One of the great early examples is Lillian Gish—in the climax of Way Down East, D.W. Griffith required her to lie still on a very real ice floe for hours on end while her hair and right hand were submerged in below-freezing water. Thanks to the stunt, Gish's hand would be partially impaired for the rest of her life, but she contributed to what is considered one of the most exciting climaxes in cinema history.
Darren Aronofsky turned down a chance to direct the newest Superman movie so he could direct The Fountain, despite knowing that it wouldn't make anywhere near as much money. He still insisted on getting it made, even after the studio cut half of his budget, forcing him to do the whole movie (an epic sci-fi film that includes a big portion set in space) without any CGI at all. When it looked like the studio would never approve the movie, he wrote it as a graphic novel and got Vertigo Comics to publish it. Whether or not you like the movie, it's undeniable that Aronofsky cared about it. A lot.
It has also come to be considered, both in cinephile circles and out, a masterpiece on all counts and is constantly in the top three (frequently the top spot) in lists of the best movies ever made. It is even (although very loosely) the model for the comedy Tropic Thunder which serves as a ridiculously apt deconstruction of the Hollywood film industry at large.
James Cameron has made a career out of never compromising on his vision. His reputation as a perfectionist paints him as a prima donna director (with stories to back it up), but actors who have collaborated with him often, like Bill Paxton and Sigourney Weaver, state that it is precisely that that what makes him stand out—a director who stays true to his vision of a film with no compromises and staves off Executive Meddling:
It might be hard to believe today, but Titanic (1997) was a film of epic proportions which frankly had most of Cameron's producers worried. This thing cost $200 million to produce. Cameron even got the same companies (that still existed) to provide authentic recreations of the interior pieces, right down to the china that got smashed when the ship was tipping over. Finally, although (not without reason!) scathingly sarcastic about being called out on the night sky being wrong in one scene, he still had it corrected for the subsequent DVD release.
The person who actually called him out on it was Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, teacher, Director of the Hayden Planetarium, and research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. He is as perfectionist as Cameron is about his profession. To his credit, he tells the story of badgering Cameron about "the wrong sky" in Titanic (1997) and Cameron's scathing reply with humor and relish, especially the part where one of Cameron's special effects people called Dr. Tyson to get the right sky for the Director's Cut of the film.
When making The Terminator, he actually called weapons manufacturers to ask about how to make a "Phased Plasma Rifle, in the 40 watt range". Understandably, they were confused. Later on in production, when executives barred Cameron from filming a key scene where the T-800 picks up on Kyle and Sarah's trail, the director snuck out with a camera and Arnold Schwarzenegger to the back of the hotel set and shot the scene anyway.
During the production of Aliens, Cameron wanted to show a military unit that worked cohesively and acted like a group of friends. To that end, he brought the main cast up to England for a multi-week military training course, which allowed the actors and actresses time to get to know each other—which forged believable friendships.
Later on, during the shooting of the hive sequence, Cameron fired his cinematographer, Dick Bush, for not lighting the hive set in the "right way". Cameron, who had a start as a visual effects cinematographer (doing things like the wireframe in Escape from New York) wanted the set to be lit with the lights from the actors. Bush however was an old school cinematographer who went against Cameron's wishes and added fill light.
Cameron spent close to a decade continually refining the script for Avatar, even stating that he left it in his office desk for months at a time while he brainstormed new ideas. His team also spent three weeks rendering the opening shot of Pandora, down to the leaves on the trees.
The Lord of the Rings, the live-action movie version. For those of you who don't already know about the insane efforts went to to make this adaptation, just remember this: part of the budget was dedicated to a couple of guys making chain mail. That's right. A couple. By themselves. By hand. They actually rubbed off their fingerprints in the process because normal costumes just weren't going to cut it. As you can see below, they were taking the motto of Tolkien straight to heart.
Or Dwarvish. Or the Black Speech. And every word is context appropriate. Howard Shore should get a CMOA for this one.
And the various inscriptions and other writings seen in the movies (the inscriptions on swords and other weapons are authentic Elvish; longer texts, such as books, are just English transcribed into an appropriate alphabet, but still a lot of work). There are even decorations inside some armour, which would never be seen by the audience.
When the hobbit scale doubles are used instead of the actors, you figure they're just wearing the same outfit as the actor but in a smaller size, right? Not quite. They're wearing the same fabric—but woven at a tighter weave. So if you measured how many strands of the material were in, for example, a collar, it would be the exact same number as in the full size costume. The weave on a square inch of fabric from the double's costume would be smaller in the same proportions as the double was to their actor. The mind boggles. Especially when you consider that this, like most of the scale trickery in the movie, was never supposed to be noticed by the audience (that is to say, you'd only notice it if it was wrong).
The very fact that all three films were made simultaneously over the course of 18 months before the first film was released, with additional reshoots for the films after each film was released year-by-year, is a great surprise in this age of next week sequels.
Apparently Peter Jackson approached New Line with trepidation, trying to convince them that he'd need two films instead of one (the previous production company having asked for one film only) to cover the whole "trilogy". New Line responded that if there were three books, there should be three movies.
And when you hear that there were pick ups, entire CG sequences and full orchestra re-composing and re-recording for the DVD releases of extended editions (they were still shooting after the third film won the Best Picture Oscar), you realize how much effort went in to making this one of the best film trilogies of all time.
Speaking of The Lord of the Rings, Andrew Serkis's work on the trilogy and King Kong (2005). Painstakingly crafting memorable Motion Capture performances even knowing that no one would ever actually see him on screen. Going to Africa to study gorillas in the wild on his own time and money to make sure he played the most convincing gorilla he could. And in the process, he almost singlehandedly elevates Motion Capture to a full-fledged art form. All For The Art.
In order to film The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke actually worked several wrestling matches, including blading and allowing the infamous Necro Butcher to put him through the ringer in a hardcore match.
Pan's Labyrinth used extensive puppetry for its special effects as opposed to CG animation, which is far more the norm in modern circumstances. Suffice to say, puppets are a lot harder to do than CG.
Used to a lesser (but still greater than normal) degree for the Hellboy films, which made extensive use of puppetry, optical illusions (Krauss' head) and contortionist/actor Doug Jones (Abe, Angel of Death, Chancellor...etc.).
Team America: World Police also used puppets, although these two movies are about as far apart from each other thematically as can be possibly imagined.
The Silent Hill movie only used a few CG effects (noticeably the bugs and the fog). All the monsters were done with live actors, which arguably makes the effect that much creepier.
Mark Hamill has commented before on the fact that George Lucas seemed down in all of the interviews that he gave around the time that the original trilogy was made on account of the fact that he wasn't able to do things the way that he'd envisioned. As unfaithful as people feel the rereleases may be, they're closer to Lucas' original vision than what was initially shown in cinemas (Except the Han Shot First thing, that was the MPAA).
The underwater scene on Naboo in Episode I? Trisha Biggar used vintage fabric for Obi-Wan's robe, and it shrank in water. They had to make and destroy a robe for every single cut.
2001: A Space Odyssey had Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke spending enormous efforts into making everything as realistic as possible. The earth moving equipment seen on the Moon would actually work on the real Moon. Quite a few experts from NASA and IBM were asked to help design the sets.
That's just the kind of guy Kubrick was. The interior of the B-52 Stratofortress (top-secret at the time, believe it or not) in Dr. Strangelove was so realistic that the military launched a brief inquiry into how the movie makers had gotten the inside information. note What they did was look over diagrams of the insides of the B-29 Superfortress, which was not classified, and then extrapolated on those designs based on the size and shape of the B-52.
Kubrick also insisted that the table in the war room be covered in green baize like that on pool or poker tables to symbolize that the leaders were playing a giant game of poker for the fate of the world. The only thing is, the movie is in black-and-white.
Clarke published a few lines from his diary from pre-production in the introduction of a re-issue of the novel. They include "rang Isaac Asimov to ask him about the biochemistry of turning herbivores into carnivores." (Asimov, besides writing science fiction, was a professor of biochemistry.) And they never even did anything with that...
Kubrick required the compositing work to be done by a team of British animators painting traveling mattes by hand, frame-by-frame, to mask out each element, rather than using bluescreen. When production ended, most of them signed onto Yellow Submarine in order to work on something colorful after spending two years painting little black blobs.
Instead of storyboarding the docking sequence, multiple model sequences were shot so Kubrick could edit them.
In the original script, Bowman and the other astronauts go to Saturn (this is also where they go in the book). Kubrick ended up changing it to Jupiter because the crew wasn't able to make a model of Saturn he was satisfied with.
Also, when Kubrick did The Shining, the scene wherein we see Jack's manuscript, and all we see is "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." typed over and over again?" Each page was individually typed. And he also shot the pages for four other languages, too.
Actors gaining or losing weight for film roles certainly qualifies (when prosthetics could just as easily be used, especially nowadays), with Robert De Niro's work on Raging Bull the most famous example... but Peter Sellers arguably went the extra mile by gaining weight for Being There because he felt it looked right for the character—despite chronic and worsening heart problems and a subsequent hatred of how he looked on screen. It's hard not to think that his admitted difficult time losing the weight as fast as he could afterwards may have hastened his death (see also Cue Irony).
Christian Bale deserves mentioning. He had lost weight for his part in The Machinist (IMDb says 120 pounds on his 6 foot+ frame). Then Christopher Nolan told him he'd have to become bigger to be Batman. Bale did so and went up to about 220 pounds.
Whereupon he was told they didn't mean that much bigger and he had to shave some off again. And then he lost it all again to play a crack addict in The Fighter (and jumped out of windows for real).
Christian Bale certainly went to extremes for The Fighter, but so did Mark Wahlberg: the film was stuck in Development Hell for a long time, so he ended up training for the film for five years, working with trainers during his off time on his last six films. He also refused a stunt double and did every fight scene for real.
There must be something in Wahlberg DNA that makes them take the Method approach: Mark's brother Donnie Wahlberg dropped 43 pounds for his incredibly brief (but pivotal) role of a ravaged, haunted psych patient in The Sixth Sense. Most people are shocked to realize it was him.
While watching the "Lady in the Red" scene in The Matrix some may notice the same people passing besides Neo and Morpheus more than once. Production goof? Nope, all extras in the scene are actual twins. They searched all over Sydney for twins and brought them in to demonstrate how Mouse, writing the Agent training program, got lazy and just copy-pasted same models over instead of making unique ones. And hardly anyone would ever notice...
Richard Donner's work in Superman went notoriously over-budget, and got him fired. His main concern was to make the best, most believable film he could. It could be argued Bryan Singer's issue with Superman Returns was that he was trying to emulate that instead of making his own film (which he promised to do next time).
John Milius's movie adaptation of Conan the Barbarian was very, very, very good for a character most people treated as a joke and expected to get something lighthearted and campy. Instead, they got something dark, edgy, philosophical and yet still a good adventure movie. It had plenty of changes from the original stories, but it still stands up as an individual story and has actors that are either excellent, hammy or both. Sadly, Milius was not brought back to work on the sequel.
He researched ancient civilizations and designed art histories for all the obscure R.E. Howard civilizations that Conan passes through, shrugs at, and burns down...he designed a workable house on wheels for the family of drifters Conan gets directions from...he built a life size Wheel of Pain...he had Arnold bite the head off a real vulture carcass!
If you were a studio executive, would Eraserhead put dollar signs in your eyes? But somebody made it. And all his movies are exactly what he had in mind. Well, except Dune.
That's just the beginning. It took five years to finish, working on weekends and vacations, and with Lynch putting up all the cash. There's one sequence where Henry passes through a door. A full year passed between shooting him outside the door and him walking through it.
A more successful example of the "really cheap horror movie made by a guy who loves what he's doing" would be The Evil Dead (1981). And Evil Dead 2 was actually more so: he wanted to do it with all the crazy humor, but it wasn't until the first was a hit he dared to do it.
Most things David Cronenberg does, he does because he really wants to. This is especially evident in his version of The Fly (1986)—he has admitted to disliking the 1958 original, mainly because he was aware of its fallacies even as a kid, so he wanted to make a film that wouldn't annoy any entomologists in the audience. Is it any wonder this version is widely considered better than the original?
Primer features the most complex (read: impenetrable) time travel plot in film. It was written by two engineers and literally requires a large chart to understand completely.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was the culmination of a life's work, and was filmed twice—the first time, so that the actors could see how it would look like with the CG in place before they filmed the "real" version.
Jude Law had said that it was his dream as an actor to work alongside Sir Laurence Olivier. A pity he had been dead for 15 years. Instead, the director dug up decades-old test footage of Olivier, and spent God only knows how long piecing together sound clips in order to give Olivier a posthumous "cameo" as Big Bad Dr. Totenkopf.
Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg are probably the only people on this list who can straddle the line between this trope and its polar opposite. While their parodies are lazy and few would argue that their films constitute as "art", the two continue to make them even though people stopped seeing their films years ago (compare the $86 million gross of Epic Movie in 2007 to The Starving Games' $3 million gross in 2013). And so, despite the fact that they no longer have any major studio backing them, they persist in making and self-distributing their parody films rather than moving on to more lucrative film-making opportunities.
The production of Heaven's Gate became a disaster thanks to Michael Cimino's adherence to this trope. For example, he demanded 50 takes of at least one scene, and refused to start shooting for another until a cloud he liked rolled across the sky. Sadly, in this case the attention to detail did not pay off. The film was extremely delayed, went badly over the budget, is one of the least profitable movies of all history, and more or less killed the New Hollywood era. On top of that, for decades after its release it was regarded as a critical failure; it's only in the past few years with the release of a new, much-improved cut that it's been critically re-evaluated.
The Wicker Man (1973) qualifies on two points. Screenwriter Anthony Schaffer and director Robin Hardy put in a lot of research into Celtic myth and legend while devising the plot—they knew next to nothing about it at the start. Also, Christopher Lee was so keen to see it finished and released, he waived his fee for playing Lord Summerisle to keep the budget in check, and then called round all his friends and associates to drum up support, and hit the talk circuit to promote the film.
Doomsday. On a budget of $30 million, Neil Marshall made a completely insane, Rule of Cool-driven action movie that uses as many practical effects as it can. Yeah, the Bentley driving straight through a fucking bus at ninety miles an hour? They really did that. And since Bentley doesn't do Product Placement, that meant that they actually had to buy three high-end luxury cars, at $150,000 each, to smash up in order to film that scene. Then there's the props. The crew designed and made about a hundred different hand-to-hand weapons, a couple of guns, several punkish "mutant" cars, and a special suit of armor so it would look like it was makeshift. Finally, the two APCs in the film were designed and then built completely from scratch.
The Dark Knight has the moment in the car chase where the Joker's semi truck is turned upside-down on LaSalle Street by the Batpod's cable, flipping trailer-over-cab to land upside down with a loud noise. Do you think they used CG to do that scene? Noooo! It was a real truck that was really flipped over on the streets of downtown Chicago. They could do that stunt only once, ignoring if the final shot would be cool or not. And it was awesome.
The Bat-pod?... fully functional.
Heath Ledger locked himself in a room for a month with copies of such comics as The Killing Joke, writing the Joker's journal, in order to fully understand the character.
The scene of Joker walking away from the exploding/collapsing hospital was 99% real; the only CG used was the windows shattering. Needless to say, there was only one opportunity to get the shot. The building in question was actually an old Brach's Candy Factory on the west side of Chicago.
And they only CGI'd the windows because some hoodlums stole half the glass out of the building. They didn't have the time or the money to re-outfit a building with new windows.
It doubles with Enforced Method Acting since the bit where the Joker stops and starts smacking the detonator wasn't in the script. One of the explosions failed to go off on time, but Ledger stayed in character while waiting for the explosions to finish, so the scene could still be used in the film. Which turns an Unflinching Walk scene into one of the funniest reactions in the movie.
Apollo 13. The research they put into it was downright impressive. There's a "Making Of" feature in the collector's edition which has the director recounting when someone told him that man wouldn't go so far from Earth again for a hundred, hundred fifty years. By that time everyone involved would be dead; they would just have the old stuff, the stock footage, and documentaries. And this film. It had to be right. The director said he laughed it off, but it really does look like he took it seriously.
Upon watching the launch in the movie, second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin (then working for NASA Public Relations), apparently turned and asked the movie crew where they get some of the footage as he was unaware that there had been a camera in that particular location. There wasn't—it was just so authentic that he'd been fooled.
Some actors have done things for the money, just so they could afford to satisfy their passions for what they wanted to do. Peter Sellers, mentioned above, is only one example.
Ewan McGregor is a second. He only does big budget American films so he can afford to do indie Scottish ones.
Christopher Eccleston has a similar attitude, except in his case, the Hollywood roles pay for British theatre and TV (the latter roles he chooses mostly based on his admiration for the writer), as well as charity work in his hometown and support of local bands by appearing in their music videos.
The Passion of the Christ had a complete lack of spoken English, the spoken lines done in Latin and Aramaic (both languages now considered "dead"). He also fronted $30 million for production costs and $15 million for advertising out of his own (not-insubstantial) pocket. The film was distributed through independent distributor Newmarket Films, as none of the established film distribution companies wanted to touch it, thanks to the controversy surrounding the film. As it happened, said controversy helped make the film a blockbuster in the end.
The Wachowskis have made absolutely no excuses for Speed Racer, and probably never will. They said they were going to make a live action version of a cheesy-yet-revered anime, and that is exactly what they gave us. Not "The Matrix with Cars" as oh so many critics expected (and demanded), but an honest-to-God live action anime. It is quite possibly the incarnation of pure awesomeness... Or at least the incarnation of pure Speed Racer.
On the note of the Wachowski siblings: Their adaptation of Cloud Atlas is one of the most expensive independent films ever made.
Christopher Walken will accept any role that is offered to him, regardless of the paycheck. He just plain loves making movies.
Akira Kurosawa was incredibly meticulous in the production of his movies. Every shot was done over and over until it was perfect and he once removed the roof from a house for a single shot. That is dedication. Also: draining a town's entire water supply to get rain shots right and having an actual castle built only so he could burn it to the ground for one shot.
This can sometimes be a trap for directors who have too much power and influence, especially if they have done it for the art in the past and seen great success. This is what capsized the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s; such luminaries as Francis Ford Coppola and most notoriously Michael Cimino bet the farm on deeply personal labours of love and lost their shirts.
However, it's not always just actors, writers, and directors who feel that art should transcend the profit motive. Sometimes, it's producers and movie studio executives themselves who put creativity over profitability. A prime example of this is Irving Thalberg, director of production at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Three instances of this suffice:
The first instance of this involved the 1925 silent film, The Big Parade. Although preview audiences responded favorably when they were shown the rough cut, Thalberg decided to expand the scope of the picture as director King Vidor had created a war picture without many scenes of war. He had Vidor restage the famous marching Army column sequence with 3,000 extras, 200 trucks and 100 airplanes, adding about $45,000 to the negative cost of the film. After Vidor moved on to another project, Thalberg had other battle scenes shot by director George W. Hill.
The second instance of this involved the 1933 Wallace Beery-Marie Dressler film, Tugboat Annie. After seeing a preview of the film, Thalberg asked director Mervyn LeRoy if a scene could be improved by making Beery's shoes squeak. LeRoy agreed, but detailed how it would be economically prohibitive to re-shoot the scene as the sets had been dismantled and the cast had dispersed. Thalberg responded, "Mervyn, I didn't ask you how much it would cost, I asked you whether it would help the picture." The scene was summarily re-shot.
Last, but not least, the final instance of this involved the Marx Brothers. At the time, the brothers were in a rut as they had just left Paramount over creative differences and financial issues and were considering exiting the film business, when Thalberg signed them to a five picture contract with MGM. When the brothers joined MGM, one of the provisions in their contract was that before filming would commence on any of their pictures, they would first go out on the road and perform their material on the vaudeville stage in front of live audiences, allowing them to work on comic timing and to learn what earned laughs and what did not. Many people, including Groucho Marx, believed that this helped to strengthen many of the routines. In addition, Groucho repeatedly said that their first two films, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, were the best they ever made. Unfortunately, Thalberg's immediate superior, Louis B. Mayer, MGM's vice president of studio operations, did not think that the Marx Brothers were funny at all and was beyond ill-pleased when Thalberg offered them a five-picture contract. When Thalberg died in 1936 while A Day At The Races was still in production, Mayer used his position as studio chief to deny the brothers their favorite gag writers and limit the budgets of their remaining films.
The Marx Brothers issue wasn't the only bone of contention between Mayer and Thalberg. The two men just in general usually fought over what content the studio would release, with Thalberg pushing for more literary fare and Mayer pushing instead for more glitzy, crowd-pleasing films, and if it wasn't for Thalberg's connections with Nicholas Schenck, president of MGM corporate parent Loew's Theaters, he probably wouldn't have lasted long at MGM.
Fitzcarraldo is about a man trying to haul a ship over a mountain. To make it, Werner Herzogactually hauled a ship over a mountain (with help, but still). And that's not the half of it. In the real event that Fitzcarraldo is based on, that ship was originally disassembled before it was hoisted up the mountain. Herzog had his ship hauled up in one piece. Herzog is a crazy man.
He also deliberately filmed in the middle of the jungle instead of just a mile or two from civilization, because the movie wouldn't "feel right" otherwise.
For Gangs of New York they actually built what was essentially a full scale complete replica of the Five Points in 1800's New York in Italy just to film the movie. All of the costumes and props were painstakingly created to be historically accurate too. According to one of the extras on the DVD, George Lucas visited the set and complained to Scorsese that it could all be easily done on computers for much cheaper. But Scorcese was doing it for the art, and Lucas was ignored.
And Daniel Day-Lewis is sort of the king of this trope—for one thing, he practiced tapping his eye with the knife until he could do it without flinching (because his character has a glass eye). He also stayed in character on set all the time, as usual.
Michael Fassbender lost over thirty pounds to play the role of a hunger striker in Hunger; one interviewer pointed out that the weight he stopped (58 kg, about 128 pounds) was the same weight that his character, Bobby Sands, reached in his last diary entry before he died. (Incidentally, Fassbender has been compared to Daniel Day Lewis by some critics.)
A smaller example, compared to all of the above, but when Bill Murray agreed to play Herman in Rushmore, he also kept the budget down by agreeing to do it for union scale wages, which comes to about $300 per day.
When Disney denied Wes Anderson the money for a helicopter scene that would have cost $75,000, Murray paid for the shot out of his own pocket.
Bill Murray is like this a lot: he refused to let his name appear in marketing for Zombieland to hide the surprise, and has admitted he only did Garfield because it was written by Joel Cohen and he read the name and thought it was it was Joel Coen of The Coen Brothers. At which point he signed up without reading the script.
Bruce Willis appeared in 12 Monkeys entirely because he wanted to work with Terry Gilliam. To keep the film from going over budget, he agreed to a significantly reduced salary to be paid after the film was complete.
He did the same thing for ''Pulp Fiction. They considered him a long-shot for the role as he was an A-List star, but he wanted to do a more indie-project and took a big pay-cut to play Butch.
Meryl Streep learned German and Polish for her role in Sophie's Choice. Maybe not completely fluently, but certainly to an astonishingly adept level. And she begged the director for the role on her hands and knees. It has been cited as the greatest acting performance ever put to film.
Meryl likes doing this. For Music of the Heart, she learned the violin. Not to professional standard, perhaps, but far beyond what anyone would have expected of her.
Christopher Nolan wrote the script for Inception immediately after his success with Memento. He then spent the next ten years revising the extremely complex story until he was satisfied that everything made sense and was the best he could make it.
In addition, he took on The Dark Knight Saga in order to gain experience with handling a blockbuster production so he would be ready to perfect what was needed for Inception when it was done. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were warm-ups!
Charlize Theron in Monster. She gained 30 pounds, wore prosthetic teeth, and generally made herself a lot more plain/uglier for the sake of the movie.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, you know that scene where the Kraken chops a ship in freaking half? Yeah? They really did that. They got a huge slab of concrete, and painted it green, and then CHOPPED THE FREAKING SHIP IN HALF.
Penélope Cruzlearned Italian for her role in Non ti muovere. Even more shockingly, she actually managed to make herself unattractive with a false nose and teeth.
Zack Snyder has said he only agreed to do Watchmen because if he turned it down there was a chance of someone who didn't love the source material making it. His goal was to compress large amounts of detail into every frame of the movie and during the editing process he was constantly battling with the studio execs over the length (he declared himself to be "Gatekeeper of the Easter Eggs").
This is actually true for Spielberg (and Lucas on Indy) on most of his projects. He takes no director's fee; instead, he gets an ample part of the gross. It was something he did once a movie went over-budget, which worked in the end. Considering the money his films usually takes, let's just say that he doesn't have to worry too much.
Hard Candy. This is a film with a very low budget, from a first-time director, and with very strong sexual themes and implied torture. This is not the kind of film one signs on to make for a quick buck. In addition, Ellen Page (and this is before Juno) was chosen for her Bifauxnen look over several 14-year-olds who looked older than they were.
Similarly, Edward Norton requested not to be credited for Kingdom of Heaven, as his character is constantly masked until after his death, when his leprosy-ravaged face is revealed.
Before they filmed Battle: Los Angeles, the cast were put through several weeks of real military boot camp to get them to operate like Marines. Not only that, but each actor was given the same kind of training that a Marine of the rank they were portraying in the film would have received. Aaron Eckhart even said that he and the cast tried very hard to use correct military jargon and terminology, such as calling a helicopter a "helo" instead of a "chopper", and would redo a take if they made such a mistake.
When Taylor Lautner heard that he was being replaced for New Moon on account of not having a good enough physique, he immediately started doing a rigorous exercise routine on a daily basis in order to bulk up for the role, the execs were so impressed that they decided to keep Lautner after all.
Lautner also did all of his own stunts in Abduction he learned how to fight, ride motorcycles and everything.
Megan Fox insisted on doing her own stunts in Jonah Hex, only using a stunt double for one scene which would've been too dangerous for her to do by herself.
Whether or not you like Moulin Rouge!, it's clear that every person involved in that movie is giving it their all.
After Star Trek: The Motion Picture went over budget, was panned by critics and audiences, and just barely made a profit, Paramount just wanted a sequel to be more profitable, even if the series just turned into a Franchise Zombie. So they brought on TV producer Harve Bennet for the next movie, mainly because he promised he could do it on a fifth of the last film's budget. Instead of just making a slapdash sequel, he brought on the best people he could with the money he had, including Nicholas Meyer to direct. The result was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a monster critically hailed hit that made the Star Trek film franchise one of the longest and most successful film series in Hollywood history.
The first film (nicknamed for good reason Star Trek the Motionless Picture) was also this, proving once again that Tropes Are Not Good. Taking creative control away from Gene Roddenberry was part of what allowed the subsequent movies to succeed, as without him the writers and directors could temper For The Art with at least a little bit of What People Actually Want, and it turned out the latter wasn't a recycled 46-minute TV episode plot from a decade and a half ago blatantly and obviously padded with a long, dull sequence consisting entirely of ambient music and expensive SFX (that by today's standards looks like a cheap screensaver).
The 2012 war film Act of Valor takes this to a whole new level, the main characters are all played by REAL U.S. Navy SEALS(who were between deployments at the time of filming) all the tactics used in the film are REAL, REAL live bullets were used for most scenes, and in one scene a REAL truck gets blown up with a REAL RPG.
Kevin Pollack insists that he only works on projects that he thinks will be good, and has managed to get into some major hits like A Few Good Men. While Juwanna Mann seems like an obvious cash grab, he signed on because the lead role was originally going to be played by Will Smith.
In Safe House the scene where Denzel Washington is being tortured by waterboarding? That wasn't faked — Denzel insisted on doing it for real so it would be more convincing.
Sucker Punch: Zack Snyder himself doesn't even understand why he did that movie, but he did it anyway, the amount of work which went to all the levels of reality, the girls' clothes, the girls' training, the camera angle editing, and the phrasing of the words in the story. All for the art. Seriously. The studio wanted the film post-converted to 3D, but Snyder refused. He didn't film Sucker Punch for 3D, as it's a more mental movie, and he felt converting it would make an inferior film. What makes this especially odd is that he claimed not to know why he made such an odd film, saying "That is basically my comment on the film as well; "Why are you making this movie? You need to make a movie more commercial. It shouldn't be so dark and weird."
In order to keep that 'fantastic' Paris, every single place used in the movie was painted and cleaned before any shot.
Jackie Chan: After all the broken bones, the organ injuries, and life-threatening misses...and even (by his own honest admission) the occasional Money, Dear Boy offer, almost all of the work he does, he does for the love of bringing his brand of physical entertainment to the world. Continuing a shoot with a broken leg using a rubber shoe-sock over his cast? Done. Rolling over a circular saw? Check. Jumping from building to building with little to no safety mechanisms? All the time.
Michael Bay took on Pain & Gain because he loved the story so much (the film was also his Playing Against Type project, as he is known for his explosion-heavy popcorn movies). He also chose to take scale pay instead of his usual salary (the actors doing the same) so he could make the film the way he wanted to instead of doing a more compromised, studio-friendly version (the final budget was $25 million, less than half the average for a studio film).
He also initially turned down directing Transformers due to this trope, as he thought it would just be making a glorified toy commercial. When Hasbro convinced him there was more to this franchise than meets the eye, Bay realized the potential for making a film.
For Iron Man 2Mickey Rourke improvised a lot of Vanko's characteristics, such as his toothpick habit, his fondness for cockatoos, and his tattoos. He paid for the cockatoo with his own money, learned to speak Russian, and visited the infamous Butyrka prison to interview the prisoners there, who he described as very polite.
Even though all three Atlas Shrugged movies did abysmally in terms of both ratings and sales, they kept making them, and each one did even worse and had a smaller budget. Considering that the book was written Ayn Rand to promote her ideas of free-market capitalism, it is especially ironic that this particular work would be made other than for profit.
Tim Burton was so dead set on avoiding using CGI for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that he paid a team of animal trainers to train 40 real squirrels for the sequence where Veruca Salt meets her demise. It took 19 weeks of painstaking work, training each squirrel individually, but they pulled it off. And all for a scene that takes up less than 10 minutes of screen time.
Many Mexican directors are notorious, both inside and outside the country, for sticking to their guns, no matter what. This is in part as a result of years of living under government censorship, having to compete against Hollywood films, and tired of living under the shadow of the older films and actors from other eras. In fact, for some Mexican directors, the sole idea to do an Hollywood-style film is borderline a Berserk Button for them, especially when they do extremely cynical movies. Their answer for doing those films? A movie is for showing the reality, NOT for hiding it.
This is somewhat subverted by some Mexican directors like Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón: While they also stick to their ideas, at least they try to cover other topics other than drama.
Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez was lambasted in Mexico for doing Instructions Not Included, a Hollywood-style comedy film, and from a Mexican point of view, it completely deviates from the actual kind of movies Mexican studios are doing, and as such, it gives an "erroneous" image of the country, albeit the movie itself still sticks with the Mexican status quo somewhat by giving an Bittersweet Ending.
Michael Chiklis insisted on uncomfortable makeup rather than Conspicuous CGI for the Thing in Fantastic Four. CGI and voice over would have let him do the role in days. The makeup meant he spent hours a day in it, and could not even sit. He did this because he was One of Us and knew a CGI Thing wouldn't have the same effect on the audience.
According to Brian Henson the initial impetus for Muppet Treasure Island was that they realised filming a Muppet movie on a realistic ship would be almost impossible, and therefore wanted to try it.
Even people who loved Spike Jonze's adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are were forced to admit that practically everything about it seemed like box-office poison. When audiences heard that a film adaptation of a beloved children's book was in the works, they had every reason to expect a cute, upbeat, crowd-pleaser that parents could take their kids to—and most of them wanted just that. Jonze apparently didn't get the memo, and instead made a poignant, surreal fable about the fear and uncertainty of childhood, refusing to sacrifice an ounce of his famous Signature Style in the process. While it debuted at #1 at the domestic box office, it barely broke even, but it earned a devoted circle of fans—including Maurice Sendak himself, who personally defended Jonze against critics who disapproved of the movie's somber tone. The monsters themselves could have very well been CGI, but Jonze insisted on using People in Rubber Suits courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, with CG only used for the faces.
Similar to Act of Valor there's The Three Musketeers (2011), in which all the swords and other weapons were real, and none of the actors had stunt doubles.
Sergio Leone was a meticulous perfectionist filmmaker who wanted every take to be perfect. This is what got him and Rod Steiger into several arguments during the making of Duck, You Sucker!, as Steiger preferred the spontaneity of the first take. Also, Eli Wallach notoriously cheated death five or six times making The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, including having a train narrowly missing his head, and Eastwood himself once after they blew up a bridge. They built a bridge and blew it up.
Laurel and Hardy were very dedicated to the art of comedy, but one example stands out during the filming of their most famous and beloved short, The Music Box. Although the piano that was smashed in the finale was fake, the (empty) packing case was real, and it actually was quite heavy. But Stan and Ollie decided to carry it up the legendary flight of stairs anyway, suffering falls, the summer heat and exhausted arms all the while, for the sake of laughs and joy everywhere.
For Young Frankenstein, not only did Mel Brooks went through the effort to reuse the elaborate electrical machinery from the original Universal Frankenstein films, but when Columbia Pictures balked at his idea to shoot the film entirely in black and white, Brooks took the project the very next day to 20th Century Fox instead.
The VVitch, a horror film set in colonial-era PuritanNew England, was a passion project for writer/director Robert Eggers, a New Hampshire native who had grown up fascinated with the history of the region. When his low budget forced him to shoot the film in Canada rather than New Hampshire for tax credit purposes, he went "off the map" to find a place in Canada that looked like rural New England, eventually finding the remote town of Kiosk in northern Ontario (population: 60). Since colonial Puritan-style homes naturally didn't exist up there, they had to build them themselves, hiring historians and experts in colonial construction, furniture, and clothing in order to construct an authentic homestead using period-accurate materials. The portrayal of the titular witch was also rooted in actual folklore and mythology about witchcraft from that time period, with Eggers describing it as "a Puritan's nightmare". Outside of nighttime outdoor scenes, all lighting was done with candles and natural light. Even the score was recorded using instruments dating back to the 17th century.