stuff is extremely dusty, and creates a haze in the air which even the manufacturers warn not to breathe.
It doesn’t bother me when we’re outside (unless it gets wet and I walk through it. Then it has to be chiseled off the bottom of shoes and good luck getting it out of the car), but as soon as I get on a closed stage with it, its non-stop misery.
My eyes itch, my nose stops up, my head hurts, my throat burns and I start to cough like a tubercular Victorian poet.
And that’s just with the stuff lying on the ground minding its own business.
This particular show is using effects fans to blow the flakes into the air, creating even more dust. They’re also spraying the shit out the “realistic” plastic ivy with foam, but I suspect that’s the least of my worries.
Today is day two of the episode and I already feel like crap – the last day of the show is Monday, so I have four more days of this to endure.
*I’m joking. I think they stopped using the asbestos in the late 1980s.