You know how the old saying goes – a rough road leads up to the stars. Well, these filmmakers that you are going to read about sure know a thing or two about how this saying plays out in real life.
When you watch a movie, a talented filmmaker can help you travel through space and time by immersing you in a completely different world. But doing so requires an awful lot of effort, sweat, and tears. Sometimes even the most genius creators are rejected by the giant Hollywood money-making machine, which goes to say that not everything that is profitable is bound to be good and vice versa.
As it is always interesting to get behind the scenes of famous movies, Bored Panda offers you a peek at what happens before they are made. This time, it’s not about props or the mighty CGI. This time, it’s about the films that no one believed in or which were so hard to make that only through the sheer power of will and sometimes – a single stroke of luck – they have been made. All of these movies sooner or later proved to be huge successes, despite the hardships they (or more specifically, the people behind them) endured.
Psycho was based on a 1959 novel of the same name, for which Alfred Hitchcock bought the rights anonymously from Robert Bloch for only $9,000. The director then bought as many copies of the novel as he could, to try to keep the ending a secret.
Before Psycho happened, Paramount and the genius director Alfred Hitchcock had a contract that meant that the next flick Alfred makes is going to be under this studio giant. However, Paramount didn’t want Psycho to happen. The studio heads did not like “anything about it at all” and found the book “too repulsive” and “impossible for films.” The studio denied Hitchcock his usual budget and even deferred most of the box-office profits to him, completely convinced that the movie would flop.
However, Alfred wholeheartedly believed in his project and agreed to take 60% of the movie’s gross instead of his usual $250,000 salary. In addition to this, due to the poor financing, the director financed the Psycho production himself through his own Shamley Productions. To keep the costs down, the movie was shot in black and white and most of the film’s crew was from his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the cinematographer, set designer, script supervisor, and first assistant director.
Today, Psycho is considered one of Hitchcock’s best films and is highly regarded by film critics and scholars alike as a major work of cinematic art. One of the earliest examples of the slasher film genre, Psycho is now ranked among the greatest films of all time.
Star Wars (1977)
Three major studios – United Artists, Universal, Disney – passed on the script of Star Wars – none were believers of the space opera genre. Finally, Fox agreed to finance the film as they were hoping to put a new up-and-coming director (whose American Graffiti was recently nominated for best picture in the Oscars) under their wing. They settled on a $8 million budget and George Lucas flew to Tunisia to start filming.
However, even the actors of Star Wars weren’t convinced of the success of the movie. Harrison Ford’s “George, you can type this sh*t, but you can’t say it” line pretty much sums up how actors and crew members felt about the movie before its release. Another line dissing Star Wars was said by Alec Guinness: “… new rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable. I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me keep going until next April.”
Prior to the release, George Lucas showed an early rough cut to a group of his movie director friends. Reportedly, one of them called it it the “worst movie ever”. Even George Lucas – the director himself – was so sure that the movie would flop, that instead of attending its premiere, he went on vacation to Hawaii with his friend Steven Spielberg.
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
This timeless piece had to go through so much trouble, it almost seems like a miracle that it made its way to the theaters. For starters, the film went through four different producers and three directors before it was released to the public.
Richard Thorpe, the first director, was fired after Buddy Epsen got sick from his Tin Man makeup and the production was shut down for two weeks (Buddy was then replaced by another actor). The studio then replaced him with George Cukor, who later left the film to work on Gone With the Wind. Then, Viktor Fleming took his place, but not for long. Apparently, George Cukor got himself fired from Gone With the Wind by Clark Gable – rumor has it that it was because Gable found out that the director was gay – and came back to The Wizard Of Oz.
Speaking of production nightmares, not only was Buddy Epsen poisoned from his makeup, the Scarecrow costume left the actor Ray Bolger with serious scars and Margaret Hamilton (Wicked Witch of the West) got severely burned. It also, supposedly, was the reason Judy Garland got addicted to drugs. At the time of shooting, Garland was already a teenager but the story required a prepubescent girl, so she was prescribed with amphetamines to keep her weight down followed by barbiturates to help her sleep after mentally and physically exhausting 16-hour days of shooting. It is believed that this was the beginning of her drug addiction and the root cause behind her fatal drug overdose in 1969.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
The quirky drama-comedy about a dysfunctional family was a small movie written by Matthew Broderick’s former assistant and two first-time directors. It had no “no movie stars and no foreseeable foreign box office,” the New York Times wrote more than a decade ago. But the story behind its production has a Cinderella-like quality to it with a happy ending.
While the plot of the movie takes place mostly over a single day, the actual movie took five years to make. Back in 2001, Jonathan Dayton together with his wife Valerie Faris, read the script written by Michael Arndt – Matthew Broderick’s former assistant who had decided to pursue a career in writing and thus quit his assistant job. Jonathan and Valerie had never directed a movie – only commercials and music videos, but they were wanting to make one for years. “This film really struck a chord,” said Ms. Faris.
Having bought the script, the directors pitched the project to various studios in Hollywood which all passed. Only Focus Features (called USA Films at the time) were showing interest, but the executives kept hesitating. “They didn’t think the movie would travel,” said one of the producers to the media. “And there wasn’t enough star power.” Eventually, Focus informed the filmmakers that they are not going to proceed with the movie. It was then that one of the producers decided to self-finance it, believing it will succeed.
Ultimately, the film proved to be a huge success and prompted a bidding war between studios after its premiere. In the end, the studio Fox Searchlight ultimately won, the film received 81 award wins and proved everyone, who wasn’t a believer, wrong.
Back To The Future (1985)
Back to the Future – a science fiction comedy directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis – was the highest-grossing movie of 1985. However, back in 1981, the script for Back to the Future “was rejected over 40 times by every major studio and by some more than once”, as Bob Gale, its co-writer, tells. And when it was offered to Disney, its executives deemed it too dirty.
Bob Gale, the co-writer of the film remembered Disney telling them that “a mother falling in love with her son was not appropriate for a family film under the Disney banner.” Eventually, Universal Pictures picked up the movie only after witnessing the success of the other Robert Zemeckis movie Romancing the Stone.
Blade Runner (1982)
When director Ridley Scott started shooting the film, he faced numerous problems. Having already made Alien in the UK, Ridley found it hard to adapt to a different production process of making a movie in Los Angeles. What made matters even worse were the comments the director made to one UK newspaper – apparently he was more keen on working with UK crews and told the journalist so. Ridley Scott probably didn’t realize at the time the offense he had caused and later, when he came to the movie set, he found the entire crew wearing T-shirts with slogans like, “Yes gov’nor my ass.” Ridley responded by showing up some time later wearing a T-shirt that said: “Xenophobia sucks”.
On top of this, the filming shoots ran late, various studio heads were angry at the director for going over the original budget, the original script kept getting re-written by various people on numerous occasions before, after and during the production. Also, the studio didn’t like the original Blade Runner ending and pushed the director to change it up to a happy one.
However, one of the most famous incidents associated with Blade Runner is the voice-over. Apparently, when Harrison Ford signed the contract, he asked for the script’s voice-over narration to be replaced with some extra scenes, as the narration made him feel “like a detective who did very little detecting.” But before Blade Runner was released, the studio decided that the voice-over was needed and insisted Ford on making various versions of it.
Here’s what the actor thought about it: “When we started shooting, it had been tacitly agreed that the version of the film that we had agreed upon was the version without voice-over narration. It was a f**king nightmare. I thought that the film had worked without the narration. <…> I went kicking and screaming to the studio to record it.”
Even though Blade Runner was not met enthusiastically by critics or viewers, it has grown on people over the course of time and is now considered one of the finest examples of science fiction movies.
Toy Story (1995)
One former Disney animator – John Lasseter – became fascinated with the idea of making an entirely computer-animated film and pitched the idea to his Disney bosses. However, Disney wasn’t so keen on it and rejected the proposal. But after John went on and co-founded Pixar and created a computer-animated short Tin Toy that won an Academy Award, it made Disney regret their initial decision.
Pixar was then approached by Disney to produce another computer-animated film, but this time a feature-length one. When the script was finally approved by Disney in 1993, Pixar began working on its production and casting. Every two weeks, the Pixar team would put together their storyboards or footage to show Disney only for each presentation to get torn up by the executives. After many rounds of change-ups and rewrites, it was concluded that Woody had been stripped of “almost all charm.” Even Tom Hanks, while recording one of the dialogues, at one point exclaimed that Woody was “a jerk.”
After the first half of the movie was done, one of the Disney executives declared it a complete mess and stopped the whole production.
John Lasseter was crushed. He asked the studio’s head for one more chance, which he finally agreed to. Three months later, the Pixar team came back with a new script and by February 1994, the film was back in production. In a month, the voice actors returned to record their new lines and the crew grew from the original 24 to 110 people.
When Toy Story was finally released in 1995, it was met with critical acclaim and praise, 17 award nominations and 22 award wins (including an Oscar).
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Disney’s animated feature The Emperor’s New Groove was originally planned to be a dramatic musical named Kingdom of the Sun – a “romantic comedy musical in the ‘traditional’ Disney style.” However, the underwhelming box office performances of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame scared big Disney execs and they felt that the project needed more comedy in order not to flop like the two other animations. So, one of the producers contacted and offered Mark Dindal to be co-director on the film. In the summer of 1997, the team was confirmed – Roger Allers and Mark Dindal would work as the film’s directors while Randy Fullmer will be the producer.
Sadly, in the summer of 1998, it became apparent that due to the hectic production, the crew was not going to be able to meet the 2000 summer deadline as planned. It is rumored that around that time, one of the Disney executives walked into the producer’s office, placed his thumb and forefinger a quarter-inch (5 mm) apart and stated, “Your film is this close to being shut down.” Director Roger Allers tried to negotiate and extend the production time further to at least six months, but the request was denied and Allers left the project.
The prospects of the movie were looking rather dim now with production costs amounting towards $30 million with only 25% of the film animated. The producer was given an ultimatum: two weeks to salvage the project or the production would be completely shut down. Even Sting, who recorded the official soundtrack, wasn’t as amused as he was before: “I write the music, and then they’re supposed to animate it, but there are constantly changes being made. It’s constantly in turnaround.”
However, the biggest sting to Sting was when his songs, related to specific scenes and characters that were now taken out of the movie, had to be dropped. Sting went from “angry and perturbed” to wanting “some vengeance.” Eventually, Disney agreed to allow three of the six deleted songs to be released as bonus tracks on the soundtrack album.
But the disagreements didn’t end there. Apparently, the original ending of The Emperor’s New Groove had one of the main characters building an amusement park. Again, Sting wasn’t so amused: “I wrote them a letter and said, ‘You do this, I’m resigning because this is exactly the opposite of what I stand for. I’ve spent 20 years trying to defend the rights of indigenous people and you’re just marching over them to build a theme park. I will not be party to this.'” As a result, the ending was changed to Kuzco constructing a shack similar to Pacha’s.
While the movie wasn’t a huge box office success, the critics applauded it and it found its way into people’s hearts when it was released for home media, becoming the bestselling DVD of 2001.
Things were so tense during the shooting of Titanic that the press assumed the film would be a total flop. It also earned the director James Cameron reputation of “‘the scariest man in Hollywood.”
Firstly, the filming schedule stretched from an originally-intended 138 to 160. Many members of the cast, including Kate Winslet, were coming down with colds, flu, or kidney infections due to long hours spent in cold water. Three stuntmen had broken their bones while several other crew members left the production all-together.
Even though Kate Winslet almost begged James Cameron to let her play Rose, after working on Titanic, the actress pledged to never work with the director again, unless she “earned a lot of money.”
Then, things took an even more unexpected turn when one of the crew members (to this day, no one knows exactly who) put a dissociative drug PCP (known as angel dust)in people’s (including James Cameron) soups during lunchtime. “There were people just rolling around, completely out of it. Some of them said they were seeing streaks and psychedelics,” said actor Lewis Abernathy. The drug sent 50 people to the hospital.
Naturally, after such a long and tedious production, when James Cameron heard that the studio bosses wanted to cut the movie as it was “too long”… “You want to cut my movie? You’re going to have to fire me! You want to fire me? You’re going to have to kill me!”
No one dared to fire Cameron and today we can all appreciate Titanic – maybe not for being a cinematic masterpiece, but a heart-wrenching love story that’s embedded in our collective consciousness.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The director of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, has infamously once said about the movie, “We were in the jungle. We had too much money. We had too much equipment. And little by little, we went insane.”
Out of the many misfortunes that plagued the production were the following: the film took much longer to make than was estimated, the film’s crew were coming down with various tropical diseases as they were shooting in the Philippines, Martin Sheen had suffered a heart attack, Francis Ford Coppola – several nervous breakdowns. On top of this, Martin Sheen was battling his alcohol addiction at the time and mental health issues and reportedly told his friends: “I don’t know if I’m going to live through this.”
In addition to this, the legendary actor Marlon Brando came to the set completely unprepared, without having read a single line from the script. He was also heavily overweight which was not the look the filmmakers were going for an amped-up soldier. While Brando was learning his lines, the whole production with 900 people was put on hold.
In addition to the aforementioned chaos, the Philippines government that had lent several of its helicopters to feature in the film, were taking them away from time to time as the dictator Ferdinand Marcos needed them to fight anti-government rebels. Oh, and let’s not forget about the dead bodies laying around on the filming set, too! Apparently, one of the prop guys working on the set was a grave robber and would supply the crew with real-life cadavers without the production team knowing. Naturally, after they found out, the crew was livid. Police were called, they took everyone’s passports while the investigation was ongoing. After a while, the truth came out and the grave robber was put in jail. All in all, despite the nightmarish production, it went on to became an epitome of the war film genre and is now regarded as an all-time classic.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
“‘This is the worst thing ever written. It makes no sense. Someone’s dead and then they’re alive. It’s too long, violent, and unfilmable.” This was said about the now-classic Pulp Fiction when its co-writer Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino took the script to TriStar. It was also called “too demented.” The studio executives were definitely not a fan of non-linear storytelling, which ultimately made the film so memorable.
The story goes that if it weren’t for the infamous Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob at Miramax, Pulp Fiction would have never seen daylight the way it was written. “Quentin was given complete and total command to make that movie exactly as he sees it in his head,” co-writer Roger Avary later recalled to the media.
The Exorcist (1973)
If it weren’t for a sheer stroke of luck, we wouldn’t have the movie The Exorcist today – one of the most famous (and frightening) horror movies made to this date.
It was first written as a novel by William Peter Blatty in 1971, later adapted to a screenplay and finally brought to the big screen by director William Friedkin. However, when Blatty published the book, it “got very nice reviews,” the writer recalled. “But nobody was buying the book.” Then, according to the writer, he was helped out by a “divine hand.” After he did a pre-interview for a potential guest appearance on one the episodes of “The Dick Cavett Show,” the interviewer told him to not to get his hopes up, as the host wasn’t a huge fan of paranormal stories.
Then, one day he was having a dinner with one of the publishers, when suddenly she got a call from the TV show. They needed William Peter Blatty to get to the show in minutes, as one of their guests has canceled. Apparently, the other guest that did get on the show on time, was a little bit tipsy and what had to be a 5-minute interview with the writer of The Exorcist, extended into a 45-minute conversation on his book on national TV. This gave the book the boost that was so needed and got the attention of Hollywood executives.
Soon enough, the then-Warner Bros. studio head gave a green light to make the movie and paved the way for it to become a classic in the horror genre.
Dumb And Dumber (1994)
The movie that ultimately solidified Jim Carrey’s career was originally turned down by practically every major Hollywood studio. The script kept getting rejected because no studio wanted to associate themselves with Dumb and Dumber as they found the title ridiculous. Written by the Farrelly brothers, the script had to be re-named (to Go West and then A Power Tool is Not a Toy) just to get studio execs to read it.
Eventually, the script made its way to the New Line Cinema whose president Mike De Luca loved it and agreed to make it. However, the CEO Bob Shayne didn’t like it but after long consideration, agreed to take it up only under one condition – if the directors could secure two leading actors from a list of 25 ones provided by the studio. Unfortunately, all of the actors turned down the role.
Then, one of the film’s producers got Jim Carrey to read the script, who was a promising new-comer to the comedy scene as someone remembered “that white guy” from In Living Color.
Jim liked the script, filmmakers liked Jim and together they eventually made history, as Jim became the first actor to headline three number one box office movies in the same year (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber). Bet the studio execs who turned down the movie feel so dumb right now.
The Omen (1976)
After Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist had already proved to be a huge success, producers knew The Omen was bound to be a money maker.
However, after signing the contract, the executive who pitched the idea of The Omen, suddenly began warning everyone that the movie would be cursed. “The devil didn’t want the picture to be made,” he said
Now here is the short version of all the odd things that happened before, during and after the production of The Omen. Firstly, two months prior to filming the movie, lead actor Gregory Peck’s son shot himself. Then, while on an airplane to London in September, the same actor’s plane was struck by lightning. Few weeks after the incident, the executive producer of the film was flying when his airplane was also struck by lightning. The London hotel where the same producer and others were staying was bombed by the IRA (Irish Republican Army), just after they left.
On top of this, an animal handler who helped the cast with the baboon scene (in the movie, a bunch of baboons attack a car while the boy and his mom are inside of it), was killed by two lions soon after the shooting wrapped. Then, special effects artist John Richardson, responsible for the gruesome decapitation scene, got in a car crash during the post-production of the film when driving on a deserted road. Apparently, he crashed head-on into another car and the collision decapitated his passenger’s – assistant Liz Moore’s – head. Mind you, the manner of decapitation was eerily similar to the one depicted in the movie… John Richardson also reportedly saw a road sign near the scene of the accident marking the distance to a Dutch town that read: Ommen, 66.6 km.
Lastly, a plane that was hired by the crew of the film, but was switched at the last minute, went crashing down shortly after takeoff and killed everyone on board. It’s certainly a miracle that the movie got made when you think about it.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Written by Charlie Kaufman, this off-beat drama-comedy was tough to sell. Kaufman wrote the script back in 1994 and although it was widely read by executives of various studios, they all turned it down. Still hoping to find a producer for the project, the writer sent the script to Francis Ford Coppola, who passed it on to his then-son-in-law Spike Jonze.
Spike had agreed to direct the film and brought the script to Propaganda Films who agreed to produce it in partnership with Single Cell Pictures. The producers from Single Cell then pitched the film to numerous studios. Again, every studio rejected it, including New Line Cinema, who passed on Being John Malkovich after chairman Robert Shaye asked: “Why the f**k can’t it be Being Tom Cruise?” Even John Malkovich himself understandably had some reservations: “Either the movie’s a bomb and it’s got not only my name above the title but my name in the title, so I’m f**ked that way; or it does well and I’m just forever associated with this character.”
Finally, the movie was finished and distributed thanks to USA Films, becoming an immediate hit and garnering three Oscar nominations. One of the nominations was actually for the best original screenplay.