I thought about doing something a little different for the “Shelf” column this time around. As so far I’ve been only talking about the movies that have been released on either digital download and/or on DVD/Blu-Ray, I thought it would be finally appropriate to do (at least) one column that would feature the aspect of the home video-releases that has always been an important part for me; the special features.
And a very specific part of those features – the “making of”-documentaries, to be exact. And I’m not talking about those standard 10 to 15-minute long EPK-pieces, no sir – those ones are just meant for promotional uses, and are just filled to the brim with “[insert name here] was just an absolute joy to work with“, “I was so happy to get a chance to work with [insert name here]” and “everybody’s been so wonderful” and so on. That stuff gets very boring very quick.
I’m talking about the ones that show the filmmaking-process as it really is – arguments, frustrations, compromises, long hours, technical difficulties and the likes. So for this column I decided to present some of my very favorite “making of”‘s – which tend to be the ones that cover the most tumultuous of productions. And as they are all even longer than the actual feature is, they make for a very interesting movie-night all onto themselves.
THE MAKING OF STEVEN SPELBERG’S “JAWS”
This is really one of the granddaddies of all the modern special features and set a very high standard to follow. This 125-minute long documentary was directed by Laurent Bouzereau for the Laserdisc Special Edition of “Jaws” back in 1995 and it quickly gained an almost legendary status among not just “Jaws”-fans but film fans in general. So there was much outrage as Universal released only an edited 55-minute version on the first DVD release of the film. Thankfully, the fandom was heard and the full-length cut was released on the 30th anniversary DVD as well as in the subsequent Blu-Ray.
Bouzereau has since become pretty much the regular producer of all of the Spielberg-related special features – an also for the likes of Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese. Granted, his early productions are more the kind of “talking heads”-type of material, as there really was not that much presence of the behind-the-scenes video crews in the older movies, but his work has really evolved in time. A lot of the troubled production of “Jaws” got some coverage in Carl Gottlieb‘s book “The Jaws Log” which was released the same time the film opened, but in this documentary we get a much more detailed description of the events, as well as a whole slew of new stories.
Some select best moments of the documentary:
– Spielberg wrote an entire draft of the screenplay himself during early production. He says that the only thing that really survived from that draft was the scene of the two guys trying to catch the shark by throwing a hooked roast from a pier. BUT – the more interesting revelation is his original idea for the introduction of Quint; in his draft, Quint is met at the local movie theater watching the 1956 movie adaptation of “Moby Dick“. As the film progresses, Quint keeps laughing louder and louder and making the other patrons annoyed and one by one they leave the theater until he is sitting alone in the audience, his laughing echoing outside to the streets. Now – tell me if this doesn’t remind you of Scorsese’s “Cape Fear“, where Max Cady is terrorizing the Bowden family’s movie night. As Spielberg is a producer of that movie as well – and was attached as a director for it for some time – I guess he finally found a way to use that idea. Another interesting idea of his that never got used was a nighttime scene where the shark’s movement in the harbor would’ve been shown via a row of sailboats; one by one, the boats would’ve started rocking as the shark swam under them.
– The whole scene of Brody’s son miming his actions at the dinner table was the result of spontaneous moment that happened between Roy Scheider and his young co-star Jay Mello in-between shooting other material.
– The “Here lies the body of Mary Lee”-poem that Quint recites was an improvisation by Robert Shaw. And as Spielberg asked him what song or a piece of literature that was from, in case they needed to secure the rights for it, Shaw said “I don’t think anyone’s going to come and claim it – it’s from an old grave marker in Ireland“.
– While we’re on the subject of Shaw, the whole “Indianapolis speech” and who actually wrote it is finally sorted out, as there were so many different versions of that story over the years; the final, filmed version of the speech was a Robert Shaw-rewrite of a speech written by John Milius which was suggested in a script draft written by Howard Sackler. So there’s that. And Richard Dreyfuss – who had a very antagonistic relationship with Shaw through the entire shoot – gives a moving description of the moment when they finally filmed the printed version of that scene; “it’s sometimes hard for an actor to play interested on a scene, when someone else is performing a long monologue. But in that cabin, on that night, when Robert was doing that speech…I couldn’t take my eyes off him.”
– As the shooting got more and more delayed, because of the problems with the mechanical shark(s). the tensions between the crewpeople got extremely high. At a local event held to the cast and crew, Roy Scheider decided to ease the tensions a little bit – by starting a MASSIVE food-fight. The only ones who managed to escape this were producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck, who quickly realized what was about to happen and escaped through the nearest door.
– The Orca actually sunk – but not during the scene when it was supposed to. While the crew was filming the scene where the shark is dragging the boat backwards, it got yanked too soon and the tugging boat ended up ripping the whole tail-boarding off. As the crew was scattering from the wreckage, the first A.D yelled to the bullhorn “Get the actors off the boat!“. Soundman John Carter was then seen holding his Nagra recorder on top of his head and screaming “FUCK THE ACTORS!!! Save the sound department!“. There’s something so amusing to hear Spielberg tell this, because he let’s out a very rare F-bomb. I guess that should be credited to Bouzereau, for getting his interview-subjects to be so casual.
DANGEROUS DAYS: THE MAKING OF ‘BLADE RUNNER’
The story of “Blade Runner” is another interesting one, as the movies’ shoot was plagued with constant fighting between Ridley Scott and the producers Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio over Scott’s constant going over budget and “shooting too much film“, as well as moments close to mutiny from the overworked crew (resulting in among other things the “T-shirt war” and the producers actually FIRING the crew after the last day of filming instead of just ending their contracts normally – merely as a demonstration of their power), as well as some serious bad blood between star Harrison Ford and Sean Young and the growing frustration between Ford and Scott – because Scott was more concerned over the visual side of the film and Ford felt he wasn’t getting any direction.
This three and a half hour documentary was released in 2007, when the “Final Cut” of the film got it’s home video-release and it is pretty much THE definite telling of the whole “Blade Runner” production, covering everything from the first story drafts made by screenwriter Hampton Fancher to the complete box office-bombing of the film as it first was released in 1982. And everybody is interviewed. I mean EVERYBODY; from a lighting-crew boss to actress Stacey Nelkin (who’s part got cut out of the movie – but more about that later), to Paul M. Sammon who wrote and extensive book about the film – “Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner” – in 1996. The book is essentially a kind of prequel to this documentary; for example it covers ALL the different versions of the movie up to that point in the most minute detail possible – and there were many. Many more than just the five different cuts that are featured in the box set. The director of the documentary, Charles De Lauzirika, has also gotten an unprecedented access to storyboards, designs, abandoned sequences, alternate takes and audio recordings of the voiceover-sessions.
Some best bits:
– During a script meeting, an already worn down Fancher got into such a big argument with the other team over the love scene between Deckard and Rachael, that he stormed out. Scott’s producing partner Ivor Powell went after him and tried to explain to the raging writer “I know me man – if he wants something, he’s gonna get it“. Fancher ended up getting sidelined for a while and the next time he went in the producers’ office, he saw a new script with the name of the writer David Webb Peoples on it. But in the end he did stick around and eventually did get back to writing some scenes after Peoples in turn got exhausted over producing draft after draft.
– Dustin Hoffman was very close to being cast as Deckard. So close in fact, that there are some storyboards where the character bears his likeness. When Harrison Ford was getting cast, the character was still pictured with wearing a fedora hat but after the filmmakers saw some footage of Ford as Indiana Jones, the hat got eliminated.
– Rutger Hauer – a practical joker – showed up to the first meeting wearing a bright-colored nylon jumpsuit, a sweater with a picture of a fox, a pair of Elton John-type sunglasses and a bleached blond hair. Apparently the look on Ridley Scott‘s face was something to see. The hairstyle remained though.
– We see a multitude of screen tests – the casting of Pris is an especially interesting one, as the actresses were given (by Scott) a large roomful of different pieces of makeup, clothing and props and were told to come up with a distinct look for themselves. Daryl Hannah decided to make the character “scary to the point of grotesque” – and she does pretty much stand out from the others – and it’s not that much different from how the character ended up looking in the final film. One of the actresses was Stacey Nelkin, who didn’t get that particular part but was cast as the fifth replicant of the group, Mary. But due to budget cuts, her role was eliminated from the script, with the ambiguous mention of “one got fried in the electric field“.
– Much like Hannah, Edward James Olmos (Gaff) also ended up designing the look of his entire character. But Olmos want even further and took the tiny mention of “Cityspeak” that his character was supposed to be talking in, went to a language institute and created the whole thing from scratch. The end result is a combination of Hungarian, Chinese, German and some other languages. Apparently the film got great laughs when it played in Hungary.
– We see the actual shot where Daryl Hannah slips on the wet pavement as Pris is running away from J.F. Sebastian, and she smashes her hand through a car window, which was NOT breakaway glass. This injury made her subsequent stunts difficult, hence the use of a stuntman in Pris’ fight with Deckard. If you think it’s very obvious in the short shots in the film, you are going to want to see the unedited takes of that one! The nose-grabbing move that happens during the fight WAS performed by Hannah though – and that was an idea from Ford.
– The “T-shirt war” happened because some crewmember came across an English newspaper where Scott was insinuating his frustration with an American crew and saying “if I was here, they would just say ‘yes, guv’ and get on with it“. As the clipping got circled around the crew, some got so angry that they printed a whole pile of T-shirts with the text “Yes, guv’nr – my ASS!”. Amused by this, Scott and Production Secretary Katy Haber printed out their own shirts, with the text “Xenophobia sucks!”.
– If Harrison Ford‘s voiceover work didn’t already sound like the most unmotivated line-reading in film history, the audio-recordings of the recording sessions are even more obvious; Ford is heard cracking up, making fun of the script and just pointing out how weird and ridiculous this whole thing is. Ford also tells in an interview, that the final voiceover-writer in the recording studio was none of the credited writers of the film, but someone unidentified writer hired by Yorkin & Perenchio who was “so far detached from the filmmaking process that there was no point in having any kind of discussion of the character with him“.
WRECKAGE AND RAGE: THE MAKING OF ‘ALIEN 3’
As a first note – this bit is based on the UNEDITED 192-minute version version of this documentary (also directed by Charles De Lauzirika). When it was first produced for the 2003 “Alien Quadrilogy” DVD-release, 20th Century Fox ordered 21 minutes worth of cuts to it. Probably because it’s not (and wasn’t even in it’s truncated version) a very flattering view of the whole chaotic mess that was the production of “Alien 3“. As a second note – David Fincher was not involved in any way with this special edition-release at all. His appearances are limited to on-set footage filmed during the production. And after you have watched this all the way through, you can perfectly understand his motivations.
In essence Fincher was – after one false-start and one attempt that got it’s plug pulled in pre-production – picked because he was a young, hungry and technically brilliant newcomer and the studio/producers thought they could just boss him around and get pretty-looking pictures delivered very quickly as the film was being made against a looming release date, with no solid script. Ever. There was NEVER a finished shooting script on “Alien 3“. After watching this you are really left kinda amazed that the end result actually ended up being even cohesive – nevermind being actually good.
I have always liked “Alien 3“. It was something very different. And you can’t look at it and not think that these images came from anyone else than Fincher’s mind. The extended “workprint” version that got released in the set may not be a director’s cut, but it sure is one helluva nihilistic vision.
Some selected moments:
– Renny Harlin – the first director hired for the film – details how he spent a year working with three writers (William Gibson, Eric Red, David Twohy) in trying to make something different; he wanted to see the planet where the aliens came from and what the concept behind their existence was (I guess the first seeds of “Prometheus” were sown there, as writer/producer David Giler mentions in the interview that “would be interesting if Ridley would do that now“). But all of Harlin’s ideas got shot down in favor of “adding just more machine guns and aliens” by the producers.
– We get the whole synopsis of the second writer/director Vincent Ward, which was so unbelievably artistic and bizarre with a wooden planet and monks in space, that it’s amazing the studio actually greenlit it. The wooden planet-sets were actually already being built as Ward got removed from the film, so the subsequent prison planet-sets were just built on top of the already existing ones.
– After Fincher go hired, there was a period of a few months when the production was in effect halted. One of the only facilities to remain working in London was the creature shop, who were making prosthetic bodies and whatnot. Producer Raffaella De Laurentiis was working on a film with Michael Biehn at the time and noticed that there was a body of Hicks which looked like the chestburster had come out of it. Biehn, who was furious, called his agent and they demanded an explanation and threatened to sue the production. In the documentary Biehn does admit “I was very stupid at the time…if I had know Fincher was gonna become THE David Fincher, I would’ve probably kept my mouth shut“.
– After the first week of filming, Fincher was already fighting with the studio brass so much, that Line Producer Ezra Swerdlow was quickly sent on set, and ended up becoming a sort of intermediary between a frustrated director and the studio. Swerdlow describes and incident where he was present in an office as Fincher was on the phone with the studio, and after the call he took a knife and proceeded to completely destroy a desk he was sitting at. Swerdlow states “at that moment I said to myself ‘Jesus Christ, what have I gotten myself Into…’”
– The saddest moment to watch is when Swerdlow first showed up on set and noticed that the original Director of Photography, Jordan Cronenweth (“Blade Runner“) was clearly showing symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and there was no way he was going to handle the stressing production through. As he says “Jordan on one of the only people on set I ever saw David treat with respect“. There are still a few scenes filmed by Cronenweth in the finished film.
– The film was very nearly a complete “Withnail and I“-reunion as Richard E. Grant was almost cast as Dr. Clemens (the part that then went to Charles Dance). We see a couple early screen tests he filmed for the part.
– There’s a scene in finished film that takes place in the Medical Room, where for a few moments Paul McGann‘s character Golic has an entirely different accent than what he has in the rest of the movie. This was again a result of an order coming down from the top, and after half a day of filming Fincher had to ask McGann to just use his normal accent.
– Likewise the character of Aaron, played by Ralph Brown, didn’t start the movie as “85 – for his I.Q.”. Writers David Giler and Larry Ferguson decided halfway through filming that the character “should be funnier” and proceeded to write him dumber. This explains why his character seems to kinda switch over from scene to scene.
– There’s a shot that seems to be some sort of an outtake from an EPK crew interview, where a grim-looking Fincher is sitting in a chair, looking almost spaced-out when he suddenly noticed the boom mic, grabs it and says “it’s amazing that Fox is the number one studio when it’s being run by a bunch of morons…“. I think that little moment (which was one of the bits edited out from the original release) kind of says everything about his mindset during the filming.
These here were just three examples just from the top of my head. I know there has been a lot of talk in the recent years over the Death of physical media and such. But as long as stuff like this gets released along those shiny discs, I’m on board. Because I just have this pressing need to know more…