Despite what your favorite, malcontented blogger or film critic might tell you, making movies isn’t easy. Moviemaking is an extremely tedious process that requires an otherworldly amount of focus, organization, and an ability to repeat the exact same line or action dozens of times without losing your !*$% mind.
Most of us probably picture the filming of a scene to go something like this: Actor 1 says their line, Actor 2 reacts, Actor 1 makes a dramatic exit, and the director says cut. Then they all go to their trailers and have sex with their gold-plated prostitutes.
And sure, some productions might actually be that way. But not all directors are quite so free-wheelin’ in their process. Some aren’t satisfied with a “good” performance; they demand perfection. And that’s understandable. After all, they’re sinking months or even years into a project, and they don’t want potential mediocrity following them around for the rest of their professional lives.
But what happens when they take their quest for perfection a little too far? Well, sometimes they spend an entire day’s worth of filming trying to get a flawless shot of their lead actor performing a menial task…
8. Stanley Kubrick Really Hated How Tom Cruise Walked Through Doorways
You know how, in your daily life, you walk through a fair amount of doorways? And…well, that’s it? Now imagine someone standing on the other side of that doorway screaming at you to “Do it better!” every time you pass through it. That should give you a general idea of what it’s like to be an actor in a Stanley Kubrick film. It was also Tom Cruise’s actual experience on the set of Kubrick’s lukewarm opus, Eyes Wide Shut.
The notoriously testy director is infamous for breaking his actors down with an obscene amount of retakes because he believes that mental exhaustion is the only way to get a realistic performance from his overpaid, celebrity puppets. And hey, you can’t argue with the results it produced in The Shining. (Which, don’t worry, we’ll get to later.)
But what the hell was so special about a five second shot of Cruise walking through a door that it required 95 takes? Yeah, that’s right. Just a handful shy of a cool hundred takes just to get one of the most famous actors in the world to stride through a doorway in a manner that Kubrick could tolerate. And you have to give Cruise some credit for never once complaining about the sheer ridiculousness of that scenario.
That madness wasn’t an isolated incident, either. Production for Eyes Wide Shut went way over schedule and resulted in 15 total months of filming, which actually broke the Guinness World Record for longest continual film shoot. Maybe if the set design had included fewer doorways…
7. Marilyn Monroe Can’t Remember Three Little Words
Despite her reputation as being more sex symbol than legitimate actress, there are many, many stories that actually contradict Marilyn Monroe’s notorious “dumb blonde” persona. This, unfortunately, is not one of those stories.
After more than a decade as one of Hollywood’s premier starlets, it would be reasonable to expect Monroe could competently deliver a simple, three-word line of dialogue. But the actress was deep in the throes of a personal meltdown by the time she started filming Some Like It Hot, and her mental instability had rendered her an even tougher directee than normal.
Director Billy Wilder probably became privy to his star’s psychological frailty sometime around the 20th take of the line “It’s me, Sugar,” which Monroe didn’t deliver correctly until attempt #47. Sadly, this wasn’t the only 3-word piece of dialogue the actress repeatedly whiffed on. “Where’s that bourbon?” took an incredible 59 takes to come out right.
Monroe said everything but the correct words, tossing out “Where’s that whiskey?”, “Where’s that bottle?”, and “Where’s that bonbon?” before Wilder decided to write the line on a piece of paper and tape it inside the drawer she was to be searching for said bourbon in. That still didn’t work, because poor Marilyn couldn’t remember which drawer she was supposed to open. So he taped it in every drawer.
And after all that, it’s possible Monroe still didn’t nail it, as evidenced by the fact the line is spoken with her back to the camera, and may have been overdubbed in the editing room.
6. One Of Spider-Man’s Most Famous Stunts Didn’t Require CGI
It’s easy to assume that any complex stunt you see in a superhero movies these days is the result of an animator tinkering around with CGI for a few dozen hours. Really, practical effects in big-budget action movies all but disappeared after James Cameron unleashed the game-changer that was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Which is why it’s so refreshing to hear that one of the more memorable stunts from 2002’s Spider-Man was au naturale.
The lunchroom scene, in which Mary Jane trips and Peter Parker valiantly leaps to save her (and her lunch) from hitting the floor, shows off Parker’s newfound Spidey Sense and rapid-fire reaction time by having him swiftly move the tray to catch each falling food item as it drops.
In the DVD commentary, special effects guru John Dykstra and leading lady Kirsten Dunst both confirm that Tobey Maguire actually performed the stunt himself with the help of a mechanical rig and a little finger glue to keep the tray attached to his hand. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.
It was an arduous process that took a full 16-hour day to refine. Dykstra claims — perhaps jokingly, perhaps not — the take you see in the movie is #156. That’s an impressive amount of lunch tray gymnastics.
5. Charlie Chaplin Makes A Silent Movie Actress Say A Line Hundreds Of Times
Stanley Kubrick might be the most renowned perfectionist among modern filmmakers, but he was hardly the first anal retentive director. No, that honor belongs to silent film legend Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin was what one might refer to as a “master of all trades”. Not only did he star in nearly 100 short and feature-length films, but for the majority of them he was also the writer, director, editor, stuntman and, later on, even the soundtrack composer. Maybe that’s why he expected his actors to do their job — their one job — so perfectly.
At least, that’s the only defense I can come up for as to why he insisted an actress repeat a line more than 300 times…in a silent movie.
City Lights is one of Chaplin’s highest-regarded films, and his attention to detail is certainly part of what makes it so special. But one has to wonder why Virginia Cherrill, the actress who plays a blind flower girl and Chaplin’s love interest, was asked to repeat the line “Flower, sir?” more times than Radiohead has performed their hit song “Creep” in concert.
Sure, Cherrill was as green as can be — City Lights was her first legitimate role — but was there really that much improvement between take #50 and take #300? All in all, this ultra-brief scene was attempted 342 times over the course of an entire year of production. Because if they’d been filmed back-to-back, Cherrill would have likely poisoned everyone on set.
4. RoboCop Spends All Day Trying To Catch Car Keys
The one thing they never tell you about being half man and half machine? Sometimes the mechanical part of that equation can be a real son of a bitch. Just ask Peter Weller, who became famous for his portrayal of a cyborg police officer very appropriately named RoboCop.
When you spend all day on set buried underneath a hulking suit of armor — albeit one made mostly from plastic and rubber — you learn that even the most menial tasks can be about as difficult as being a jockey with a persistent case of hemorrhoids. The “high tech” suit restricted Weller’s movements so much that even a simple gesture like, say, catching a set of car keys being gently lobbed in his direction took hours to complete.
That’s not a hypothetical example, either. In fact, it’s the first scene he filmed while in costume as RoboCop. In what amounts to a one-second scene (or 1/6,000th of the movie for all you math lovers), Weller spent his entire day on set trying desperately to smoothly snatch some keys out of the air. But every time he tried, the damn things kept bouncing off his rubber hands.
Keep in mind, it took Weller upwards of 9 hours just to get into the cumbersome costume to begin with, and then he had to spend the rest of his day unsuccessfully attempting an action most golden retrievers can muster after a few minutes of practice.
Apparently the director had never heard of magnets.
3. Buster Keaton Was An Atrocious Baseball Player
Buster Keaton is one of the most gifted physical comedians of all time. Almost a full century later, his stunts are still legendary, and his daredevil style of comedy remains integral to the history of cinema.
One of his lesser-praised films, Three Ages, is still something to marvel at. His physicality in the finished product is a testament to how insanely dedicated he was to putting his body (and life) on the line for the sake of a laugh. In one scene, for instance, Keaton attempts to leap across an alleyway from one rooftop to another, and very seriously injures himself in the process.
Although botching such a difficult stunt is nothing to be ashamed of — even if you’re an all-time great like Buster — there’s another, much simpler feat the legendary comedian couldn’t quite figure out. In the scene, he plays a caveman who has a rock thrown at him by another caveman. Keaton is supposed to use his club like a baseball bat and hit the rock back at the other caveman, knocking him down. But for whatever reason, Buster just couldn’t connect.
The consensus from those who were on set is that Buster constantly missed the rock by a mile, and the simple moment ultimately took a full day of shooting to get it right. For someone with such an awe-inspiring command of his own body, it’s odd that he had worse hand-eye coordination than your average little league baseball player.
2. The Famous Shining Speech Made Scatman Crothers Weep From Exhaustion
This entire list could have been made up of Stanley Kubrick anecdotes. The director never met an actor he didn’t want to torture with tedious and incessant re-takes. The lucky subject his never-ending sadism this time around was Scatman Crothers, who played telepathic chef Dick Hallorann in The Shining.
Before we even mention the specifics of Kubrick’s mental abuse toward Crothers, it should be noted there was a total of 1.3 million feet of film used to make this movie. That’s roughly 400 kilometers, which means the unedited cut of The Shining could have stretched from Boston to New York City.
Part of the reason for that heinous amount of raw footage is that Stanley Kubrick really had a hard-on for Crothers, who fell further from the director’s good graces every time he flubbed a part of his famous “shining” speech. To be fair, that scene is perhaps the single most integral monologue in the entire movie, so one could understand Kubrick’s desire for absolute perfection.
Unfortunately, Crothers perpetually seemed 10 or so takes away from whatever Kubrick’s vision was. It was a vision Kubrick had difficulty articulating to the actor, which meant Crothers was never quite sure exactly what he should be doing. It was a confusing, debilitating cycle that eventually made Crothers break down into sobs between takes. All in all, the speech required almost 150 takes until Kubrick “graciously” acquiesced and let his actor off the hook.
According to Kubrick, this is simply what happens “when actors are unprepared” and “have to think about the words…so you just shoot it and shoot it and hope you can get something out in pieces.” You know, like their psyche.
1. Jackie Chan Breaks The Guinness World Record For Most Takes Of One Sequence
Jackie Chan might just be the hardest working man in the movie business. Think that’s hyperbole? Consider this: Until the age of 60, Chan performed his own stunts, many of which resulted in innumerable broken bones and a plethora of scarred skin tissue. Sometimes he’d perform the same highly dangerous stunt dozens of times in a row because he wasn’t about to have a half-baked sequence (and a non-busted limb) in one of his movies.
Although the details of this one are still a bit cloudy — thanks to Chan’s curious lack of notation on the subject — it’s been stated by various sources that a scene from Dragon Lord (also known as Dragon Strike) required 2,900 takes to complete. No, that isn’t a typo. The comma is supposed to be there, as are those zeroes at the end. Just take a minute to let that number sink in.
Now, to be fair, the action sequence in question — in which Chan and a dozen other guys play a hyper-competitive game that looks to be a cross between badminton and Shaolin soccer — is roughly 10 minutes long and involves plenty of very intricate physicality. So it’s not like Chan used 3,000 takes to film a quiet conversation between two people on a park bench.
About his perfectionist streak, the Hong Kong action legend said “People say Jackie Chan is slow, because I have no budget limit and no deadline… I’ll film the movement until it’s the way I like it. That way I know my fans will like it.”
Can you imagine if someone told him they hated this scene after all that?