Considering the amount of hassle involved in shooting a movie, it’s a miracle any film gets made. But some productions go out of their way to make life difficult for themselves. Maybe they suffer from a megalomaniacal director, a hot-tempered star and an out-of-control budget. Or they’re plagued by hellish weather conditions, burning sets and multiple sackings. If they’re particularly unlucky, they may have to contend with nearby wars and attacks by local tribes. The fact that some continue to film in such horrific conditions is a feat of its own.
These 15 movies prove that the world makes no sense. ‘Cause if it did, there’s no way they’d ever have got made. Take a look at these films, did you know they had such a difficult time being made?
15. Alien 3
A lot of films have hellish productions. Alien 3 went one better and had a hellish preproduction as well. Before a single scene was filmed, the project went through years of rewrites, sackings and overhauls (during the late ‘80s “writer for Alien 3” was the least secure job title on Earth). When filming finally got under way $7 million had already gone down the drain, and the shoot became infamous for its long days and wildly spiraling budget. In an interview at the time, star Sigourney Weaver said “I have been through a tunnel of blood on this one.” Director David Fincher later called it “the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
14. Blade Runner
The main problem with this shoot can be summed up in two words: Ridley Scott. The director’s fights with the star, Harrison Ford, became legendary, while the other actors were driven demented by his insistence on take after take. After Scott told a newspaper that he preferred working in Britain, some of his crew took to wearing T-shirts that said “Yes Guv’nor – My Ass!” The director’s allies responded with shirts that read “Xenophobia Sucks.” Bizarrely, Scott was fired towards the end of the shoot but kept working anyway, since no-one else could take over at such short notice. Katy Haber, one of the film’s producers, called Blade Runner “a monument to stress.”
13. The Boondock Saints
So much drama went into this production that the documentary about it is more interesting than the movie itself. Described by Roger Ebert as a “riches to rags story”, the film Overnight tells the story of how Boondock’s writer-director Troy Duffy was plucked from obscurity by the media mogul Harvey Weinstein. The hotshot producer bought his screenplay, bankrolled his film and set him on the fast-track to fame. Unfortunately Troy quickly made a habit of insulting actors and screaming down the phone at agents, and within days Weinstein had completely cut him off. The director had to finish the film on half the original budget, but he got the last laugh when Boondock went on to become a cult classic.
As Richard Dreyfuss put it, “We started the movie without a script, without a cast and without a shark.” Jaws ended up pretty much being written on the fly, with many of its best lines improvised on the spot (yup, including the one about needing a bigger boat). The 159-day shoot was plagued by bickering and genuine danger: at one point the vessel capsized for real, with everyone aboard. Then there was the shark – actually three mechanical sharks, which had a habit of swelling, corroding, breaking and generally being annoying. Legend has it that on the last day of filming Spielberg, afraid he’d be thrown overboard by a mutinous crew, slipped away before the last shot was finished, yelling “I shall not return!”
11. Don Jon
When Joseph Gordon-Levitt first set out to write and direct his own movie, he had a few things going against him. Firstly, his story was about a p*rn addict – not the easiest of sells. Secondly, the film was hard to categorize: he described it as a “comedy” but it didn’t have that many gags. Thirdly, the project lacked a lot of those things that generally help a film get made, like financial backing or a cast. Then Gordon-Levitt persuaded Scarlett Johansson to come on board, and suddenly everything clicked. In the end Don Jon made its minuscule $3 million budget back ten times over.
Absolutely no-one thought this movie would succeed. Its budget was insane, it had no stars and it was a massive downer. The shoot was riddled with problems – broken bones, temper tantrums and even involuntary drug abuse (they never did catch whoever put PCP in everyone’s lobster chowder). Director James Cameron injected vitamin B into his, eh, backside once a week to keep him going. Costs eventually got so out of control that the director sacrificed his salary to keep them down. But the studio still put pressure on him to cut expensive scenes from the script, prompting Cameron to yell the immortal words, “If you want to cut my film, you’ll have to fire me. And to fire me, you’ll have to kill me.”
9. A Bridge Too Far
This 1977 war epic was entirely financed by one guy, who poured $22 million of his personal fortune into it. No pressure for the director, Richard Attenborough, then. The tensest moment of all was shooting the huge battle scene on Nijmegen Bridge. The crew had permission to use the bridge for exactly one hour, after which it would open up to traffic again. If anything went wrong, everyone would have to wait at least a week for the bridge to become available again – earning overtime all the while. This earned the shoot the nickname “the Million Dollar Hour”. Thankfully, everything went according to plan in the end. After the movie wrapped Attenborough celebrated by staying in bed for three days.
8. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
J. R. R. Tolkien started to discuss filming his classic novel all the way back in 1957. After that nothing much happened until 1969, when The Beatles asked if they could try their hands at it – an idea that Tolkien promptly nixed. (The cast: Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Sam, George as Gandalf and John as Gollum.) After that nothing much happened again, as most people considered the 1,000-page monster unfilmable. Not Peter Jackson, who bought the rights in the late ‘90s and set about turning the book into a three-film extravaganza. He shot all three instalments at the same time, a process which took 15 months and involved 350 sets, 330 vehicles, 2,000 crew members, 48,000 props and 4.5 million feet of film. I got tired just typing that.
7. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The dates say it all: this movie was first optioned in 1982 but didn’t see the light of day until 2005. Douglas Adams – author of the original book – tried his best to get it made, but the project spent the ‘80s and ‘90s bouncing between studios, directors and writers like a ping-pong ball. Adams’ death in 2001 seemed to spell the end for the film, but in 2003 a retooled version of his script found its way to the music video team Hammer and Tongs. After 21 years of “development hell”, Hitchhiker finally got the green light. As Adams put it, “Getting a movie made in Hollywood is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.”
6. Ben-Hur (1925 version)
Ah, the days before health and safety, when you could put your actors’ lives on the line for your art. This movie’s insane production involved a sea battle filmed with real ships on a real lake, with real-life political enemies for soldiers (some of them sharpened their prop swords). After one of the ships went on fire, several of the men jumped overboard despite being unable to swim. They all survived in the end, but sadly not all of Ben-Hur’s extras were so lucky. In the first attempt at shooting the infamous chariot race, one of the stuntmen died in a crash. The version of the race that ended up in the movie was – you guessed it – a real race, with a cash prize offered to the winner. All in all an untold amount of horses were killed, and the chariot pile-up you see in the movie is genuine. Never has the phrase “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore” been more comforting.
It may be considered a classic today but Casablanca’s stars, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, initially wanted to get out of making the film. This was largely because they didn’t think much of the story, the director, or each other. Bergman found it especially irritating that for most of the shoot no-one told her which character she was supposed to be in love with. In the director’s defence, he wasn’t sure himself – nor were the writers, who wrote half the movie’s script as they went along. Somehow, they came up with the most quotable film of all time.
4. The Crow
The Crow faced the worst setback imaginable when its star, Brandon Lee, was accidentally shot dead with a stunt gun (contrary to rumors, they don’t show his death in the film). The production team made the hard decision to continue with the movie anyway, making up for the star’s absence with a combination of rewrites and stunt doubles. But their problems weren’t over. Fearing bad publicity, the movie’s distributor pulled out, leaving Crow’s people with no way of releasing the film for months. Eventually Miramax came to the rescue and the film went on to become a hit.
It took the star of this classic comedy four years to get the film made. During that time Dustin Hoffman didn’t work on anything else, mostly because he was busy interviewing over a hundred actresses for the part of Julie. The shoot itself wasn’t the most relaxed of affairs, due to tensions between Hoffman and director Sydney Pollack. Put it this way: the famous “No-one will hire you” scene is based on their real working relationship. And then there was the long, long struggle to perfect the star’s “Dorothy Michaels” look. Let’s face it, a method actor taking on a cross-dressing role was always going to be a headache.
OK, so it’s not the most well-known movie on this list. But it may just have the craziest story of them all. The shoot took place over two years in the Amazonian jungle, and faced every disaster imaginable. Early on, the whole production had to move 1,200 miles when it got in the way of a local border war. Then the star got dysentery and quit halfway through the shoot, leaving director Werner Herzog with months of unusable footage. The replacement star, Klaus Kinski, was so obnoxious that one of the local chiefs offered to do Herzog a favour by killing him (the filmmaker declined). Other incidents included a hit-and-run bow-and-arrow attack, two planes crashing, an extra cutting off his own foot, a crew member grabbing a machete and taking hostages, and locals burning the film camp down. Even the stuff that went according to plan was insane. One of the film’s scenes involved hundreds of extras dragging a 320-ton steamship over a hill. Herzog called his memoir of the experience Conquest of the Useless.
1. Apocalypse Now
You just couldn’t leave this one out. Apocalypse Now is probably the most legendary film nightmare of them all. For its director, Francis Ford Coppola, the Philippines shoot can only have felt like an actual apocalypse. A typhoon destroyed the original set, delaying production for a month and a half. The helicopters used in the combat sequences were recalled by President Marcos so he could fight nearby rebels. Harvey Keitel was sacked after two weeks, Martin Sheen suffered a major heart attack and Dennis Hopper spent most of his time hoovering up every narcotic in sight. But all this paled next to the Method madness of Marlon Brando. When the star arrived he hadn’t read the source book, was too overweight to shoot the final scene and held the film up for days while he discussed his character with Coppola. The director had to scrap the movie’s original ending, instead filming Brando rambling about whatever came into his head. Amazingly, the result of all this was an all-time great film. If pressure makes diamonds, then Apocalypse Now is Cartier.
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