Ten Essential “Making Of” Documentaries
GETTING TO SEE INSIDE HOW A FILM WAS MADE CAN BE THRILLING AND INSIGHTFUL, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE INVOLVED IN FILMMAKING YOURSELF.
There’s a lot to entertain and to learn from in some of the best ‘Making Of’ documentaries, many of which can be just as compelling as the movies they’re about! They can inspire you, teach you and amuse you (and sometimes stress you out slightly, as you’ll read below). It was for these reasons I made daily behind the scenes videos for my first feature film Labyrinthia, and the response to being able to see inside the often mysterious filmmaking process has been fantastic. So here I’ve picked out my ten most recommended MUST SEE Making Of documentaries, some of which I’ve watched over and over, many of which taught me some tricks and all of which made me reflect on my approach to filmmaking and reminded why I love it…
10. “THE DARJEELING LIMITED WALKING TOUR”
This short Making Of for Wes Anderson’s brilliant The Darjeeling Limited is great to watch simply to see Anderson and Co at work. The cast and crew travel through India whilst filming on a moving train (!) which is really the most impressive part. Production designer Mark Friedberg gives a detailed tour of the interestingly designed train that has been adapted for filming via fold-away walls and removable bits and pieces for the camera to get the best access.
9. “THE PIXAR STORY”
Pixar Animation Studios are truly the greatest when it comes to storytelling (although Inside Out was dissapointing in that aspect, admit it); they’ve had to create loveable, relatable characters out of computer generated images. And they’ve succeeded so well at capturing people’s imaginations and this upbeat documentary follows their progression from before they made Toy Story right through to when they became one of the most successful studios of all time. John Lasseter (Director of Toy Story 1&2 and Pixar Co-Founder) is an inspiration in his quest to invent a totally new breed of animation which leads to him being fired from Disney (Disney then re-recruit him as Chief Creative Officer 22 years later, as their only hope of saving the studio). Watching him rise to the very top with Pixar is wonderful. The documentary also questions how computer animation has led to the death of hand-drawn traditional animation, much to Lasseter’s dismay. You can find it on the special edition DVD of WALL-E. Be ready to be inspired!
8. “HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE”
“We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane”. So begins the feature length Making Of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, one of the greatest films ever made. The film was made by his wife, Eleanor Coppola, and follows the disastrous production of the film. Everything that can go wrong, goes wrong, from lead actor Martin Sheen having a heart attack, to floods destroying most of the sets and the production going millions of dollars over budget… all whilst Coppola -understandably- has a total breakdown. Amazing to think how such a masterpiece emerged from the wreckage!
7. STEVEN SPIELBERG FILMS
Its impossible to pick just one Making Of from a Spielberg movie as there’s so many good ones, simply because he’s made so many great movies! His films all come on multiple disc editions with extensive Making Of documentaries often broken up into multiple parts (the 12 part Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull documentary for example). The Making of Jaws is a classic story (if you don’t already know it) of how young Spielberg invented the blockbuster, against all odds, with a highly dysfunctional fake shark… ‘The Evolution And Creation Of E.T’ and the 3 Close Encounters Of The Third Kind documentaries are great insights into 2 of Spielberg’s best movies.
Making of the original Indiana Jones Trilogy is also awesome and an uplifting reminder of the magic of moviemaking. The detailed making of Jurassic Park [and also The Lost World] is split into three parts (pre-production, production and post-production) and focuses heavily on the advances in CGI with the creation of the spectacular dinosaurs which changed special effects and moviemaking forever. With Spielberg’s stuff you get the chance to see mega Hollywood blockbusters in the process of being created which is all very spectacular and perfect. Everyone are friends, having a great time, the films are hugely successful… Nothing ever seems to go wrong! So if you fancy watching something idealic and far out of most filmmaker’s reach, take a look.
6. BLADE RUNNER
Blade Runner is a masterpiece and very possibly the most visually beautiful film ever made. My preference is for The Final Cut (there are multiple versions of the film, avoid the original release). What’s great about this Making Of, especially if you’re a hard core fan of the movie, is that it explores every avenue of how the film was constructed, right through from the troublesome scriptwriting process to the difficult production and even the multiple releases of the film that slowly turned it into the classic sci-fi it has become (the film wasn’t particularly popular on its first release). And I mean every avenue, this thing seemed to go on for hours and hours and I was still only watching the pre-production part! Ridley Scott, infamous for his very controlling approach to directing, falls out with his crew, leading to a sort of on-set rebellion against him, which makes for amusing viewing. Hampton Francher explains some scenes that didn’t make it from his original script ideas for the film, which gives a different insight to the Blade Runner story. Plus, you get to learn how they accomplished the amazingly detailed models of the neon futuritsic landscape in whih the film is set, which thanks to the dazzing artistry involved still look phenomenally awesome today, even with all the CGI crap we get in sci-fi movies today. The sheer length of this Making Of means that you’ll know everything there is to know about how they made the film, which is basically everything you could ask of from a Making Of, so if you have many many hours free, giveit a watch…
5. LOST IN LA MANCHA
This is the only making of documentary on this top 10 list that is so filled with disaster that the film they were making doesn’t even exist! This was Terry Gilliam’s infamously doomed adaptation of Don Quixote, and instead of the cursed film all that remains is this brilliant yet slightly terrifying documentary of how the whole thing fell to ruin. Firstly, the film is a great insight into the imagination and creative process of Director Terry Gillam, who has made classics such as Brazil, The Fisher King, and my personal favourite of his Fear And Loathing In Last Vegas. Writer Tony Grisoni and A list actors such as Jonny Depp are also all part of the film. But when epic floods turn the desert scenery into a muddy wasteland and the lead actor is taken to hospital for an ever-increasing length of time, Gilliam slowly begins to go insane. As you see his film collapse around him and gain insight into the bitchy politics of filmmaking, Lost In La Mancha will make you appreciate the endless difficulty of filmmaking and your worst nightmare of a film production destined to be completely abandoned…
I’ve watched this making of over and over again, especially at times when my film shoots are getting a little chaotic, because it reminds you how James Cameron truely accomplished the impossible. Aliens, in relation to its epic action-packed scale, had a fairly quick, lowish budget, high pressure shoot, which somehow resulted in not only the best in the Alien series (the original comes very very close, Cameron took it above and beyond though) but one of the greatest action and sci-fi films of all time that even todays action movies can’t compare to. Yet again, this is one where the crew falls out dramatically with the director, but James Cameron
appears to battle on relentlessly and drags his reluctant crew with him, and he isn’t afraid to retaliate… Together they make what is surely a ultra difficult action movie rammed with complex practical effects, including some that put the lives of the actors at risk (they almost suffocate in one scene). Footage of Cameron frustratedly demanding a lifeless face-hugger puppet be thrown across the room in the correct manner is hillarious and reminds me how ridiculous a director’s commands can sometime seem, yet it works and those face huggers are terrifying (although also available as a cuddley toy these days) proving this attention to detail, though exhausting, is essential. For anyone who’s arrived on set, looked at the script for the day only to find the day filled with time consuming effects and action, this making of assures you that it can be done, and reminds you how difficult it will be to execute. Watch the film though, and you’ll know it was worth the pain.
3. LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU
Filmmakers beware, you will watch this nightmarish documentary through your fingers… This is the story of the infamously bad 1996 remake of The Island Of Dr. Moreau, which was originally intended to be the Hollywood break out movie of the brilliant filmmaker Richard Stanely (Hardware, Dust Devil) who sadly seems to have given up on his career following this ordeal. And it truly is an ordeal, as Stanley’s script enters pre-production and the film slowly is tugged, dragged and forced from his hands until enevitably he is fired from the film as director (every director’s worst nightmare surely?) causing an irreprible rift in the cast and crew. Marlon Brando truly comes across as a psychopathic asshole, demanding retarded changes to the script and even his costume (painting himself entirely white and at one point insisting they make him a ridiculous ‘ice bucket’ hat) which will have you laughing out loud.
But this bizzarre story doesn’t end there… Fearing Stanely will stay in Australia and somehow sabotage the production they’ve stolen from him, a crew member is told to ensure he gets on the plane back to Britain, and they even have it in Stanley’s contract that he must stay a certain distance from the set or he won’t get paid his money. But when the plane lands, somehow, Stanley is not on board, furthermore, nobody has any idea where he could possibly be… It isn’t until well into the shoot that crew members find the director living out in the wilderness further up river. This is when they hatch the secret plan to get this bitter director back onto the set of his ruined movie disguised as a mutant bulldog-man (an extra in the film). The rest will have you watching in disbelief as the crew go completely stir crazy (almost behaving as badly as the animals they are playing). Whilst hillarious from start to finish this story of a film spinning out of control is also undeniably heartbreaking. Fairuza Balk’s interviews are particularly passionate and bitter and will likely make you wish Stanley had got to make this film and highlights the tragedy of this lost, potentially great filmmaker.
Find it on Netflix!
2. 30 DAYS IN HELL: THE MAKING OF THE DEVILS REJECTS
If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll already know how much I obbess over Rob Zombie’s incredible and underrated horror masterpiece, but its not simply because I love the film that I love this documentary. Instead, this documentary was essential viewing to me as its a in-depth first hand account following Rob Zombie through his entire filmmaking process. Though the previously mentioned documentaries behind Aliens and Blade Runner are great, they are both put together retrospectively, with a lot of talking heads looking back on the film years after it has been made. Here though we’re taken through every step as it occurs; the casting process, audtion tapes, production designing, location scouting, stunt coordination,
costume design, a cast table-read (which is something I never knew about before watching this, and I’ve tried to do it for every film since, which I recommend to anyone) and the whole time Rob Zombie talks you through why he’s making certain choices, what he’s finding useful and is down to earth about what does and doesn’t work. And if, like me, you feel watching this film that you’re watching someone’s masterpiece, even if that does happen to be a rough, gritty, brutal serial killer movie, you can certainly see this is what Zombie was aiming for (and he has made clear that this film was everything he wanted it to be).
When you reach the production segment of this documentary each day is individually presented and begins with the schedule of what was shot on each day (this is obviously a helpful insight if you want to understand what is actually shot on each day of a film shoot). Sid Haig and Bill Moseley really stand out as giving two great and dedicated performances (especially Mosesley, despite Haig’s Captain Spaulding being the more attention grabbing horror icon of the two) playing well written characters, far beyond what you’d expect from this genre. You feel like you’re there making the film with them and whether you like the movie or not I can assure you you’ll pick up some great tips and insights along the way, and your respect for Rob Zombie as a serious writer/director will increase by 99%. As for the film itself, it has the dirtiest cinematography of Texas since Texas Chainsaw Massacre (clearly an inspiration), some of the best shoot outs in horror film and some of the most distrubing set pieces and an absolutely insane soundtrack climaxing with Lynryd Skynryd’s ‘Free Bird’. Tiny walking into the flaming Firefly house is enough to bring a tear to my eye, and considering he’s introduced in the first scene dragging a naked female corpse through the woods on a rope, Zombie’s skill in writing these immoral characters and siding us with them is nothing short of genius.
1. FULL TILT BOOGIE
Currently available on Netflix, or on the 2 disc addition of the epic vampire movie From Dusk Till Dawn, Full Tilt Boogie is the best all-access pass to not only being on the set of a movie but even being off set too! Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis and director Robert Roderiguez all star in this feature length documentary following them at the very peak of their stardom (at least for the pair of relatively new susperstar independent filmmakers, Tarantino and Roderiguez) and at an interesting time where these smaller independent
productions were having the power and budgets of big studio movies (a subject frequently causing friction between the producers and the union, which filmmaker Sarah Kelly choses to focus on, highlighting the changing landscape of independent filmmaking in the 90s). The crew complains about their awful food, the director strums a guitar between takes (Roderiguez is an awesome musician as well as filmmaker and has scored most of his own movies), crew confess their secret attractions to other crew members (until Tarantino comes along and confidently claims he could have any woman he wanted on the set…) the cast sing kareokee (Juilette Lewis isn’t that bad) whilst on the dance floor a crew member begs Clooney to marry her… Filmmaking certainly looks like one great big party for these guys, and it probably was, they were the susperstars of filmmaking. Along the way there is a lot of cool insight into the making of From Dusk Till Dawn, discussions with all of the cast, many of the crew, and Sarah Kelly simply has a talent for shooting entertaining material. Of this top 10 list, this happens to be the documentary that focuses the least on the actual film. Instead it captures a time and a place that every asiring filmmaker surely wishes they could be and for that reason it is number one.
IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN WATCHING ME AND THE CAST/CREW IN THE BEHIND THE SCENES OF LABYRINTHIA, FOLLOW THIS LINK TO ALL 12 VIDEOS AND TAKE A IN-DEPTH LOOK INTO OUR FILMMAKING PROCESS: