Pick a Pixar movie, any Pixar movie. They had to tone down the water for Finding Nemo because it was too real-looking. Pixar mentioned that they learned during the filming of Toy Story that the story has to come first. They had a 60% or 70% finished movie when they sat and watched it... and were revolted. With a deadline looming scarily close, they tore it completely apart, and made the amazing movie we know today.
Speaking of Toy Story, Toy Story 2 was originally intended to be direct-to-video. But Pixar actually set out to make a movie that was just as good as the first, and Disney milked it with a theater release as a result. Pixar is very well-known for this.
Originally in WALL•E, the story had it that EVE got electrocuted by AUTO instead of WALL•E, and WALL•E fixes her while in the Garbage Chamber. A preview screening caused Andrew Stanton to realize it didn't fit the emotional flow he wanted to convey. Despite the fact that the scene was 95% complete and the film was only a few months away from release, the animators started from scratch and completely redid the scene, so that WALL•E was electrocuted, and EVE's motivation was about helping WALL•E, rather than just achieving her directive, which makes the story better.
When a director completes a film at Pixar and has finished promoting it, they usually take a year off to relax and perhaps find inspiration for their next film. After Finding Nemo was finished, Andrew Stanton took a small team of writers and artists and spent that year planning the general story and working on the design of the characters of WALL•E, so he could work without deadlines or pressure.
In fact, here's something from John Lasseter concerning that:
"Yes, we worry about what the critics say. Yes, we worry about what the opening box office is going to be. But really, the whole point of why we do what we do is to entertain our audiences. The greatest joy I get as a filmmaker is to slip into an audience for one of our movies anonymously, and watch people watch our film. Because people are 100 percent honest when they're watching a movie. And to see the joy on people's faces, to see people really get into our films... to me is the greatest reward I could possibly get."
For Up, the producers actually flew the animation team to Venezuela, to the mountain range that serves as the inspiration for Paradise Falls in the film. The crew went on an exhausting (and potentially life-threatening) all-day hike up the mountain, but it was worth it for the magnificent views they got at the top, which inspired most of the film's imagery. Then a sudden storm rolled in, and they were trapped on top of the mountain for hours, while strong rains and wind slammed them. Eventually a helicopter was able to rescue them.
Walt Disney himself as quoted above. Despite not being actually talented enough to draw, he did push the technology and art of animation to new levels, such as making the first synchronized sound cartoon and first Technicolor cartoon. His debut feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was considering extremely risky at the time for being the first ever animated feature film; people thought it would be a huge failure and that animation couldn't be long enough for a feature length film. Snow White became a huge box office success at the time, which gave Walt enough money and success to produce Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi, all three considered classics that still hold up today for the intense amount of detail in the animation, high artistic merits (especially Fantasia) and the impressive special effects for the time. However, those films did not make enough money to keep the Disney Company financially afloat, so they had to make wartime cartoons for the United States in War World II, as well as Dumbo, a much safer film. Walt never made another movie as ambitious as Fantasia again (though Sleeping Beauty was close). If Fantasia had been an economic success, who knows what else Walt would have done.
The Sinbad animated film team went to an incredible amount of effort to make sure that the CG models for the ships and cities were accurate to a tee, once again for a film intended for children.
In The Fall of Gravity is a extremely well-animated short that is made by this trope. The whole film was done by one guy, who did everything from the sets to the figures he's animating. What's more impressive is that he built facial mechanisms never before seen in stop-motion specifically for the film, controlled by cables instead of wires or replacement mouths. it really must be seen to be believed.
The Prince of Egypt was a huge artistic undertaking for DreamWorks. For example, there were 1,192 scenes in the movie. 1,180 of those scenes featured special effects. And not just things like fire tornadoes or the Red Sea parting (that 7-minute sequence alone took 318,000 hours of rendering), but wind, sand, rainwater, and lighting. The animators also spent two weeks traveling around Egypt to get a sense of the architecture and art style for the film.
The writers consulted with over a hundred religious officials from varying sects to make sure they got as close to the heart of the story as possible.
Coraline. As if the sheer amount of Fridge Brilliance and Foreshadowing in the writing isn't enough, apparently the animation is good enough that many uninformed people thought that it was made with CGI.
For Coraline, they made more than 20 puppets, each one taking months to make. And since it uses puppets instead of clay, they had to make thousands of mouths that they painted individually and replaced between frames.
The average production speed is only seconds a day, assuming no mistakes are made. The film is 100 minutes long.
Most of the flowers in the garden scene really lit up. It's not digitally enhanced.
The lady who made the costumes actually knits them, using the same techniques that would be used to make full-sized clothing but with needles the size of human hairs.
The hair for the characters had to be "injected" one by one.
The scene where the Other World "disappears"? They did that in stop-motion too.
They wanted to shoot the movie in 3D, but the sets were too small to fit 2 cameras side-by-side. So what did they do? They shot each frame twice from different angles with a single camera. The result was a movie with some of the most highly-regarded 3D effects ever.
9, both the short film and the long film. The short film's CG looks rather rough, but it's still clear that Shane Acker put a great deal into it. The feature film's CGi is equal to, if not better than, that of WALL•E. Everything has detail.Everything looks convincingly real, especially the monsters. However, many film critics accused Acker of doing it too much for the art and not enough for the story, though Acker has stated multiple times that the film has a very big emphasis on "showing, not telling". He and others who worked on the film also note in the DVD Commentary that they didn't care if anyone else didn't like it; they were making it for themselves and that was that. Whether or not this worked for the film is up to the viewer.
Don Bluth was always all about doing it for the art. He probably wasn't expecting to make much off of Banjo the Woodpile Cat when he began the side project from his garage while still working for Disney and barely had the budget to cover its production, and his mission while making The Secret of NIMH was to bring the quality animation from the golden age back to the cinema. He succeeded... for awhile at least.
The Recobbled Cut, made by a fan, fits this too. It's a close approximation of what the original film would have been like. It uses the original audio, rediscovered footage, unfinished animatics, and even rough sketches to flesh out the runtime.
In Kung Fu Panda, the directors proposed the famous rope bridge fight and were delighted at seeing the animators blanch at the idea. That was because that meant that such a scene had never been done before and it's that attitude that helped create the film and made Dreamworks Animationgrow its beard.
The 2006 independent animated feature Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss. Ex-Disney animator Phil Nibbelink, disillusioned by the "big industry merry-go-round", decided to spend 4 1/2 years of his life to make this film, drawing all 112,000 frames of animation by himself, by a Wacom Tablet onto flash. The voice acting was all handled in a recording studio he built in his own basement. He also deliberately made the film a G-rated kids flick to contrast to the lack of such animated films coming out at the time.
Film — Live Action
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 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 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 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 damn 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, 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. 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.
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 (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 non-classified bombers, 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 DOWN.
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. 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.
This is especially evident in his version of The Fly—he has admitted to disliking the 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.
John Travolta wanted to make a film version of Battlefield Earth for years, and it was only after years of effort, and agreeing to a discount salary for his performance, that it finally got made.
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 on top of that is also considered one of the worst films ever made.
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, they 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. 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 his own 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 Twelve 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.
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.
Penelope 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 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 2 Mickey 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.
Atlas Shrugged has done abysmally in terms of ratings and sales. The second film had even worse success. But yet, they're on their way to making an Atlas Shrugged: Part III.
True, and 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 his 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 show the reality, NOT for hiding it.
This is somewhat subverted by some Mexican directors like Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron: 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 Chicklis 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.