Big-Budget Filmmaking

4. The Good: Peter Jackson’s King Kong Production Diaries

KingKongDiaries

It’s really hard to swallow when a movie like Avatar manages to spend more money than God while somehow never leaving the studio to do it. Watching either Peter Jackson’s King Kong diaries or anything Lord Of The Rings, you actually get to see and understand where the money is going.

The diaries show us just how grand making a movie of this scale and detail is. There’s a whole diary devoted to finding and fixing up old cars to be used on the New York set and one just about the steam coming from the sewers. They show us the poor P. whose only job is to keep an eye out for passing airplanes that might ruin the shot. Let’s not forget the production designer who has to shape and create the various animal poop props for the Venture’s cargo area. So much colorful minutiae being carried out by so many people over days and days of production. We are reminded of just how many people need to be moved and fed and paid for this thing to come together.

King Kong was actually on the low side of what his films typically bring in (not that it wasn’t in the hundreds of millions), while costing almost twice as much as any one Lord Of The Ring film. At the time it was the most expensive movie ever – but Jackson knows how to spend that money. For him, the scope comes in the attention to crafted detail and not just trying to achieve some digital breakthrough or build the biggest set in the world. It’s about hiring artists to make art.

3. The Bad: Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns Production Diaries

SupReturns

King Kong and Superman Returns were both made in the same general area, had almost the exact same 200 million dollar budget, both had amazing production diaries, and were made so close together that they even share a diary episode at one point (and an amazing one at that!). The difference, however, was that Superman Returns made half of what King Kong did – all while making a lot of terrible budget decisions along the way.

For example, as Cracked.com pointed out – they spent 10 million on a space scene that never made it into the film, as well as built Kent Farm totally from scratch, going so far as to grow the actual corn, despite it having a very limited screen time. It’s not like we’re talking about the Fortress Of Solitude here, just cornfields and barns. Go to Kentucky guys, it’s cheaper.

I should say that personally speaking – I actually love this film. I love Bryan Singer’s attitude as a director and I love watching these productions diaries. That said, it seems like I am in the minority here, nor can I deny that they could have focused their budget way better than they did. In the end, despite all that money and planning, the story simply wasn’t good enough.

The Entire Production

2. The Bad: Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

HeartsOfDarkness

“We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money. Too much equipment. And little by little we went insane.” – Francis Ford Coppola

Apocalypse Now is a lot like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in that it was guided into success by such blind luck that you could never repeat the results. It’s why every English student who downs a bottle of rum in front of his or her typewriter in some silly hope to be the next Hunter S. Thompson only has a bad liver to show for it.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong here, from the sets, which were trashed by a typhoon halfway through production, to the actors, who spent the days in a drug-fueled stupor.

Harvey Keitel – the original lead – was replaced with Martin Sheen who then had a breakdown on the set. The environment of the Philippines was inherently unstable as helicopters kept leaving the shots to conduct actual wars. Marlon Brando’s ego demanded a million dollars without any guarantee that he’d actually show up – and when he did he was a mess.

Point is – this is not how to make a movie. Don’t go across the globe with a half-written script and millions of dollars expecting to make one of the best films ever made. 99.9999% of the time you’ll just end up shooting yourself – something that Coppola apparently did consider as a viable plan B.

Still – it seems like the most surreal aspect of this whole documentary is the fact that George Lucas was originally supposed to direct it.

1. The Good: Full-Tilt Boogie – The Making Of From Dusk Till Dawn

If you had to just watch one of items on this list – this is the one. While it certainly isn’t the most exciting divulgence into movie making, that’s exactly why it’s the most honest. It shows, without filter, exactly what it’s like to work on a film set.

The film follows everything from the monster effects and makeup to George Clooney’s assistant making mundane errands, the director of photography setting up shots to the paparazzi parked miles from the set. Literally every aspect of what goes into a film is featured – things like craft services and grip department get their slice. We see the drunken after parties of the day and the hotel noise complaints. Birthday parties, staff contests, all of the bullshit you see in any job – just slightly more surreal.

All of it opened with one of the silliest staged bits ever as George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino “get lost” while looking for the set, stopping only to cast aside nerdy fans holding Pulp Fiction posters and ER headshots – that is, of course, with the exception of one attractive female fan who they ever-so-graciously stop for.


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