Many filmmakers claim that a movie is truly made in the editing room, and as the fistful of examples shown here prove, sometimes enormous decisions can be made after the cameras have stopped rolling, often after audience test screenings, at the behest of “concerned” studio executives, or because a director, well, changes their mind.
MORE THAN WORDS: HARRISON FORD’S VOICEOVER (AND A HAPPY ENDING) GETS ADDED TO BLADE RUNNER
“It could have been so much more than a cult movie,” Harrison Ford lamented of director Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking 1982 classic, Blade Runner, which has been given the sequel treatment courtesy of the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. This wildly ambitious sci-fi thriller was a financial disappointment upon its initial release, and is now famous for its multiple, re-edited incarnations, many of which have since been released in cinemas and on DVD and Blu-ray.
Perhaps the most famous instance of post-production tinkering, however, was the first, when studio executives responded to the film’s initial audience test screenings. This complex dystopian thriller about cop Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) desperate pursuit of a band of renegade cyborgs (or “replicants”) provoked harried confusion at test screenings, and studio Warner quickly leaned on director Ridley Scott to make changes.
Their first request was for a clearer, happier ending, which Scott obliged by using outtakes from Stanley Kubrick’s opening scenes of The Shining – which featured a camera gliding endlessly over an almost surreal snowscape – and superimposing footage of Rick Deckard and his replicant love, Rachael (Sean Young), flying off into the wilderness together, and away from the grimy urban squalor of the rest of the film. To clarify the film’s complex themes and narrative, the studio also requested a voiceover narration from Ford’s Rick Deckard, which Scott and the actor did under duress.
“I contested it mightily,” Ford has said. “It was not an organic part of the film.” Rumour had it that Ford had even intentionally provided a bad delivery, in the hope that it would be scrapped. “I delivered it to the best of my ability, given that I had no input,” he responded to said rumours in 2002. “I didn’t sandbag it. It was simply bad narration.” Either way, this was ironically the version of Blade Runner that many people fell in love with in the first place…
THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED: JAMES L. BROOKS DROPS THE SONGS FROM I’LL DO ANYTHING
Boasting two massive hits with 1983’s Terms Of Endearment and 1987’s Broadcast News, writer/director James L. Brooks was given a lot of room to move with his next project. Like so many directors before him, when given carte blanche, the Oscar winner opted to realise a longtime dream by making a musical. 1994’s I’ll Do Anything would also be a Hollywood story, focusing on a struggling actor (Nick Nolte) trying to navigate the dangerous curves of the movie business, while also catering to the whims of his demanding young daughter (Whitnni Wright).
“I went for actors, and not singers,” Brooks said of his decidedly non-musical cast, which also included Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner. “I’m in love with actors.”
The director did, however, ratchet up a fine roster of musical talent too, with esteemed choreographer Twyla Tharp in charge of the dancing, rock/pop/funk legend Prince writing the songs, and superstar Sinead O’Connor drafted to sing a number of them. But when this contemporary Hollywood musical was shown to test audiences, they reacted with barely bridled horror, and James L. Brooks – always one with an eye on the paying public – took to the editing room and hacked out the film’s songs, effectively turning I’ll Do Anything into a far more standard comedy drama.
“You can speculate about why the picture didn’t work,” Brooks said of the film’s ultimate commercial failure. “It started out in one form, and was changed into another, but the movie played, and people laughed, because I saw it with an audience. But it utterly failed commercially, and I felt like I had let down a lot of people. It’s my job to take it personally. When I ask people to work with me, who else is responsible? I haven’t seen I’ll Do Anything in a long time, but I still think it’s a good movie.”
LOSING YOUR VOICE: ANDIE MACDOWELL GETS DUBBED BY GLENN CLOSE IN GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES
Riding high on the success of his 1981 debut film, Chariots Of Fire – a rousing Best Film Oscar winner with unknown actors in the central roles – British director Hugh Hudson tried to make lighting strike twice with his follow up film, 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes, a lavish, inventive rethink of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic jungle hero.
In lithe, charismatic French actor Christopher Lambert and beautiful, South Carolina-born model Andie MacDowell, Hudson hit on physical perfection for the famous literary figures of Tarzan and his lady love, Jane Porter. When he hit the editing room, however, the director realised that MacDowell’s always problematic Southern accent was actually thicker and more strident than he had at first thought. Unable to come to terms with the first-time actress’ Deep South twang, Hudson had her dialogue dubbed over with the considerably more refined tones of Glenn Close.
“I knew what the media was going to do with it, or what people in the business would think,” Andie MacDowell said in a 1996 interview of the post-production indignities she suffered on Greystoke. “I said to myself, ‘Either I jump out that window out of humiliation, or I fight.’ The choice was there: die or fight. It was set up so perfectly for people to think that I had no capabilities whatsoever. So, I decided to go to class, and to evolve. Until sex, lies and videotape in 1989, I was untouchable. My manager was fighting with people who would not even see me. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud of my achievements.”
Despite the film’s post-production ignominies, no one really suffered: Greystoke was nominated for three Oscars, and Andie MacDowell became a big star…with her own voice.
MURDER SUICIDE: ALEX FORREST MEETS A DIFFERENT END IN FATAL ATTRACTION
Director Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction was one of the most controversial films of the eighties, and with just cause. The slick, nail-shredding 1987 thriller focuses on lawyer, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), who eventually pays the price for doing the dirty on his decent, endlessly loyal wife, Beth (Anne Archer), with the snaky, ultimately unhinged temptress, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). Though Close’s Alex is often tagged as one of the best villains in modern cinema, many social commentators have since jumped to the character’s defence, astutely noting that there are actually two villains in Fatal Attraction, with Douglas’ libidinal legal eagle proving that it does, indeed, take two to tango.
Fatal Attraction was initially a darker, more complex film, a fact violently hammered home in its original, noir-style ending, which had Alex killing herself and making it look like Dan has murdered her. After unfavourable audience test screenings, this downbeat finale was replaced with a reshot – and decidedly more over-the-top – scene, in which a crazed, murderous Alex is shot by Dan’s protective wife when she threatens to sunder their picture-perfect American family.
“When they tested the movie, people were so upset by Alex’s behaviour,” Glenn Close told Pop Entertainment. “Americans like everything neatly wrapped up. They want to believe that family will survive. They literally demanded Alex’s blood. She was not a psychopath though. She was a self-destructive, wounded creature. All the research that I did showed that it was textbook behaviour from someone who was molested at a very early age. She was very much a victim.”
Victim or not, Alex Forrest’s reshot demise proved to be a coup for director Adrian Lyne, who ultimately delivered one of the most financially successful and culturally significant films of the eighties.
CASUALTIES OF WAR: ACTORS GET LOST IN THE JUNGLE ON THE THIN RED LINE
Acclaimed director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days Of Heaven, The New World) is famous for his on-set eccentricities and notorious wariness around the press. His obtuse, almost poetic shooting style is also far more extreme than most filmmakers, with Malick one of the fiercest proponents of the concept of “finding the film” in the editing room, with most of his movies changing radically during their journey from script to screen.
With his epic 1998 adaptation of James Jones’ WW2 novel, The Thin Red Line, Malick dispatched an extraordinary cast of actors to Far North Queensland (doubling for Guadalcanal) and proceeded to film hours and hours of footage, spurring his players on to soulful performances, with many convinced that the film would be a major turning point in their careers.
The hardest hit was then-burgeoning young actor Adrien Brody who, during shooting, believed that his character, Corporal Fife, was one of the film’s leads. After Malick’s long, film-shifting editing process, however, the character was reduced to minor supporting status; Brody’s Fife was present in many scenes, but with barely a line of dialogue.
“It felt like a soldier coming home after giving his soul, and then not being appreciated,” Brody has said. “It sucked; it was embarrassing because I would assume if an actor was cut out of a movie of that nature with a director of that calibre, that it must be as a result of a flaw in the actor’s work, and not as a result of a director changing his vision. But you pick yourself up. The advantage of being a bigger name is that it costs them too much money to cut you out of a movie.”
Well, not really: also a victim of Malick’s post-production rethink was George Clooney, whose role was trimmed to a cameo, and Mickey Rourke, who was cut out of the film completely.
MURDER, MADNESS, ROMANCE: WOODY ALLEN FINALLY CHANGES ANNIE HALL INTO A HIT COMEDY
“Annie Hall was originally a murder mystery,” writer/director Woody Allen told journalist Stig Bjorkman in 1995. “But during the various rewrites of the script, this element was abandoned. I’m very fond of these genre conventions.”
The 1977 film’s lead characters – kooky lovebirds Alvy and Annie, played by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, respectively – were initially to witness a murder after missing a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s Face To Face, which would take the film in a direction hitherto unseen in the director’s previous works. Pulling back on their proposed murder mystery, Allen and co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman then transformed their ideas into a picaresque comedy of errors entitled Anhedonia, a term which describes a form of melancholia under which a person is incapable of enjoying happiness.
Structurally anarchic, Anhedonia played out like a free-form romp through the amusingly frustrated mind of Allen’s Alvy Singer. An early cut of the film ran for more than three hours, and was allegedly far closer in tone to the “earlier, funnier” pictures that Allen had directed, such as Bananas, Sleeper, and Take The Money And Run. The director, however, was ready for a change, and he incisively honed in on the relationship between Alvy and Annie once he got into the editing room.
“I had the courage to abandon [the practice of] just clowning around, and the safety of complete broad comedy,” Allen has said. “I said to myself, ‘I will try and make a deeper film, and not be as funny in the same way. Maybe other values will emerge that will be interesting or nourishing for the audience.’ And it worked out very, very well.”
It did indeed – Woody Allen’s original intentions for the multiple Oscar winning Annie Hall finally bore fruit with 1993’s Manhattan Murder Mystery, a film rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as his 1977 classic.
ROCKING THE BOAT: SAM NEILL NEARLY SAILS OUT OF DEAD CALM
With his 1989 thriller, Dead Calm, highly accomplished Australian filmmaker, Phillip Noyce (Newsfront, Heatwave), constructed one of the most intense and entertaining nail-biters of the decade. Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman play John and Rae, a married couple who go on a sailing trip to help them deal with the death of their son. When they cross a sinking schooner in the middle of the ocean, they soon encounter Hughie (Billy Zane), who appears to be the only survivor from a rampant, deathly outbreak of food poisoning.
John boards the sinking schooner to see if there are any more survivors, while Rae tends to the ill Hughie on their yacht. Once John leaves the vessel, however, Hughie is quickly revealed to be a predatory, homicidal maniac, and he promptly sails off with Rae, leaving John stranded on the sinking boat.
In Phillip Noyce’s original cut of the film, Dead Calm was very much a tale of dual struggles, with Rae battling the crazed Hughie, and John navigating a whole host of dangers on board the sinking schooner. The most overt and theatrical of these was the introduction of a hungry shark, which forces its way into the boat, and proceeds to stalk John through the hold, which is rapidly filling with water. In post-production, however, Noyce determined that the strongest narrative column in the film was the vicious game of cat and mouse that plays out between Rae and Hughie, with John’s nautical nightmare subsequently pared down considerably.
“You can see the vestiges of it in the film,” Sam Neill told Fangoria. “The boat becomes a sort of horror vessel for me. In the original cut, you wanted to cheer when I burnt the boat at the end. It was pretty extreme stuff, but they decided that it didn’t quite mesh into the tenor of the rest of the film.”
LESS SEX, PLEASE, WE’RE AMERICAN: WARNER BROS. TONE DOWN STANLEY KUBRICK’S EYES WIDE SHUT
Throughout his long but not exactly prolific career, reclusive master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was never afraid of controversy. His 1962 film, Lolita, was a spiky treatise on illicit sexual longing, while 1971’s A Clockwork Orange lit up widespread outrage with its ultraviolence and sexual sadism, even copping a partial ban in the UK. The director had lost none of his fight at the end of his career either, with his final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, wading into the kind of dark, prurient corners of human sexuality that would send most filmmakers running in the opposite direction.
Not surprisingly, when the film – with its confronting orgy scenes – was shown to the American censors, Eyes Wide Shut was threatened with a restrictive NC-17 rating unless the explicit sex was toned down. With the mighty Kubrick sadly passing away before the film’s release, the backing studio, Warner Bros., stepped in and made moves to avoid the financially devastating rating, which can lead to films not being played by certain conservative cinema chains.
Using digital technology, the studio dropped in computer generated pieces of furniture and other paraphernalia to hide the more aggressive moments of sex, and ultimately got the safer R rating that they were chasing. “The joke is that Eyes Wide Shut is an adult film in every atom of its being,” wrote US critic, Roger Ebert. “With or without those digital effects, it is inappropriate for younger viewers. It’s symbolic of the moral hypocrisy of the rating system that it would force a great director to compromise his vision, while by the same process making his adult film more accessible to young viewers. It’s hard to believe that Kubrick would have accepted the digital hocus-pocus. Eyes Wide Shut should have been released as he made it.”
One can’t help but presume that Stanley Kubrick would have agreed…
WHO’S THE BAD GUY?: PRODUCERS DO A DIGITAL VILLAIN FLIP ON THE ACTION REMAKE RED DAWN
When debut director Dan Bradley and producers Beau Flynn, Vincent Newman and Tripp Vinson decided to mount a remake of notorious gun-nut and right winger John Milius’ absurd 1984 action flick, Red Dawn – in which a gang of American high schoolers fight off an invasion of Russian and Cuban troops – they were hit with a battalion of problems. At the height of The Cold War, portraying Communist Russia as a cinematic aggressor wasn’t a problem, but in The New Millennium, who should the bad guy be?
For their invading force, Bradley and his team opted for an evil consortium of Chinese and North Korean soldiers, who would ultimately get schooled by Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and his buddies. At the time of shooting in 2010, this was deemed a safe move, but with the film looking for a release after spending an unhealthy amount of time on cash-strapped studio MGM’s shelf (it wasn’t released until 2012), the international climate had changed. Many American businesses – including film studios – had started looking at China as a possible major revenue stream, and Red Dawn’s producers made a late-game decision to give their film a chance to make millions in the burgeoning powerhouse.
By using digital technology and minor reshoots, the film’s villain – in a now amusingly prescient move – became North Korea, a then financially unstable nation of no apparent value to corporate America. Chinese flags and military insignia were digitally altered, and Red Dawn now had a far less plausible but much safer US invader.
“We were very reluctant to make any changes,” said producer Tripp Vinson. “But after careful consideration, we constructed a way to make a scarier, smarter and more dangerous Red Dawn that we believe improves the movie.”
Though a failure on release, the film now feels curiously timely…
WHERE’S THE LOVE?: MAKING TOP GUN MORE ROMANTIC
Top Gun – director Tony Scott’s 1986 ode to aircraft, America and rampant machismo – now stands as one of the eighties’ defining films, with its full-tilt aggression, archly snappy dialogue, shimmering cinematography, and star Tom Cruise’s high wattage, polar-cap-melting smile. Though often parodied, the film currently sits alongside the likes of Scarface and Reservoir Dogs as a classic “guys’ movie.”
When Top Gun was first shown to test audiences, however, they identified a few problems, none of which were to do with the film’s energy or high flying action sequences. What test audiences pinpointed was the relationship between Tom Cruise’s cocky US Navy pilot, Maverick, and Kelly McGillis’ instructor, Charlie. They felt that the courtship between the two moved too quickly, and that there was no proper love scene between the pair.
In response, director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer shot two extra scenes during post-production. The first scene features Maverick and Charlie meeting in an elevator and exchanging some sexually charged dialogue; tellingly, McGillis is inexplicably wearing a baseball cap, because her hair had already been coloured for another movie role, while Cruise’s hair is obviously longer, as he was just about to start shooting his pool hustler role in The Color Of Money. In the love scene, a harsh blue tint was utilised to mask the actors’ plain-as-day physical differences from their appearance in the rest of the film, which had all been shot months before.
“We did these scenes about five months after we’d finished shooting,” producer Jerry Bruckheimer says on the Top Gun DVD audio commentary. “The audience felt that the relationship was moving too quickly, so we shot these scenes to soften the relationship a little, and to make it feel more long lasting.”
It worked: while guys love the film’s adrenalised style, many women still swoon over Cruise and McGillis’ sweaty, palpable chemistry.
HISTORY REPEATS: OLIVER STONE MAKES THREE VERSIONS OF ALEXANDER IN TWO YEARS
Before it had even hit Australian cinemas, word of the failure of Oliver Stone’s big budget 2004 historical epic, Alexander – starring Colin Farrell as the famed Macedonian conqueror, Alexander The Great – was already widespread, and the film was unfairly and hastily painted as the turkey of the year. But despite the presumptions, Alexander was not the stinker that most critics had hoped for. Sure, it was a little slow and messy, but there was enough bold cinematic vision and inspired madness on display to make for compelling viewing.
The usually defiant Oliver Stone, however, buckled under the weight of the criticism, and when the film first appeared on DVD as a “Director’s Cut”, it was actually as a truncated, faster paced film. Obviously still galled by the whole situation, Stone then released another version of the film (is this some kind of record?), stating unequivocally that it was the definitive cut.
“If you liked Alexander, I hope that you’ll like this new version,” Stone says in his introduction to the DVD of the almost apologetically titled Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut. “If you hated Alexander, I don’t think this will change things.”
It’s an honest and appropriate call, but this was undoubtedly the best version of the film. Running at three-and-a-half-hours, Alexander Revisited was entirely re-cut by Stone, and was finally given the epic scope that its grand subject matter truly deserved. In this final version of the film, the diverse plot elements flow together with greater ease, and the sweeping narrative makes a lot more sense. Oliver Stone is obviously truly and passionately committed to his films, which he proved with his continual return to the editing room to get Alexander unequivocally right. “I was inspired by his madness, his genius, his care, and his respect,” Colin Farrell told FilmInk of his divisive director.
A WHOLE NEW FILM: MICHAEL PETRONI COMPLETELY RE-CUTS TILL HUMAN VOICES WAKE US FOR AMERICA
“It’s a very personal project for me,” Australian writer/director Michael Petroni told FilmInk of his 2002 debut, Till Human Voices Wake Us. “I wrote it back in 1996, but I’ve hung onto it ever since. Guy Pearce has been attached to the film for a long time too. It was a very hard film to finance, and I’ve got to admit that having Helena Bonham Carter attached made it a lot easier. It was something special for all of us.”
Poetic, artful and deeply moving, the film is indeed a special piece, focusing on the damaged Sam Franks (Pearce), who finally puts his troubled past to rest when he meets Ruby (Bonham Carter), a mysterious woman whose past and identity have been lost to amnesia following a suicide attempt.
When Till Human Voices Wake Us was picked up for US distribution by Paramount Classics, however, they felt that its dreamy, haunting tone was commercially unviable, and suggested that Petroni “make some changes.” The burgeoning filmmaker re-entered the editing room himself, and responded to the executives’ notes with surprising zeal. In its original Australian release version, the film’s first half focuses on Sam Franks as a child, with Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter not actually appearing until halfway through the movie. At Paramount’s request, Petroni re-cut the first half of the film into a series of flashbacks, in order to put his big name stars front-and-centre right from the start. With the assistance of unused footage, Petroni also refigured the film into more of a commercially palatable mystery format, and replaced the original music by Dale Cornelius with a more obviously romantic orchestral score by Amotz Plessner (Digimon: The Movie). It may not be a well-known classic, but Till Human Voices Wake Us is certainly one of the most dramatic cases of post-production rethinking that you’ll ever see…