Film, Pop Culture

When Movie Productions Go Bad

Working on a low-budget indie film is new to me. When I worked in Hollywood I worked for big people and therefore there was big money put into the films (in other words I worked on pieces of crap). Everything was taken care of on set- food, transportation, accommodations- and you only had to worry about your own duties and not making eye contact with ANYONE.

On a low-budget, guerrilla-style indie feature, none of this applies. Typically cast and crew wear many hats, eat homemade meals, and sleep on air mattresses. As stressful as it sounds, it can be a lot of fun because the ego involved in Hollywood is nonexistent. Everyone is the same and all working towards the same goal. They’re working on the project because they believe in it.

Currently we have 6 people sleeping in a 3 bedroom house with only 1 bed and 4 couches including one couch from the set of Tree of Life. We are all sleep-deprived and pushed to the max. Daily needs like eating, showering, and peeing have gone out the window. Needless to say, people are toughing it out but the shoot is going pretty swimmingly.

Marveled at how well the shoot is going with the lack of resources available to us, I thought about famous film productions that have not gone well- whether they had studio money backing them or not. A few come to mind and I’d love for you to add any more that you’ve heard of!

“I love the smell of burning through studio money in the morning!”

Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece had to be the biggest shitfest any film crew and cast has ever seen. The film definitely takes the prom queen crown for most cray-cray. Suicide attempts, heart attacks, bloated budgets and bellies, typhoons, drugs, and napalm define the setting for this film. The six week production turned into 16 months and Coppola ended up spending millions of his own dollars after he went way over budget. The stress from the film made Coppola turn into a little bitch, often threatening suicide on location in the Philippines. Marlon Brando ate himself into oblivion and showed up on set fat and refusing to learn his lines. Coppola had to get creative during shooting and hide Brando’s food baby and he also had to read aloud Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness so Brando had an idea of what movie he signed up to do. 12 months into production Martin Sheen cracked and had a minor heart attack at the age of 38. Coppola shot over 200 hours of film and it took him 3 years to edit. Oh, there was also something about a typhoon destroying the set, cast members getting drunk and doing drugs, napalming the shit out of trees and slaughtering a water buffalo. All of this can be seen in the documentary Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

“Werner, how can you shoot this face?”

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

What do you get when you mix a feisty German director with a feisty German actor? Fingertips blown off, murder attempts, sword swingin’, and monkey trappin’. Werner Herzog’s 1972 classic Aguirre: The Wrath of God stars Klaus Kinski as Lope de Aguirre- a conquistador who traveled down the Amazon River to find El Dorado. Snooze, right? Well Herzog never lets his shit get boring- in front of or behind the camera! Remember when he got shot by a bb gun in the middle of an interview? Well, guns seems to be a staple in Herzog world. Volatile Klaus got excited one night with a gun an accidentally shot an extra’s finger off. He also bopped one on the head with a sword nearly killing him. When Kinski threatened to walk off set, Herzog countered his threat by telling him he would kill him, then himself. I would have liked to seen the CSI episode of that. A funny side note- Herzog paid locals to trap 400 monkeys to be use on set. The trappers sold the monkeys to someone else and Herzog intervened the delivery of the monkeys by saying he was a veterinarian and he needed to give them vaccinations. Herzog then stuck the monkeys in his jeep and drove away…sounds about right.

“Listen, I want you to just ignore the air strikes, ok?”

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Though I have not seen the documentary Lost in La Mancha based off this 2002 nonexistent film by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, it is common story told throughout film school of a filmmaker’s WORSE ABSOLUTE FUCKING NIGHTMARE. One the first day of shooting The Man Who Killed Don Quixote the crew discover that they were near a NATO target practice location. This f’ed up the sound and made it impossible to shoot. How this oversight happened is beyond me. I’m guessing that location manager got his ass slapped. The very next day, a random storm blew over the notoriously dry location and washed equipment away. When the storm passed through, the barren area was newly green and not appropriate for the shoot. Not long after all this jazz, the lead actor, Jean Rochefort, was diagnosed with a double herniated sic and was unable to act as Quixote. At this point, Gilliam threw in the towel- but not for long. Rumors are circulation that he will attempt to revive the film with Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor starring. Let’s hope they the Quixote curse has lifted.

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  • Reply Brooke Farmer September 10, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Before I say this I want to emphasize the fact that I *adore* you and love your blog…

    Were you having some wine when you wrote the last couple paragraphs? It's an honest question since I am having a little bit as I read this, so it could very well be me.

    Regardless, I loved this post. Every interaction I have with industry people makes me feel like all sets have an element of disaster to them. Or, at least, the people who are deeply invested in the projects feel that way.

    I love getting a glimpse into your passion (beyond writing).

  • Reply Hipstercrite September 10, 2011 at 3:54 am

    @Brooke- I WISH I was drinking wine. I wrote it after writing two other articles in a 24 hour period. My brain was fried. Still is. I'm not even sure if what I wrote made sense.

  • Reply Big Mark 243 September 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Girl, you could have been writing with a popsicle stick an using donkey dung for ink and it still would make sense!

    This was way cool and interesting. Thanks for posting because when I grow up I'd like to write like this..!

  • Reply Kid September 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Indie films. It's a joy but even more depressing when the films are bad. When you've worked your heart out for no money, no food, and a no-good-piece-of-nonsense.

    But then it's all part of the fun! 🙂

  • Reply Francis Lawlor September 11, 2011 at 12:02 am

    If I grow up I wanna be just like you. But probably still retain my own body, interests, family, friends, taste in alternative music and coin collection. Otherwise though..

  • Reply Hannah Miet September 12, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Herzog forever and always.

    I really enjoyed this post.

    The most fulfilling successes come from roughing it. Blood, sweat and hard work. I don't care what the rich folk will tell ya.

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