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What TV and Movie Scenarios Would Cost in Real Life

Geoff Williams

You watch enough television and movies, and eventually, it's unavoidable. Even if you accept that a storyline is fiction, you start to think: That could never happen in real life. One of the main reasons is that few people have the budget of a Hollywood production company. So purely for fun, we thought we'd look at some of the common tropes that often play out in TV and the movies - and look at how much it would cost to do the same things in real life.

The scene: Hiring a private eye to trail someone.

Examples of where we've seen this: There are too many shows to mention, but NBC's "The Rockford Files" was famous for it. More recently, "Monk" and "Psych."

What it costs: Rates vary, but expect to pay several hundred dollars, and maybe several thousand.

How reality differs from Hollywood: First of all, this actually does happen, probably more than we realize - it's just for more mundane reasons than those on television. Jerry Bussard, owner of AAA Detective Agency, Inc., in Cincinnati has been following suspects since the business opened in 1976. But if he's going to trail someone, it is usually for a workers' compensation case, or perhaps something involving child custody or an unfaithful spouse.

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Bussard says his firm typically works on a retainer basis, usually in the $1,500 to $2,000 range. Hourly rates run from $65 to $80 an hour. Of course, rates vary depending on the city. Throughout the country, "surveillance can range from $600 to $1,200 per day," says Tom Burnett, a spokesman for Wymoo International, a worldwide detective agency headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. Discounts often kick in if you hire a detective to trail someone for a week or longer, he says.

On the plus side, if you hired Bussard, a former cop, to trail your crooked business partner, and a thug roughs him up in a mall food court, he won't charge you extra."We don't charge hazardous duty pay," he says, chuckling. But as a rule, you won't be able to hire detectives to sneak into your nemesis's mansion to steal back the diamond necklace that belonged to your late great-grandmother.

"We stay within the federal laws," Bussard says. "We're not law enforcement. We're strictly hired witnesses."

The scene: Pretending to be someone you are not.

Examples where we've seen this: The movies "Tootsie," "Working Girl" and "The Secret of My Success" all mined this territory; more recently, and with much less success, ABC's 2012 short-lived sitcom, "Work It," revolved around two men who pretend to be women to get jobs.

What it costs: Maybe nothing, but hopefully you have a good attorney.

How reality differs from Hollywood: It comes down to whether you're caught, and assuming you do this in the work environment, whether your boss or the person in authority has a good sense of humor.

"Repercussions for the individual would likely include some type of discipline from the employer - write-up, suspension, all the way up to termination of employment, depending on the exact nature of the employee's actions, if a supervisor is not in the mood to play along with the act," says James W. Heslep, an employment attorney at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Bridgeport, W.Va.

He points out another reason to be very careful about playing around with sitcom plot devices in real life: "The repercussions on the employer could actually be far worse than those for the employee," Heslep says.

Let's say you pretended to be your boss to impress your dad, and you gave a client some incorrect information, which led to a business deal going south. Then later, the client learned that you, not your boss, gave them this information. Your real boss's company could be liable for damages, Heslep says, and hilarity would not ensue.

The scene: You're in a car chase.

Examples where we've seen this: It's a staple of virtually every action movie and/or detective series. Classic examples include "Bullitt" (1968), "The Rock" (1996) and any "Fast and Furious" movie.

What it costs: Potentially into the hundreds of thousands, if not more.

How reality differs from Hollywood: Most car chases that make the news have to do with the police chasing someone, and it usually ends in an arrest. If you ever were, however, to find yourself in an actual car chase in which the world's fate hangs in the balance unless you catch the vehicle in question, one suspects everything would work itself out.

If that turns out not to be the case, and you could have called the authorities and let them handle it, expect to be incarcerated and plan on spending money for bail and a good lawyer. Also expect possible lawsuits from the drivers you banged up - or the owner who lost his fruit stand while you were giving chase.

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But you probably don't need to worry much about your insurance, provided you are covered, according to one insurance agent who wished to keep her name out of it, lest she come off as advocating being in a car chase.

"If you're covered, you probably are covered," she says. "Insurance can't stop you from being stupid."

The scene: Inviting two women out on a date - on the same night. (In the movies and TV, it's almost always a guy who is stupid enough to try this.)

Examples where we've seen this: Numerous sitcoms have used this plot device, including "Three's Company," "Family Ties" and more recently, "Community."

What it costs: Expect to double the cost of one date. Also, bring at least $100 or so for incidentals (more on that in a moment).

How reality differs from Hollywood: You know how it is. You've agreed to take your significant other to the movies on the anniversary of your first date, which is the same night your demanding boss has asked you to entertain his single niece, and for complicated reasons, you have to make both parties happy. This sort of thing happens all the time.

Well, maybe not.

Candy Tolentino, founder of the online relationship site, doesn't recommend that anyone go on two dates at once: "I am all for thinking outside the box when it comes to landing 'the one.' However, I do think trying to secretly go on two dates at once is a recipe for disaster."

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But if you were to find yourself in such a predicament, she suggests bringing extra money along for the following:

-- Service people. You may need to tip the waitstaff or movie usher so you don't blow your cover.

-- Gifts. "In case you find are found out," Tolentino says. "At least a dozen roses might diffuse the situation."

-- Cab fare. If you are caught, someone - one of your dates, both of them, you - will need it.

-- Airfare. In case you want to continue your sitcom life to its natural conclusion, Tolentino suggests that "due to the unpredictable nature of this endeavor, you'd be wise to purchase an open-ended ticket out of the country beforehand. Tempers will likely flare."