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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Rian Johnson: Bad guys can’t have iPhones onscreen

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was perhaps my favorite film of last year, so when I saw that Vanity Fair had invited him to break down a scene from the movie, I eagerly went to watch the video. Little did I know that he snuck in an Apple tidbit as a bonus!

A few minutes in, Johnson discloses an interesting fact—one which he apologizes to his fellow movie makers about: bad guys aren’t allowed to have iPhones onscreen.

Apple, they let you use iPhones in movies, but—and this is very pivotal if you’re ever watching a mystery movie—bad guys cannot have iPhones on camera.

Perhaps not especially surprising, given Apple’s protectiveness of its image. I’m curious about just how far this extends—I have to imagine someone will dig up a counterexample somewhere, though perhaps one without Apple’s blessing? (Which is to say, a project where Apple didn’t have paid promotional consideration.)

I also have to imagine this doesn’t necessarily apply on TV either. The Morning Show, Apple’s premiere drama on Apple TV+, features at times a little over-the-top usage of Apple products1, which extends to pretty much every character having an iPhone, including Steve Carell’s Mitch Kessler, who I would certainly classify as a “bad guy.”2 (Sorry for the photo quality, but the iPad doesn’t let you take screenshots of copy-protected video.)

Mitch Kessler and iPhone

I also watched a TV show just last night—which I won’t name, to avoid spoilers—in which the protagonist had a busted Android phone and a drug cartel assassin, albeit one who might be more of a “gray” character, had an iPhone.

Obviously, Apple’s products have long showed up in movies and TV, sometimes with various degrees of camouflage, so I imagine there’s a challenge in policing all of that. But certainly in big budget, high profile projects like Knives Out, I imagine they keep a closer eye on things.

Oh, and the rest of the video, beyond the iPhone trivia, is well worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of moviemaking. Johnson, who I’ve been a fan of since his inaugural feature Brick, is a consummate director, and knows how to break down the craft in an interesting and engaging fashion.3

  1. Seriously? You want me to believe that news professionals are using Apple News. Uh huh. Sure. 
  2. Maybe you have to be like an out-and-out murderer or something? Where do you draw the line? 
  3. Plus, how I could not like a guy who complimented my wedding photos

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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