Robin Williams’ ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ Outtakes Could Stretch from Chicago to Cleveland

Robin Williams’ ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ Outtakes Could Stretch from Chicago to Cleveland

I’m not calling director Chris Columbus a hoarder, but he recently told Business Insider that he has 972 boxes of Mrs. Doubtfire footage squirreled away in one of those Storage Wars garages. Do you know how much crap you can jam into 972 boxes? Okay, I guess I’m calling Chris Columbus a hoarder.

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Blame Robin Williams. The comedy star approached Columbus when they began filming Mrs. Doubtfire with a request. “Early on in the process,” Columbus remembers, “(Williams) went to me, ‘Hey boss, the way I like to work, if you're up for it, is I'll give you three or four scripted takes, and then let's play.’"

Why hire Robin Williams if you’re not going to let him play? Columbus would get the scripted takes in the can, then let Williams improvise to his heart’s content. “Robin would go off and it was something to behold,” Columbus says. “The poor script supervisor. Remember, this is the early 1990s, she wasn't typing what he was saying. She was handwriting it and Robin would change every take. So Robin would go to a place where he couldn't remember much of what he said. We would go to the script supervisor and ask her and sometimes she didn't even get it all.”

Not having a written record was likely a big deal in the editing process, as Columbus claims the shoot resulted in two million feet of film. Two million feet! That’s enough to stretch from Chicago to Cleveland, with a bunch of celluloid left over. It’s nearly 7,000 football fields. You’d have to stack about 348,000 Robin Williamses on top of one another to get to two million feet. 

It’s a lot, is what I’m saying. And it would be more today — with digital media, Williams could play forever. Back then, he had to stop when Columbus said, “Robin, we’re out of film.”

But what some people would see as a ginormous amount of warehouse clutter, Columbus sees as an opportunity to make a documentary. ”We would like to hire an editor to go in and look at all of that footage,” he says. “We want to show Robin's process. There is something special and magical about how he went about his work and I think it would be fun to delve into it.”

Looks like someone else already has. YouTube clips of Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire improvisations already exist, like this one that clocks in at more than 30 minutes. 

There’s also a two-disc “Behind the Seams” DVD that contains many of Williams’ improvisations and alternate takes (probably the source of the video above). I’d guess that the best, silliest versions have already been culled for that product, but two million feet is two million feet. If Columbus thinks there’s more comedy gold to be mined, give us the improvised hilarity. “For Pierce Brosnan and Sally Field, it was quite difficult for them not to break character,” says Columbus. “I was just in awe of his talent.”

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