#2. D.W. Griffith Puts Thousands of People and Animals onto the Biggest Death Trap in Movie History
If you played L.A. Noire, you'll remember the sequence where you chase a criminal through a gigantic movie set that starts to collapse around you.
Recalling that classic noir film Earthquake.
That set was a real thing that sat abandoned in LA for decades, and it was actually used to shoot a movie. Also, director D.W. Griffith decided to pile the contents of a small country onto it.
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And when one person looked at the camera, they of course had to cut and start all over.
Griffith is most famous for directing The Birth of a Nation, which in terms of technical achievement was like the Avatar of 1915, if Avatar had been super racist. Unhappy with being labeled a bigot just because he did a little innocent promotion of the KKK, Griffith's follow-up was the Cloud Atlas of 1916, Intolerance. It was a story about the evils of hatred across several generations, and one of those generations lived in ancient Babylon. Despite almost being out of money, Griffith decided he needed a gigantic set, because Hollywood is not a place known for restraint and reason.
Mother Nature did not approve of his hubris. Summer storms nearly destroyed the set -- the whole thing had to be tied down so it wouldn't blow away. Griffith was left with a poorly constructed, weak, and waterlogged Babylon, but he was broke, so he decided to improvise with a little trick filmmakers call "not giving a shit if anyone gets hurt."
For starters, he brought in more than 3,000 extras, because the best thing to do when you aren't sure of a structure's stability is to cram as many people in there as you can to check it out. Then he got chariots to run along the battlements, which spooked the horses, because even they realized they were working on a giant death trap. Finally, because Griffith's Ark wasn't quite finished, he hired elephants. But the amateur trainers mixed males and females together, giving him elephants that were more interested in flirting than following orders.
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He used oliphants as well, but they were comparatively well-behaved.
Then came the battle scene. To simulate a collapsing tower, Griffith dropped canvas and wood right onto a cameraman, who miraculously wasn't hurt and even more miraculously didn't immediately quit. Thankfully, the incident taught Griffith the importance of safety and he stopped using potentially lethal filming methods.
Ha, you didn't fall for that, right? He then had his actors throw fake boulders from the towers that were heavy enough to knock the extras below unconscious.
#1. Noel Marshall and His Family Get Mauled by Wild Animals for 11 Years
In 1968, actress Tippi Hedren and her husband, talent agent Noel Marshall, were entertained by the sight of an abandoned home in Africa that had been taken over by lions. So they decided to sell their house and use the money to buy 150 wild cats and build a set for a movie about a family that lives with deadly animals. Christ, that's like abandoning your life to go live on a riverboat in the Congo because you really liked Disneyland's Jungle Cruise.
Or flying to a Jupiter moon because your Space Mountain pic came out awesome.
The film was primarily a family affair, starring Hedren, Marshall, and three of their children (including Melanie Griffith). Marshall also wrote, produced, and directed, because if you're going to be on a sinking ship, you might as well be the captain. He looked around, saw nothing wrong with having lions and tigers attack untrained actors, and let the cameras roll.
Over the course of the 11 years it took to shoot Roar, a film about peaceful coexistence between man and nature, over 70 members of the cast and crew were mauled. Hedren was bitten on the back of the head and fractured her leg after being thrown off an elephant (yeah, they had one of those, too), while Griffith somehow wasn't put off of an acting career after her face was torn open in an injury that would require plastic surgery. We're not experts on film directing, but we're pretty sure that if you let your daughter get ravaged by lions, you're doing something wrong.
But that wasn't even the worst injury, because cinematographer Jan de Bont had the top of his head torn off. One week and 200 stitches later, de Bont returned to work, where animals were discouraged from further attacks because they know that the meat of insane prey tastes bad.
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And they saw that he had no mane, so clearly he was not a threat.
In addition to not knowing how nature worked, the cast and crew didn't recognize signs from God. There was a dam break that killed several lions, bush fires, a foreclosure, and an outbreak of a feline virus. Presumably if the production had taken any longer the locust swarms would have been released. But all the pain and suffering was worth it when, over a decade after its inception, Roar was released in theaters for one week at a loss of $15 million.
At least the story still had a happy ending. Hedren converted the set into an animal sanctuary that's still in operation today, and Marshall went on to direct a horror movie by releasing a serial killer into a summer camp full of horny teenagers.
Related Reading: Want some more classic movies made possible by reckless endangerment? Read about how the actor playing Jesus in the Passion of the Christ was actually whipped. Robert Rodriguez was never tortured at Mel Gibson's behest, but he did sell his body for medical experimentation to fund his early films. It's true: abuse and murder made Hollywood what it is today. Click here for further proof.