5 Times Movies Were Saved (By The Studio)
Two of 2016's biggest movies, Rogue One and Suicide Squad, were dogged by studio-mandated reshoots, meaning the director shot a bunch of footage, showed it to the people with the money, and they said "do it again, but with more stuff we like." The internet heard about this and took it to mean that there was war going on behind the scenes of these movies: angry directors with tripods and producers with briefcases full of gold bricks running at each other, preferably in slow motion.
But here's the thing: Studio interference can be a good thing. Sure, writers and directors know a little something about "art," but in these five cases, the studios knew a little something about "making a movie that people would actually watch."
Back To The Future Would Have A Chimp Sidekick And No DeLorean
If there's a single iconic element to the entire Back To The Future franchise, it is undoubtedly this:
It's cool, but a close second place is Michael J. Fox's rad life vest.
A badass DeLorean, the vehicle that can travel through time AND be forever associated with sleazy '80s cokeheads. It is both the literal driving force of the entire series and a handy image to slap on a cover. It managed to drive through time in one movie, fly in another, and get buried for a hundred years and get pushed by a train in the final installment. And it was completely the idea of the studio. This is what Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the creative minds behind the script, wanted:
More specifically, Back To The Future used a nuclear explosion to move Marty McFly around in time. To get back to 1985, Marty was actually supposed to move forward in time from a real life historical 1952 atomic test ... in a lead-lined refrigerator. It's an idea that still causes Steven Spielberg to wake up in cold sweats.
"Oh my god. I had a terrible nightmare. I put Harrison Ford in a fridge and then I ... oh no."
Recognizing the lunacy of showing how cool it was to climb in refrigerators in a movie targeted at least in part to children, as well as the absurd cost of mocking up an atomic test, the studio suggested they make the time machine more mobile and, well, not a giant radioactive explosion. Also, cruising in a magic science car is a little more charming than being propelled into your journey by nuclear horror. Boom (heh), instant icon.
Oh, and because it isn't just about the money: Doc Brown also had a pet chimpanzee as a buddy in the original script. The movie, one of the most famous comedies in American history, just didn't have enough ape reaction shots. How would people know that they were supposed to laugh if they didn't cut to a trained chimp comically slapping his forehead after each of Christopher Lloyd's hijinks?
"And then, because my life is forfeit, we should have the chimpanzee laugh at Doc! It can't go wrong!"
Luckily, the studios didn't even try to work with Zemeckis and Gale on the idea, and the finished film had the perfect number of chimpanzees: 0.
Good Will Hunting Would Have Been A Generic Spy Thriller
Good Will Hunting was the first sign that "Ben Affleck, Academy Award Winner" was a phrase we would all have to learn to live with. In the 1990s, it was a shining light to struggling scriptwriters everywhere. It showed how two young unknowns could come up with a great idea and make it in Hollywood, goddammit. They didn't need family connections or Daddy's fortune or a drunk George Lucas. They made it happen through sheer talent.
Except, Good Will Hunting isn't so much the story of up-and-coming writers making good as it is a great demonstration of how studio productions spit shine half-decent ideas into cultural moments. The original screenplay was written about a brilliant math prodigy who gets recruited by the CIA and gets involved in a conspiracy, which I'm sure would be a very nice movie to watch on a plane. It also would've been considered a great story for 2003 Ben Affleck.
"I'M PLAYING BATMAN NOW. JUST GET OVER IT ALREADY."
The head of Castle Rock, Princess Bride director Rob Reiner, personally shot that down, and it became the examination of trauma and personal experience that we eventually saw released. Basically, the suits could see what the writers couldn't: the emotional core of the story, not the flash surrounding it.
Not only that, but a ringer was brought in to fix the ending: one Terrence Malick, famed director of Badlands and The Thin Red Line. Reportedly, he didn't even bother to read the script, but just pitched an idea for an ambiguous finale over a dinner meeting and then walked out, presumably dropping a mic while fitting rap music played in the background.
"Script? Who needs a script when we're being subtle?"
It's also rumored that famed script doctor William Goldman, Oscar-winning writer of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, was brought in to polish the screenplay. So, it's not so much a case of "who are these unknowns who wrote this?" as "who in Hollywood DIDN'T help write this?"
Easy Rider Would Have Been Unwatchable
It did not take much to make Dennis Hopper go nuts: drugs, bad films, the 1960s, working with Rip Torn, more drugs. Any of these things would do it. But apparently nothing made Hopper more furious than when his early draft of Easy Rider was taken away from him and handed to a studio editor. They didn't even do a Raiders Of The Lost Ark-esque switcheroo by replacing it with a baggy of cocaine, which was the logical method of dealing with Hopper in those days.
It's a classic case of a clueless studio being unable to see the genius of a maverick filmmaker. After all, Easy Rider ended up being the defining film of the 1960s, the movie that launched a thousand motorcycle quests to find America (even if it's easy to forget that it ends up going very, very poorly).
In reality, Hopper's edit of the film was over three goddamn hours long and some claim it was close to five. To even get to that point, he had spent 22 weeks of editing time cutting it down. For comparison, the film had been shot in twelve weeks. I'm not saying that a five-hour Easy Rider would've been the worst thing in the world. I'm just saying that there would be a lot of fluff around scenes with 1969's most precious commodity: 1969 Jack Nicholson.
Henry Jaglom was the man with the unfortunate task of taking Hopper's monstrosity and turning it into something remotely palatable. It might have helped that, according to him, he was the only one there who wasn't stoned.
Jaglom pared the film down to a lean 95 minutes, removed extensive usage of "flash-forward" scenes and basically formed raw footage into the film we know now. Hopper hated it. That is, until it became a success. Then he was more than happy to take credit for the edited film that he'd called a "TV movie" before release. Later, he claimed that Jaglom had merely guided it into his original version, but what that really translates into is "I love LSD and I love making movies, and sometimes, one doesn't end when the other begins."
"Are we still rolling? What? A whole hour? SHIT."
American History X Would Have Had A Lot Less of Its Main, Oscar-Nominated Character
This one couldn't be any more of a Hollywood horror story: A first time director, Tony Kaye, gets a big name to star in his film and everything looks great. Except things don't go that way.
The star, Edward Norton, starts undermining his ideas and trying to get more and more screen time, just like an egomaniacal movie star. He's actually pretty well known for trying to take over every movie set he's been involved in. So the movie star seizes power, the inexperienced director is told to bite the curb and the studio lets it all happen, because politics.
The face of someone that just stole your whole movie.
But not really. American History X was taken away from its director, Tony Kaye, because, by his own admission, he had no idea how to communicate his ideas, which is, you know, kind of the job of the person guiding the movie. Norton, for all of his notorious behavior, gets movies made, often very good ones.
With very bad bangs.
In conjunction with a studio man, Norton edited the film into its existing state. Kaye claimed that Norton's main contribution was to add more of himself into the film cut, but you know what? He was already the main character. The movie necessitated more of him, especially if the director had no idea what to do. It may make the studio look like the bad guy, but they simply put a guy with actual ideas in charge, and not the guy who once showed up to set dressed as Osama Bin Laden.
The Alien Franchise Would Have Had No Robots
Robots are as much part of the Alien franchise as the Xenomorphs themselves. Since the very first installment of the classic series about space crustaceans trying to kill Sigourney Weaver, there's been a robot or two lurking in the background, usually waiting to betray someone.
And usually failing at betraying someone.
From Ash in the original, to Lance Henriksen's Bishop in Aliens, to Michael Fassbender's David in Prometheus and the upcoming sequel, they're a mainstay of the franchise. Heck, by this point, Robo-Fassbender is the de facto star of it all. Though, realistically, any modern movie that Fassbender isn't the lead in is just anti-Fassbender propaganda.
Michael Fassbender: Created by scientists to show the world what facial symmetry looks like.
In Alien, Ash is the point man (robot? android?) for the company conspiracy to capture an alien, with the human crew being considered expendable. It's a major plot point that recurs throughout the series, with the specter of the evil Weyland-Yutani Corporation essentially being the main villain. And despite their prominence on the BluRay covers, the aliens are just pawns.
Without the robots to facilitate this, Alien is just a slasher film, set in space. And those robots were put in the script by two producers of the film, not the writers (who thought it a terrible idea). Of course, those writers also thought Starbeast was a good name for the movie. Don't get me wrong, I'd see a movie that's called Starbeast, but Starbeast sounds less like a title for Alien and more like the title of a movie that someone who just slept through half of Alien would think of.
"It was pretty good. There was, like, a monster in the stars. Nah, that was about it."
So maybe what do writers know? It turns out, if you actually listen to what a studio has to say, you might actually get the credit for a classic film, while the studio just fades back into being an evil corporation.
Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes there. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs..
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