Natural disasters, on set bust-ups and megalomaniac directors
Boyhood, released this weekend, took 12 years to make. In homage to the massive feat, TOAD takes a look at the toughest, longest, and most head-scratchingly difficult movie shoots ever.
Apocalypse Now (1979) The most difficult movie to make ever must have been Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola may have suffered more than any other director on a single film shoot; to begin with, his original star Harvey Keitel, playing Captain Willard, who is entrusted with sailing up a dangerous Cambodian river at the height of the Vietnam war, was swiftly replaced with Martin Sheen. A typhoon then destroyed an important set, stalling production for eight costly weeks, and when Marlon Brando turned up to play the film’s villain, Colonel Kurtz, he was vastly overweight and hadn’t even learnt his lines. The trials of filming were capped off with Martin Sheen suffering a near-fatal heart attack on set, and Coppola struggling to find an ending to his mad vision. And it was all captured by his wife, Eleanor Coppola, in a documentary with the title Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. That’s putting it lightly.
Fitzcarraldo (1982) When legendarily loopy director Werner Herzog decided to make a film about a man who pushes a steamship over a mountain, to make the film as real as possible he decided that he may as well actually push a steamship over a mountain. Fitzcarraldo is about an opera lover, Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, who is so obsessed about the art form that he embarks on an insane plan to build an opera house in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. A rich deposit of rubber, which would fund his ambitious dream, is lying on an unreachable part of the river - unless someone, i.e. Fitzgerald himself, hauls his boat over a huge hill, and loads it up with the valuable material. The character’s ambition mirrors Herzog’s, who decided to use zero special effects and actually lug his 320-tonne steamship over a hill for real, while all the time having something of a strained relationship with his star Klaus Kinski, after reportedly pulled a gun on him during a previous production.
The Shining (1980) Stanley Kubrick may have made some of the most popular films of all time, but that doesn’t mean working with him was a picnic. In fact it was well-known that there was only one thing scarier than The Shining itself. The reclusive director was known to push actors and draw out film shoots for absurd lengths of time (his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, held the record for the longest continuous film shoot at a staggering 400 days), but he went to extremes with his treatment of The Shining’s lead actress Shelley Duvall. While playing the wife of Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), a man who slowly loses his mind when hired to look after a spooky hotel, Kubrick made her do a whopping 127 takes for a single scene, pushing her to near-delirium with his relentless, unsympathetic way of working.
The Abyss (1989) Known for pushing the limits of special effects, blockbuster king James Cameron may have wowed audiences with The Terminator, Titanic and Avatar – the last two being the biggest grossing movies of all time – but he still had his work cut out for him when embarking on the tortuous production of The Abyss. The film, which is about a group of deep-sea scientists exploring the furthest depths of the ocean, required a lot of water to make the magic happen. Try 7 million gallons to be precise; Cameron filled a huge part of a disused power plant with it, and filmed all the glorious underwater scenes you see in the film there. But the water had so much chlorine in it that it gave the cast, led by Ed Harris, skin rashes and caused hair loss. Actor meltdowns caused by both the claustrophobic, underwater filming and Cameron’s demanding nature were frequent – but the on-screen results are incredible.
Cleopatra (1963) Cleopatra, or otherwise known as the film that nearly sunk its studio, was always going to be a nightmare to film. It would feature two of the biggest movie stars of the 60s – Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra (Queen of Egypt) and Richard Burton as Mark Antony (General of Rome) – and the biggest sets Hollywood had ever seen. The excess didn’t stop there; it held the record for most expensive movie ever made for 30 years. The endless flow of money being pumped into the production almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox, especially since shooting had to be relocated from London to Rome following the British weather damaging the costly sets. Taylor and Burton also had a very public relationship, troubling the already very troubled film, which ended up in cinemas at four hours in length and receiving negative reviews. Cleopatra is a reminder that even the pharaohs are capable of folly.