Many filmmakers claim that a movie is truly made in the editing room, and as the fistful of examples in this follow up to our original feature show, sometimes enormous decisions can be made when 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.
LOST IN TRANSLATION: MEL GIBSON ADDS SUBTITLES TO THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST One man’s deeply personal interpretation of The Gospels, or a blood splattered horror film tailor made for Christians? Anti-Semitism, or life affirming experience? The questions and the controversy swirled around Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ on its release (and still do), but there was something about this film that nobody could argue with: it was a mammoth, from-left-field box office success. Critics and theologians went nuts in the media, while the punters flooded into cinemas for one of the most visually stunning, emotionally rending, and cataclysmically violent films ever made. The film’s extraordinary box office haul, however, may have been dented if director and sole financier, Mel Gibson, had stuck with one of his original creative calls: to shoot the film in Latin and Aramaic (two ancient, “dead” languages), and then release it without subtitles, leaving the audience to put it together themselves. “Caravaggio’s paintings don’t have subtitles, but people get the message,” Gibson said while shooting the film. “The Nutcracker Ballet doesn’t have subtitles, but people get the message. I think that the image will overcome the language barrier. That’s my hope. I’m just trying to be as real as possible. There is something startling about watching it in the original languages. The reality comes out and hits you, full contact. I know that we are only recreating, but we’re doing the best that we can to simulate an experience of really being there.” Though Gibson bravely stuck with the use of full Latin and Aramaic dialogue as shot during production, he later realised the extreme demands that would be placed on the audience without adding explanation, and sensibly added subtitles in post-production.
STAY CLASSY: WAKE UP, RON BURGUNDY IS MADE IN POST-PRODUCTION ENTIRELY FROM ANCHORMAN OUTTAKES In 2004, co-writer/star, Will Ferrell, and co-writer/director, Adam McKay, teamed up for one of the most loved comedies of the new millennium. Set in the boozy, politically incorrect seventies, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy essays the life and times of the eponymous San Diego TV news host (whose brassy catch-call is “stay classy”) – a hard-drinking macho man who is unsettled by the infiltration of his all-male clique by ambitious female journalist, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). With major talents like Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner in supporting roles (along with cameos from the likes of Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller), Anchorman was largely built on improvisation and razor-sharp, on-the-spot comic invention, with up to twenty takes being pulled on some scenes to achieve the desired levels of ad-libbed hilarity. The result was spools of unused footage, which – in an almost unprecedented move – were stitched together into a brand new, 92-minute feature film…which served as an ersatz sequel, until the arrival of the actual sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, in 2013. Though hyper-fans will notice alternate scenes and dialogue variations from Anchorman, the imaginatively constructed Wake Up, Ron Burgundy includes truck-loads of fresh material, with the most divergent element being the inclusion of a dysfunctional terrorist organisation called The Alarm Clock, the membership of which includes Chuck D, Maya Rudolph, Tara Subkoff and Kevin Corrigan. Included on the Anchorman DVD and Blu-ray, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy is not just a film fixed in post, but entirely created in post. “I’ll go places that a lot of people won’t go,” Will Ferrell told FilmInk in 2009. “Hopefully, you’re always surprised at stuff that you see in a movie that I do.” In this case, it was the whole movie!
INFECTIOUS FILMMAKING: STEVEN SODERBERGH GETS MORE SCIENTIFIC WITH CONTAGION With the under-celebrated 2011 dramatic thriller, Contagion, director, Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) offered up a precision-perfect stab at the virus-outbreak-world-goes-nuts movie. While other filmmakers would have honed in on the hysteria (note Wolfgang Petersen’s particularly awful genre low point, Outbreak), Soderbergh instead stitched up a fascinating mosaic of diverse characters, and showed the varying ways in which they are affected by a new, deadly virus that is quickly and horrifyingly killing off large slabs of the world’s population. There are the scientists trying to stop it (Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard), the everyday people trying to process their grief (Matt Damon), and those using the crisis to their own ambiguous ends (Jude Law). While Soderbergh and his screenwriter, Scott Z. Burns, displayed great skill in maintaining levels of suspense and excitement, the duo was particularly fascinated by the science behind their virus, and they cannily used it to dose the film with a striking sense of authenticity and immediacy. It wasn’t until they began test screening the film, however, that Soderbergh and Burns realised how much their enthusiasm was shared by audiences. Enlivened by the response, the director even went back and shot more scenes with actress, Jennifer Ehle’s character at The US Center For Disease Control And Prevention. “Most people who saw the early version were interested in the scientific aspects of the film, and wanted to know more about the process,” the director told FilmInk. “Young people, in particular, really responded to the science, and the fact that it was real – maybe because they’re all watching House – so we went back and augmented that.”
THE LONG JOURNEY: KENNETH LONERGAN RESHAPES MARGARET With his perfectly pitched 2000 comedy drama, You Can Count On Me, esteemed playwright, Kenneth Lonergan, made an auspicious debut with his pithy examination of a dysfunctional family. Delivering a follow up film, however, would prove painfully difficult for the writer/director, and it wasn’t until 2011 that his sophomore effort, Margaret, limped into US cinemas. Though barely released, the film was extraordinarily ambitious, telling the complex tale of a teenager (Anna Paquin) whose life is irrevocably changed when she witnesses a horrific bus accident. The large gap between Lonergan’s first and second films was partly due to Margaret’s troubled post-production, with the film inspiring law suits and much rancor when the director struggled to lock it off for release. Lonergan was so creatively blocked that he brought in mentors like producer, Scott Rudin, and producer/director, Sydney Pollack, to assist in the cutting. When Margaret was finally released into cinemas, it was in a version overseen by master director, Martin Scorsese, and his regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. When the film received critical raves, Lonergan was re-energised, and jumped at the chance to assemble a cut that he was happier with for the film’s home entertainment release, which clocked in at a mighty three hours. “Now with DVDs and digital editing, you can go back, and if you have a new thought, you can implement it,” the director told Indiewire. “Sometimes you were right the first or second time; sometimes you were right both times. This was a good opportunity to do what I wanted to do the first time, but you have to make a decision when you’re in the editing room.”
PAY OR PLAY: WHAT’S WRONG WITH VIRGINIA? With the huge success of Gus Van Sant’s powerful, Sean Penn-starring 2008 biopic, Milk, screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black (pictured above, far right, who scored an Oscar for his impressive efforts), found himself with a platform with which to return to the directorial arena. He’d helmed the little seen The Journey Of Jared Price in 2000 (as well as a couple of docos), and with the buzz from Milk’s success still ringing in his ears, Black set about filming What’s Wrong With Virginia?, a drama about a mentally troubled woman (Jennifer Connelly) who has an affair with a married sheriff (Ed Harris). But when the film premiered at The Toronto Film Festival, the audience and critical response was nothing short of brutal, sending Dustin Lance Black back into the editing room to try and save the film. Furthermore, he was doing it all on his own money. “Watching the film through the audience’s eyes, I felt like I was watching a film that didn’t know if it was a drama or a comedy, until maybe about an hour in,” Black told The New Yorker. “That was too late in the film. So I went to my producer, and I said, ‘We have to cut this thing.’ It was tough, because we had distribution offers, and people said, ‘If you don’t take them now, these will go away.’ So it was a bit of a fight. I had to pony up some of the money for the re-edit.” Despite his eleventh hour post-production fix, audiences failed to respond to the re-cut film – now simply retitled Virginia – and Dustin Lance Black’s passion project promptly sank sadly and quietly without a trace.
MONKEY BUSINESS: DE-FANGING CAESAR IN CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES When discussion turns to great movie series, the usual titles get bandied about: Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Godfather, The Lord Of The Rings, James Bond, and so on. For some reason, the Planet Of The Apes films – undoubtedly amongst the most intelligent and imaginative in the cinematic sci-fi canon – are rarely placed amongst this rarefied company. Kicking off in 1968 with Planet Of The Apes, where Charlton Heston’s arrogant astronaut crash lands on a world where talking apes rule and simpleton humans cower, the series hit its high point with the fourth entry, 1972’s Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes. Timely, topical, and fiercely political, the film posits a totalitarian near future where apes are used as household slaves after a plague has wiped out the world’s domestic animals. Abused and mistreated, the apes finally fight back under the leadership of the regally aggressive Caesar (Roddy McDowell) in a series of violent scenes mirroring the social unrest of America in the late sixties and early seventies. The film’s original ending, however, was deemed too confronting by test audiences, with Caesar delivering a militant speech calling for the eradication of all humans. “We will build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans, except to serve our ends,” he fearsomely rallies. The film’s hesitant backing studio, 20th Century Fox, cautiously brought in Roddy McDowell to lay down new, more conciliatory dialogue for the initially incendiary scene. “I was called in to record some additional lines,” says McDowell in the DVD doco, Behind The Planet Of The Apes, “ending the film on a more hopeful note.”
RESURRECTING CHANNING?: THE MYSTERY OF GI JOE: RETALIATION When backing studio, Paramount, shifted the release date of their big budget action sequel, GI Joe: Retaliation, from June 29, 2012 to March 29, 2013, the rumour mill cranked noisily and excitedly into overdrive. Though the studio blamed the move on the laborious task of post-converting the film into 3-D, film fans and commentators were having none of it. The general consensus of rumour had the film’s producers hauling the film back into the editing room because test audiences had responded unfavourably to the early death of Channing Tatum’s character, Duke, who had been the headlining hero of 2009’s GI: The Rise Of Cobra. Other rumours had the studio reshooting and editing with Channing Tatum because he had since become a major star thanks to 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike, and Paramount wanted to capitalise on his newfound bankability. GI Joe: Retaliation producer, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, and director, Jon M. Chu, however, have fiercely denied that substantial new scenes were shot with Channing Tatum, for whatever reason. “No, we didn’t shoot anything new,” Chu told Buzz Feed earlier this year. “It was very frustrating that everyone started making up stories about how we were putting Channing Tatum back in the movie. You know how the internet works – you just can’t stop it.” Chu did shoot a new scene with Tatum and co-star, Dwayne Johnson, which comes early in the film, but he told Buzz Feed that it was shot “five or six months prior to the delay.” Mmmm…when it comes to movie rumours, one thing tends to be true: where there’s smoke, there’s usually at least a little bit of fire too…
SHADES OF GRAY: SHIFTING THE TONE OF THE PAPERBOY The Paperboy – director, Lee Daniels’ (Precious) striking adaptation of Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel – is without doubt one of the wildest, most unusual films you’ll ever see, busting and heaving at the seams with lashings of sex, violence, perversion, and sweaty desperation. Set in Florida, 1969, the film tells of born-of-privilege brothers, Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Jack (Zac Efron) Jansen, who get caught in the vile, sludgy web of convicted killer, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), and his trampy squeeze, Charlotte Bless (Kidman). Just a few weeks before finishing the film, Daniels made the bold decision to switch the film’s voiceover narrator from Efron’s Jack to his family’s African-American housemaid, Anita, thus lending a further racial slant to the dynamics between the various characters. “In life, there are racial tensions,” Daniels told FilmInk. “In the sixties in particular, there were times when white people that were sexually aroused by African-Americans were disliked. And they hated themselves for it. They didn’t understand it. It was almost like a disease. ‘What’s wrong with me that I’m attracted to you?’ So that is my point, if there is a point.” Played by pop singer and occasional actress, Macy Gray, Anita’s idiosyncratic narration adds wonderfully to the film’s off-centre vibe. “She’s uneducated, so I tried to play her kind of slow,” Gray told The Examiner of her unconventional approach to the character. “She doesn’t have a lot of vocabulary, so she processes things slowly. I just understood her right away. I’m sure that there are other actresses who could have done better, but I just brought my own ideas to the table when I played Anita.”
PORN AGAIN: MAKING VENUS OVER…AND OVER…AND OVER No Australian film is more famous for its making than The Venus Factory…even though hardly anyone has seen the actual film itself. In 1997, with $100,000 raised from friends and family, short filmmakers, entrepreneurs and cousins, Jason Gooden and Julian Saggers, began production on a comedy about a porn star. Directed by Glenn Fraser, The Venus Factory was filled with salacious, madcap humour, and shaped up as something truly original. But during editing, the hugely successful Boogie Nights was released, and The Venus Factory suddenly looked like a cheap Aussie knock-off, rather than something fresh and original. Test screenings threw up uncomfortably negative results, and local distributors passed on the film. By this stage, the budget had blown out to $412,000. Making an attempt at cinematic resuscitation, the producers hired veteran writer/producer, Dennis Whitburn (Blood Oath), to rework the film. Renamed Starring Duncan Wiley (and featuring newly shot scenes), it was now a more serious affair, dealing with the emotional trials and tribulations of a porn star, as opposed to the kinky absurdity of the profession. Barely released, the response to the film was highly negative. In a final act of desperation, Gooden and Saggers then re-edited the film themselves, reshaping it into a more commercial comedy. In 2003, with production costs of $1,104,000, the newly renamed Moneyshot also flopped. Something did come out of it all though: Gary Doust’s masterful behind-the-scenes doco, Making Venus, captured the whole sorry mess. “Gary said that the only way that it would work would be if a disaster happens or if it fails badly, or goes on for years,” Jason Gooden told FilmInk.
POLITICALLY CORRECT: PUTTING WORDS INTO MICKEY ROURKE’S MOUTH IN YEAR OF THE DRAGON In 1985 – five years after the infamous debacle of his financial disaster, Heaven’s Gate – director, Michael Cimino, returned with the big, bold, in-your-face drama of Year Of The Dragon, the Oliver Stone-scripted tale of ball-breaking New York cop, Stanley White (Mickey Rourke), who wages a violent, uncompromising, one-man-war against the city’s Chinese gangsters. The film’s lavish budget and extraordinary action set pieces proved that Cimino was largely unbowed by the failure of Heaven’s Gate, while the film’s troubling politics showcased a filmmaker who was anything but gun-shy. The film’s final moments, however, indicate that the director was ready to take at least a few body blows from the film’s backing studio. In an instance of a director actually negatively impacting his film in post-production, Cimino buckled when the studio “suggested” that he change the final line of the film, which sees Stanley White sagely stating, “I guess that if you fight a war long enough, you end up marrying the enemy.” Though he went back to the editing suite and changed the line as requested (White now says: “I’d like to be a nice guy, but I just don’t know how to be nice”), Cimino is still deeply regretful about doing so. “It was the studio wanting to be politically correct,” the director says on his DVD audio commentary for the film. “That line sums up the whole movie. I wish that I could change it back. You can even see that his lips don’t match what he’s saying! It’s still my biggest regret on the whole film, and it’s criminal that it was changed. It still pains me to this day.”
TALKING TOUGH: STEVEN SODERBERGH GIVES GINA CARANO A NEW VOICE IN HAYWIRE With the pulsating 2011 espionage thriller, Haywire, prolific director, Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich), discovered a new movie action hero in the shapely form of Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Gina Carano (pictured above, with Soderbergh), who announced herself as a dazzling big screen presence as Mallory Kane, a black ops agent who seeks revenge after she is betrayed by her colleagues, played by Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum. Tough, controlled and extraordinarily agile, Carano (who would subsequently appear in Deadpool, Fast & Furious 6 and this week’s home entertainment release, Daughter Of The Wolf) is the real deal, and Soderbergh tapped her for all that she’s worth, staging a series of eye-popping fight scenes (her knock-down-drag-out slab of battery with Fassbender is a literal masterpiece of on-screen hand-to-hand combat) without the benefit of rapid editing. What he didn’t like, however, was Gina Carano’s bubbly, surprisingly pleasant speaking voice, which sent Soderbergh racing back to the editing suite, where he digitally deepened the actress’ vocal tones to be more in accordance with her badass character. “He went into ADR [additional dialogue recording] and did some movie magic,” Gina Carano told Den Of Geek. “He completely altered my voice in some way. I’m okay with it. I think that he would always do things to help the film, and he was really looking for Mallory and myself to be two completely different characters. He would obviously only do something like that to help the film, which hopefully it did.” Carano also commented to The Hollywood Reporter that she was “just honoured to be a part of the film. There was a little joke that I was saying that even if Steven would have shaved my head and put Bill Clinton as my voice, I would have still done it.”
A GREAT DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE: GEORGE LUCAS CHANGES STAR WARS “Changes are not unusual with movies,” writer/producer/director, George Lucas, told Heat Vision in 2000, “but somehow, when I make the slightest change, everybody thinks that it’s the end of the world. That whole issue between filmmakers and the studios, with the studios being able to change things without even letting the director of the movie know… that’s not happening here. I’m very much involved. My job is to make the best possible movie that it can be.” While George Lucas views the changes that he’s made to his original Star Wars films (for their “special edition” theatrical versions, as well as various DVD and Blu-ray releases) as a positive improvement, many of the films’ fans disagree. While Lucas’ CGI-assisted cleaning up of the special effects, as well as the addition of new creatures in the background of certain scenes, weren’t quibbled with, his restructuring of one pivotal scene kick-started nothing short of a pop cultural uprising. “With the controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, I tried to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn’t. It had been done all in close-ups, and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first. Well, it’s not a religious event,” Lucas later said of the response to his changes. “I hate to tell people that. It’s a movie…just a movie.”
To read our first list of films fixed (or not) in post, click here.