5 Movie Details That Came From Being Broke

5 Movie Details That Came From Being Broke

Usually, when movie productions run out of money, you end up with a set as rotten as the film's future Tomato-meter score. But, sometimes, the creative constraints of having to use cheaper sets, actors, or whatever somehow ends up providing the keys to unlocking movie magic. Which is why ...

RoboCop Looks Like The '80s Because That Was All They Could Afford

Paul Verhoeven's original idea for the world of RoboCop was basically the same as the one in Blade Runner, but with cyborg cops and futuristic dick shooting. He held on to that dream for a couple of months, until the reality of his budget came crashing down on him like Dick Jones out of a window. The movie ultimately cost $13 million, which meant there was no way the effects team could do both a fancy robotic costume and a dark, gritty future world. Producer Jim Davison told Verhoeven that, and asked, "So what do you want, the costume or the background?"

Obviously, there was no way they'd give up on RoboCop looking like, well, RoboCop ("What if he's half-Robert and half-Cop instead?"), so they ditched the backgrounds. Which meant the best they could do was film in a city that could reasonably pass as a near-future one, and that turned out to be harder to find than expected. Not only was actually filming in Detroit a non-starter (it "didn't look like anything, really," said Verhoeven), but Chicago and Houston didn't work either. They eventually settled on Dallas, as it had both the skyscrapers that they needed to make the movie look futuristic and the poorly maintained streets necessary for the gritty feel.

Having to film in a real town also made RoboCop himself, in Verhoeven's words, "more interesting," since he sticks out even more in a plain, everyday world. They also had to adapt the script to the buildings that were there, which means that many of the movie's set-pieces would have been different if they had a much bigger budget. In short, not being able to show buildings more advanced than skyscrapers or vehicles more advanced than cars actually made the movie better. If you ask Verhoeven, anyway -- but it'd probably be hard to find anybody who disagrees.

RoboCop chase scene
Orion Pictures
Besides '80s toy executives.

The Zombie Hordes In Shaun Of The Dead Are Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg Fans Who Worked For Free

Before Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright did a sitcom called Spaced -- and it grew a pretty passionate fanbase. 

So passionate, that they were willing to work for free for Pegg and Wright if they asked. And Pegg and Wright did. On Shaun of the Dead, they realized they didn't have the cash for zombie hordes, which are kind of a required part of a zombie film, and they hit upon the idea of asking their fans to play zombies for free. They put out a casting call for zombies on the Spaced website, stating up front they wouldn't be able to pay people, and this would just be for the pleasure of appearing as part of an on-screen undead horde. It turned out that 1,100 people wanted to do that.

The production team winnowed down the applicants through an audition process they called Zombie Idol, which the people got into about as much as they did for American Idol -- some of them showed up day after day, again and again. And after all that, their enthusiasm was rewarded with physically grueling, monotonous work. They were cooped up on set for a week for long hours and pretty much just had to stand outside the pub's windows and bang on cue. Wright is "keenly aware" that some of them weren't fans of Spaced after that.

The whole zombie mob ended up having crazy energy from that. When Wright needed to record zombie sounds, he stood in the middle of the pub and told them all to rush him. They did just that, and one even bit his leg (perhaps sensing a brief window of opportunity for revenge). In any case, that was a price worth paying to Wright, since Shaun Of The Dead wouldn't have been possible without these people and their willingness to put up with grueling hours and no pay, he says.

Universal Pictures

A Star Is Born Filmed At Real Concert Stages Because Building Concert Venues From Scratch Was Too Expensive

A Star Is Born definitely isn't a low-budget indie film, but it didn't have a blockbuster-level budget in the hundreds of millions, either. The $38 million they had to work with wouldn't be enough to build concert venues from scratch. This meant that, for concert scenes, they'd have to find real shows and bug people for some time to film scenes. 

Which was actually just fine with Bradley Cooper -- he absolutely didn't want anything, including the concert scenes, to look fake. It all had to be "authentic," as he said. Musicians watching the movie would probably spot obvious (to them) flaws in fake concert scenes, like the wrong amps lying around or a lack of wires everywhere, so real concerts it was.

But that also made those scenes super tough to pull off. For the song at the start of the movie, Willie Nelson gave them eight minutes between his sets at Coachella. Which meant they had eight minutes to record their first and only take -- there'd be no way to reset everything. Cooper played live (the audience didn't hear anything), and he pulled it off, but still felt that "It was terrifying."

Bradley Cooper performing at Coachella
Warner Bros. Pictures
If he sang in his Rocket Raccoon voice, that might have taken the edge off.

So, for that and other concert scenes (including one filmed at Glastonbury where they only had four minutes), he spent hours working in his basement on Jackson Maine songs and singing and talking in the lower voice he'd use in the movie. Basically, he tried to come as close as possible to becoming Jackson Maine, so he could effortlessly be him on stage for a couple of minutes at a time (minus the alcoholic pants peeing).

Blade Runner Is Only Dark And Rainy So It Wouldn't Be Obvious It Was Filmed On A Studio Backlot

In the case of Blade Runner, being broke went beyond just affecting the movie -- it influenced a whole sci-fi subgenre. Cyberpunk essentially sprang out of the imagery of Blade Runner -- neon-drenched night-time cityscapes are the basic stuff of cyberpunk in the same way that dwarves, elves, and orcs are the basic stuff of modern fantasy, and all that comes from Blade Runner. And Blade Runner looks the way it does because Ridley Scott had to shoot on a studio backlot.

Before shooting began, Scott and his team did extensive location scouting -- they'd checked out Boston, Atlanta, New York, and London (not Los Angeles itself, though). But Scott soon realized that none of those cities would work, just because there's no way he could fully control the way several city blocks looked for a couple of months, which he'd need to do. Basically, life in those blocks would have to go on, which means they wouldn't be usable as a movie set. So he'd have to use a backlot, which he absolutely dreaded because filming on a backlot always looked fake. Which means he'd have to go out of his way to disguise it.

And he did that by making it dark and rainy in Blade Runner's Los Angeles. When asked if the film's look was purely because of how much easier it would make filming, rather than for atmosphere, Scott's answer was simple: Sure, it helps the feel of the whole thing, but a lot of it was just having to hide the sets. If they had decided to film during the day, small hills would have been visible in the cracks between the buildings. And just to make absolutely sure those hills wouldn't be visible in the dark, he made sure it was always raining.

Blade Runner streets
Warner Bros. Pictures
So a whole new subgenre was born because they didn't have good enough CGI to change the background in each shot.

The Terminator Uses Time Travel Because Setting It Completely In A Future Robot War Would Have Made It Unfilmable

James Cameron famously got the idea for The Terminator in a dream in which he saw a metal skeleton walking out of a fire. That wasn't just a cool image, it'd be an amazing twist -- up until that point, viewers would have seen the robot as a human. So it would have to be a cyborg made up of living tissue over a metal body -- which meant it would be the product of an advanced civilization. That was a problem.

If the robot were made in a far-future setting, the movie would have to show that setting, which means it would be stupidly expensive -- around $35 million (roughly .92 A Star Is Borns) at that time, Cameron roughly calculated. 

Maybe that wouldn't be an issue for a big studio production helmed by George Lucas or someone, but it would be a problem for Cameron, who had directed a whole bunch of not-Star Wars at that point. There was no way anyone would give him $35 million or so to make a movie, and he'd written that script only to make a movie he could direct.

So, how to get around that problem? He hit upon the natural solution: Time travel. The robot would have come to the present day from the far future, making the movie way, way less expensive. As an added bonus, they could also save money on wardrobe by having it come back naked. Anyway, as interesting as a version of The Terminator set in the distant future would have been, with hi-tech gadgets and weaponry, it would have been totally unlike the one we love.

The Terminator in a restaurant
Orion Pictures
'80s toy executives probably felt deeply grateful for George Lucas.

Top image: Warner Bros. Pictures

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