Trope Workshop:Con Crew

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    NOTE: This is intended to replace The Fixer, The Roper, and Napier, and to be pointed at by The Shill (which will lose many of its current examples).

    Sometimes, The Con can be carried out by a single person - the Con Man - especially if it's a simple confidence scheme. Other times, there's just too much work for one person to do, or the particulars of the con are such that a group of people are needed to have any chance to pull it off.

    Enter the Con Crew. Possibly in a Slow-Motion Pass-By when walking past The Mark; in this type of story, they know who he is, but he doesn't know who they are.

    In the Hollywood version of the Con Crew, each member has a well-defined role. In Real Life, members of a con crew still have specialties, but aren't necessarily confined to them.

    The Fixer

    Nowadays, the fixer is the stage manager for the crew. Maybe "properties (props) director" or "set designer" would be better analogies. This is the person the Con Man goes to if he needs a thing to do his thing. Call up your Fixer if you need a Big Store, for example, or a convincing counterfeit, or squibs for the blow-off, or ... well, anything. The weirder, the better. Live jackalopes a specialty.

    Other uses of the term Fixer include:

    • Gangster films from the forties called lawyers "fixers" - see Amoral Attorney or The Consigliere.
    • A gangland type (sometimes called a Bag Man) who specializes in resolving conflicts between gangs may also be called a fixer, as are people who interface with law-enforcement to put the "fix in."

    Note that in all cases, the Fixer makes the Con Man's life easier.

    The Roper

    The roper moves The Mark into The Tale, sometimes by simply being an attractive woman, although this is changing as the stereotype of "an attractive woman who's suddenly interested in you is a Roper" becomes widespread. Much like a cowboy ropes in a cow that's straying from the herd so that she doesn't get away, the Roper "ropes in" the mark that's straying from the con so that he doesn't get away. The roper can have a mark lined up, but not have The Tale to tell, so is in need of a Con Man, or can be dispatched by the Con Man to bring in a specific target.

    This has nothing to do with Fast Roping, the Dungeons & Dragons monster, or the landlords from Three's Company.

    The Shill

    In this context, this is an accomplice who falsely "approves" the proposition in such a way that his "support" encourages The Mark to go for the deal. A good shill gives the impression that they are going to grab all the goodies, so the The Mark had better move fast, with an increased bid.

    Other uses of the term Shill are listed at The Shill. Has nothing to do with Character Shill or Character Shilling.

    The Napier

    A Napier is a specific kind of shill who plays a wealthy, gullible fool. The Con Man finds someone avaricious (the mark) to "help him take down" the Napier. The mark sees the big, juicy target, and bankrolls the play. Conman and Napier fade away with the bankroll.

    The word "napier" may have something to do with Lord Napier. In any case, it means "fool".

    Other Specialists

    Some roles can be filled by people with special skills - The Driver can get the Con Crew to and from the site of the con, The Cracker or the Playful Hacker can get background on the mark, and so on - but these people rarely if ever actually take a direct role in the con.


    Not to be confused with people who run Fan Conventions.

    Examples of Con Crews include:

    Comic Books

    • One issue of The Muppet Show Comic Book reinvents Veterinarian's Hospital as Veterinarian's Medicine Show. Snake Oil Salesman Dr Bob gives a spoonful of Medicinal Compound to the Shill Julius Strangepork ("My old friend ... who I've never seen before in my life!"). Strangepork disappears offstage, and is replaced by Link Hogthrob in the same suit.

    Film

    • In The Sting, Paul Newman's character Gondorff plays a Napier, when he is working as the obnoxious Bookie "Shaw".
    • In Inception, either the architect (who creates the mental landscapes they go into) or the chemist (who makes the drugs they use for an inception or extraction) is the Fixer.
    • In The Brothers Bloom, Bloom is a male example of the Roper.
    • In Ocean's Thirteen Danny Ocean and his crew demonstrate a new casino game at a convention as part of their scheme to rob Willy Bank. Terry Benedict plays the shill who wants to install it in his Biloxi properties, which in turn gets Bank interested.
    • In the opening to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the Anti-Heroes are selling stolen goods in the street. One of them, playing the shill, triggers the audience's enthusiasm by saying "Did you say ten pounds? That's a bargain; I'll take one."
    • In The Marx Brothers' first film The Coconuts, Groucho employs Chico as an shill to bid up the prices of the plots of land he has for sale. Chico does this too well and ends up winning each auction.
    • Early in The Journey of Natty Gann, Natty acts as an impromptu Shill for a street vendor played by Scatman Crothers; finding him haggling with a woman over the price of a pot he is trying to sell her, Natty pipes up that she'll pay him his asking price for it, putting an end to the woman's efforts to talk him down to a lower amount.

    Literature

    Live-Action TV

    • Hustle:
      • Ash is the Fixer.
      • Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughan's character) is usually the Roper and the Shill.
      • Either Danny or Albert is usually the Napier.
    • No Reservations: Anthony Bourdain has written of the need for a débrouillard, an unofficial function within some commercial kitchens whose job it is to get the crew out of the weeds by any means necessary. Questionably sourced ingredients and oddball cooking techniques (deep-fried steaks among them) figure large in the role, which makes it The Fixer.
    • Burn Notice:
      • Sam is the Fixer; he provides Michael with the tools he needs to do his work, as well as using his many "buddies" to get info from legal channels. Unlike most fixers, Sam actually does do fieldwork too.
    • The A-Team:
      • Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck is the Fixer, but he also gets his hands dirty.
    • Leverage:
      • None of the characters are exclusively the Fixer, although all have done elements of this as a part of the various cons that they have been involved in. The most frequent individual for this role is generally Eliot, in contrast to his other major function.
      • Nate's father, Jimmy Ford, was the best fixer in South Boston back in the day.
      • Nate often plays The Shill.
      • Sophie generally takes the Roper role.
    • In The Real Hustle, Jess is the Roper.
    • In the Lost episode "The Long Con," Cassidy shills for Sawyer. In "Left Behind," Kate plays the shill to help Cassidy avoid arrest.
    • Saturday Night Live did a series of sketches (later repackaged as a Superbowl ad) starring "MacGruber," a crappy MacGyver knockoff who was too busy singing the praises of his corporate sponsor Pepsi to defuse the assorted time bombs he was presented with.
    • Del Boy's market-stall patter in Only Fools and Horses often requires Grandad, Rodney or Uncle Albert to act as a Shill. None of them are any good at it.
      • When Albert took the role, demonstrating an anti-back pain medicine, his cover was catastrophically blown when his "sudden recovery" became a full tap-dance routine. A later case involving Albert however - with the Peckham Spring - was successful enough to allow the scam to eventually fool literally the entire country.
    • In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager in which Neelix and Tom are trying to prove they're still "street", they decide to pull the cup-and-pea trick on the Doctor. To get him interested, they let him see Tom be the Shill by successfully finding the pea.

    New Media

    • Vita has played the Shill in Rowan's shell game in Vigor Mortis.

    Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

    Tabletop Games

    • In Shadowrun, the Fixer is a non-player character, usually called "Mr. Johnson", who provides shadowrunners with work by connecting them with contacts from Mega Corps / the underground / whoever wants dirty work done. Fixers can also help you track down people who can give you the gear you need.

    Video Games

    • In the online detective game Sleuth, your character's license as a Private Detective will be revoked if you make three wrongful accusations. However, you can go to a Fixer - the shady character who hangs out in the back of the downtown bar - and pay them to clear your record to avoid this. The more often this happens though, the more expensive it gets. The flash version of the game even specifically calls this character The Fixer.
    • In Suikoden IV, a male 'victim' tries to convince the mark to challenge a Cute Bruiser witha BFS. Somewhat ironically, this Shill turns out to be your Personal Trainer once recruited.
    • John plays the Shill (however unwillingly) early on in Red Dead Redemption at one point for Dickens, in a bid to sell his 'medicinal' tonic. He gives incredibly neutral responses to any questions that Dickens asks him, and even openly spits out the foul-tasting tonic when made to drink it in front of the crowd. Fortunately for Dickens, John is Badass enough to display above-average ability in marksmanship and combat, which was enough to convince the crowd to buy the stories. It does, however, come back to bite them later when Dickens attempts to repeat this in another community, and gets called out for his fraudulence.

    Western Animation

    • The Simpsons:
      • Homer Shills for Grampa when selling "Simpson & Son's Revitalising Tonic". It doesn't work, largely because his face is on the bottle.
      • Another episode has one of Snake's con tricks facilitated by a Shill who looks and sounds remarkably like Snake himself, who is almost 100% certainly related to Snake in some fashion ("Way to go, bro!").

    Real Life

    • Television newscasts occasionally will make easy points by creating a fictional product, then paying online "influencers" to provide bogus reviews or commercial endorsements - which makes said influencers the Shill for the stories.
      • BBC3's Blindboy Undestroys the World auditioned Instagram influencers to promote Cyanora, a fictional diet drink which claimed to have included the ingredient hydrogen cyanide.
      • CBC's Marketplace managed to buy a website, a mobile burner phone and a stack of glowing online reviews for Cheezed Off, a mobile food truck which purported to sell grilled cheese sandwiches. "Cheezed Off has mastered the art of creating the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. I love comfort food and could not pass up an opportunity to try this nostalgic meal from a food truck while in downtown Toronto. I ordered the classic sandwich and my boyfriend ordered the Hellzaoppin sandwich. Both of these were made quickly and tasted absolutely delicious. This food truck knows their way around a grilled cheese." Only one problem... the truck doesn't exist, except as a photoshop invention of a few bored CBC staffers who faked multiple photos of it in front of various Toronto landmarks.