Behind The Scenes Musing: 6 Movies That Were Nightmares to Make

           If you’re going to make a movie, or start any big project you should expect problems. Nothing worth doing is easy, after all. Ideally though no one will die during your diorama of the first Thanksgiving. What we see on screen is often the result of dozens of its own little stories and trivias. While a lot of these are interesting and fun, some are horrifying. These movies come nowhere close to the former of those two categories.

           A quick authors note: While a lot of movies are hard to make and I encourage for you to add your own stories you’ve read or heard about other movies, there are two movies that often take the cake in this category. I included neither of them for different reasons. The first is Apocalypse Now. While it was incredibly taxing on everyone involved I felt like the details of its production have been detailed other places better than I could do here, including the film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse. If you’re interested you can click, here, here, here, or here. The movie’s troubles were also the basis for Tropic Thunder.

           The other movie I chose purposefully not to include was The Crow. The reason for this omission is that this is a comedy post and jokes about the tragic death of Brandon Lee would be in poor taste. For those who don’t know, he was shot by a gun on set that was supposed to be filled with blanks but instead had a single live round in the chamber. There are high emotions surrounding his death while making that movie, which include theories of curses and conspiracies. I thought any mentions of these conjectures would take away from the post and make it too confusing, and depressing. I hope you skipped this part so it wasn’t too much of a drag. Lets get to the funny stuff.

6.) The Shining

           Directors are important elements of the creative process. While they don’t have an iron in every fire on set, they give guidance and vision to the final product. Some are more involved than others, and it is their involvement and what they consider most important that brings a movie to completion. However any way you slice it, Stanley Kubrick was a madman. A genius, yes but still an absolutely fucked up in the head. While he is far from the only director with a reputation for mistreating actors, he rose to new levels while adapting Stephen King’s work about a haunted hotel. While Kubrick’s attention to detail is legendary, this sometimes got in the way of the lives of the actual humans he worked with. A consummate perfectionist, he demanded the best from everyone on the set and would psychologically torture the ones who gave him lest than their absolute best.

           The recreations of the Overlook Hotel was actually a giant set, and the biggest ever constructed up until that time. Explosive arguments regularly broke out between Shelley Duvall and Kubrick. Their relationship was so volatile that the female lead was physically ill for the months. Kubrick decided that the best way to get a truly terrified performance was to actually terrify his actress. He made a habit of screaming in her face, calling her names, and even threatening to kill her over the smallest mistake. His abuse actually broke the record for most retakes of any seen in any movie ever.

Stanley Kubrick Shelley Duvall

“I fucking said SMILE!” – Kubrick

           Did I mention he he had an outrageous eye for detail. For a normal person, it is truly un-fucking-fathomable. He even had his personal secretary take months to write out the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again. Every page that Shelley Duvall holds when finding out that her husband is a mad man is an unique page printed by a real person. This included international versions, where the pages have a similar phrase written in German, French, or what have you. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, it didn’t experience too many delays. This was mostly because the production staff would sometimes work up to 12 hour days at the director’s, I’m sure polite, request. While Kubrick was abusive he never head-butted anyone, the same cannot be said for…

5.) Three Kings

           Before he was directing one Oscar-Bait movie a year, David O. Russell was doing basically the same thing less often. Three Kings was a heist movie about stealing gold from Saddam Hussein’s regime, which he had stolen after invading Kuwait. It was a pretty good flick featuring a pre-The Departed Marky Mark and the sexiest man alive in all of our hearts, George Clooney.  “It’s just a movie shot in the desert in a war-torn country with only one A-List actor and a clearly not A-List Director. What could go wrong?” You ask as if you couldn’t figure it out on your own.

           The movie was shot in the Mexican and Arizona deserts and the heat was a serious factor in contributing to delays, as well as bad tempers. It may have been a component in the death of a military advisor on set, although the director blamed chemicals he was exposed to during the gulf war.While this was a tragedy, the movie had problems from the first. To begin with there was a claim and that the script was stolen from a stand-up comedian. He was eventually given a “Story by” credit, which he apparently still pouts about today.

Pouting Child

Stupid Kids always whining about wanting credit for legitimate work

           The movie had the biggest budget of any that Russell had worked on previously. He was stressed, and overwhelmed by the demanding production. Warner Bros. was afraid of giving so much power to a traditionally independent director. The political themes also made them think that it was less likely to make money, because if history has taught us anything audiences hate political dramas. Especially ones about War. Between harassment and lack of confidence from the studio (not to mention Michael Jackson’s lawyers taking issue with a scene that was supposed to mention his child molestation accusations) were only the foundation for Russell’s headaches.

           Clooney and Russell got into an actual fist fight that was a culmination of the horrible circumstances under which that movie was made. A Playboy interview from Clooney detailed these circumstances here. Russell does so here. The stories are extremely different. However what is clear is that, the director and the star really fucking hated each other. On top of that there were massive delays on shooting, which seem to happen a lot in movies shot in deserts. Clooney’s accounts are have since been highly circulated and Russell still has a reputation as a hothead. In hindsight this may be a bit unfair since George Clooney’s recollection of events on the set of Kings make him sound like he’s a damn superhero. While none of his claims have ever been denied, they have not all been supported by other people on set. What most likely happened was that making this movie was an absolute shit show, and these two men were too sweaty and too famous to worry about dealing with feelings like adults. In any case, the actor probably wasn’t lying about his director screaming at a script advisor, ignoring an epileptic extra, and creating a generally hostile working environment. Also, Clooney took a pay cut to help fund finishing the movie. An argument could be made that he believed in the films integrity enough that he wouldn’t have to lie about his own heroism on set. This doesn’t make his claim that his fight with Russell was the result of Clooney defending a poor helpless female script advisor after she received a mouthful from the director any more believable. After several delays and going between $3 and $13 million depending on who you ask, the movie was completed. Clooney says he would never work with Russell again, and I assume Russell would say the same if he didn’t get lost in thought thinking about Clooney’s eyes every time he tried to say so. Hey, speaking of deep unending pools of infinite majesty.


           Any conversation about bad movies will invariably result in the uttering of the phrase “what about Waterworld?”  The movie, directed by Kevin Reynolds, was obviously supposed the standard action movie with roving pirates, and cool effects and explosions. It’s got a cool sci-fi premise where the entire world floods and the left over humans live on the open seas following the farfetched rumors of land somewhere out there. What should have been a pretty standard blockbuster turned out to be a disaster because of its inherent weirdness. On top of it’s outrageous costuming, and terrible dialogue the movie suffered all the problems that seem so obvious hindsight when shooting a movie in the open ocean.

The Ocean

Seems plenty inviting to me

          The worst part about this movie being so difficult to make is that it also sucked. Ad Astra is rendered totally nil when something this convoluted to produce is also a steaming pile capybara dung. Production was forced to deal with delays, budget problems, and the other usual suspects for absolute nightmares of filmmaking. On top of these headaches, Reynolds and the producers were in charge of sets which may have taken as much as $22 million to construct, being flooded, sinking and once being entirely destroyed when a tropical storm hit. Kevin Costner was nearly killed during a squall.  He was later forced to direct the last few scenes himself when Reynolds walked off set two weeks before the movie was due to Universal for post production. This was after his wife had filed for divorce in the middle of production (she got an $80 million dollar settlement out of the guy after she found out he’d been cheating).This movie seemed to punish everyone who dared to be involved. This includes Joss Whedon, who worked to try to fix the cartoonish first draft and called the job “seven weeks of hell.” I like to think that the people involved with this movie didn’t even care it was awful by the time it was over. They were probably just stoked to never have to blow anything up in any ocean ever again.

3.) Cleopatra

           Liz Taylor to this day is still remembered as the white woman who portrayed the famous African queen. the 1963 movie that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox was massive success, even after delays forced the already expensive production to move locations. When adjusted for inflation the movie cost more to make than both Hunger Games movies combined. Even though it was more expensive than any before it, the set had to be built twice to accommodate for Taylor getting a life threatening illness. Rouben Mamoulian was brought on originally to direct, but quit after deciding the project wasn’t worth the hassle (this may have had something to do with the fact that he wanted a black actress for the title role). Joseph Mankiewicz took over, but was insistent that the movie should be six hours. The studio thought that was too long, and he shortened it to 4 which still wasn’t good enough for them. He was in a losing fight to begin with, though. The two male leads had quit due to other engagements leaving a movie with $4 million dollar movie $5 million over budget with precisely jack shit to show for their work. Julius Caesar and Mark Antony had to be replaced. Mankiewicz was fired during the editing phase, and brought back on to replace the scandalized new director. It became widely spread knowledge that the film’s female lead, and actor Richard Burton (both married) were having an affair on set.

Liz Taylor

Can you blame him?

           It’s inexplicable how a film that fills this description can actually have made money, but it did. When all was said and done the movie ended costing around $44 million or 11 times its original budget  The buzz around this movie’s horrendous production was so high that it catapulted it to success as well as into it’s current role as cinematic classic.

2.) The Adventure of Milo and Otis

           This movie wasn’t actually that hard to make. If you were a human. This adorable Japanese movie was eventually dubbed with an adorably british, adorably old man. He did the voices of both main characters, a tabby kitten named Milo, and a pug puppy named Otis. It was adorable. Just don’t tell that to the American Humane Association, any of the Australian Animal rights, the Japanese humane groups who protested the movie, or any of the international branches of the SPCA.  For years this movie has been victim to unsubstantiated, yet alarming accusations of animal cruelty.

sarah_mcLachlan ASPCA

Animal Cruelty ruins everything, including innocent commercial breaks

            The movie is has been called a kitty snuff film, and animal torture porn. While none of the claims of cruelty have been entirely confirmed, many of the shots and scenes seem impossible for a real animal to survive, and there is no complete list of the animals who played in the title roles. The puppy walks for a long scene through snow, appears to fight a bear, and swims in a river in a scene where the acting dog is obviously drowning. The kitten also fights a bear, gets stuck in his own river, and is even is thrown over a goddamned waterfall. The main reason the animal actors were allowed to be treated so poorly is that at the time, no animal rights groups were required to be on the set of Japanese movies. On top of the dangers the elements and bears presented to Milo and Otis they also came into contact with other wild animals including seagulls, snakes, crabs, foxes, and cows. Domesticated animals don’t mix well with wild ones, and it’s hard to know the extent of the peril those little guys were in. However most animal experts agree that the actors were not having a good time, and were actually under an intense amount of stress. There was even a point where it’s believed that the cat has a broken paw while limping through a forest. Even with the seriousness of the claims of cruelty they have been difficult to prove without the original footage, or statements from the crew. neither of which are available. Even still, tons of organizations have chosen to boycott his movie just to be sure.

1.) Evil Dead

           This movie hits the sweet spot of unspeakable awesomeness and unpleasantness to make. Not to toot its horn too much, but that movie is perfect. Go ahead, find something wrong with it. Fuck you, you can’t. Sam Raimi’s first forray into film making with Bruce Campell as a star was nothing short of immaculate.This by exactly zero means is to say it was easy to make. Unlike the other movies on this list, the cast and crew remember this experience fondly.  At the time however, the set was the last place any of them wanted to be. To begin with: the funding. There was no money for the movie, and Raimi and Campbell were forced to resort to begging friends and family. The director was looking for 100,000 to make the feature-length version a short film he’d shot called Within The Woods. He didn’t even make that much money, however and was forced to shut his mouth and made the movie anyway. This was only the beginning of their troubles however. When the location was actually scouted, Raimi thought the cabin was perfect for his zombie movie but set designers differed with him. The fact that the place was falling apart was actually only the beginnings of their problems, because it also didn’t have any plumbing at all.

The Evil Dead (1981)  Directed by Sam Raimi Shown: Bruce Campbell

The blood distracted him from needing to tinkle.

           The cabin not being fully functional was bad enough, but its remoteness made a whole slew of its own issues. On the FIRST GODDAMN DAY of shooting the crew got lost, and several were injured while filming in the dark on a rickety bridge. Their set was so far away from civilization that  getting medical attention was nearly impossible. This didn’t actually bother Raimi, however. He believed that the injuries and stress would create better horror. He thought the best way to do this was to poke his actors with sticks in their various bruises and scrapes. The filmmakers did the best they could to stave off delays, working short staffed almost entirely through the production. Some shots even required them to use body doubles for convenience. The actors, as a result were in near constant discomfort. The contacts on the zombie characters were large, glass and nearly opaque contact lenses. Campbell called them “tupperwear” eyes. The scenes shot in a swamp look especially life-like, because they were shot in real swamps with real people wading through them for the best angle. For the zooming angles in the woods Raimi carried the camera himself, sprinting through the woods.

           This movie is considered a monumental achievement in low budget horror. If you’re the type of collector who wants a piece of history, well that’s too bad. In order to stay warm in the people remaining on set burned the furniture. All of it was burned by the time the final establishing shot had been filmed. The budget ran out, and the production team went home. This did not include Raimi and Campbell, however. The two stayed to fill in missing shots. This meant they had to fill every job, including the most menial tasks. Since changing the reels on the cameras as tedious finger-work, they would pour hot coffee on to their hands to keep warm. With a few more weeks of exhaustive editing, and assistance from the elder of the goddamn Coen Brothers, finished the movie and it became the masterpiece we know it to be today.



I linked them up top but these articles are really interesting in illuminating what happens when filmmaking goes very very wrong:

On The Set of Desert Storm Movie ‘Three Kings’ from Entertainment Weekly

The Turbulent Story of Waterworld

The Wikipedia ‘Production’ sub-title for Three Kings, Waterworld, Evil Dead, Cleopatra, and The Shining, or any other movie since they always have some pretty neat surprises.

Ten Infamous On-Set Fights (which includes Clooney vs. Russell: the rumble in Arizona).

Also check out Bruce Campbell’s book If Chin’s Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, or Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made


One thought on “Behind The Scenes Musing: 6 Movies That Were Nightmares to Make

  1. Pingback: Star Wars Episode VII Musing: JJ Abrams Is Delaying On Purpose. | The Drunken Musings

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