Movies are great. It’s why we’re all here, reading about them instead of getting work done. But they aren’t easy to make. Sometimes, movies can be nightmares to produce, shoots that go from grand ambition to nightmarish endurance sessions thanks to mother nature, jerkass actors or meddling studios.
And seeing those difficulties in documentary form, makes for some fascinating viewing. Here’s ten great doccies, which went behind the scenes to capture the magic of filmmaking.
- Lost in La Mancha
Much like Don Quixote’s endless chasing of windmills, director Terry Gilliam has been pursuing the feature film adaptation of Man of La Mancha for many a year now. And each and every time production got started on this flick, something went wrong.
Seven attempts to make the film between 1998 and 2014 were made. Each one ended in disaster. And seeing that slow descent into madness, made for one hell of a great documentary.
- Jodorowsky’s Dune
Most times, if I want to watch an older gentleman rant and rave for a few hours, I’d turn on MTV at the local retirement village. But there’s something magical about Jodorowsky’s Dune. A feature film adaptation of the classic sci-fi novels, director Alejandro Jodorowsky and his team were undeniably on the best drugs of the times, as their vision was mental to say the least.
- Shadow of the Batman: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight
It’s hard to believe it, but Batman wasn’t always a guaranteed box office draw. The idea of an orphaned billionaire fighting crime at night was risky business in an age of cautious blockbusters, with the character still deemed “camp” thanks to the 1966 Batman TV series.
And then Tim Burton and Michael Keaton came along, reinventing the caped crusader for a new age. Darker, weirder and definitely not campy, this was a Batman who looked and acted like he was always meant to. But getting to that film and redefining the dark knight, makes for one hell of an interesting watch.
- Flesh and Steel: The Making of Robocop
The 1980s were a GLORIOUS age for movies. Thanks to an abundance of cocaine and aerosols that were killing the ozone layer, just about every film out there was being optioned. So it was only a matter of time before a movie about a Frankenstein creation law enforcer got given the greenlight.
And it is damn fascinating stuff. A film that not only had some of the finest actors of the time involved, but a costume department that spent an obscene amount of cash on creating the signature look of Peter Weller’s Robocop, while the actor himself prepared for the role over months and months.
But as serious as the film is, it’s the production secrets that make it incredibly funny, as you’ll see in the documentary above.
When it comes to breakout stars, Troy Duffy had it all. His script for The Boondock Saints wasn’t only well received by studios, they were offering him a first-time directing gig. That was practically unheard of in Hollywood.
And really, can you blame a guy for letting it all go to his head? Overnight is a perfect example of self-destruction, as the doccie looks at how Duffy was kind of a dick during the production of the cult classic. As the tagline says, there’s more than one way to shoot yourself.
- Hearts of Darkness: A filmmaker’s Apocalypse
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the legendary difficulties of Apocalypse Now. A film that was running over budget, a typhoon that wrecked sets, buffalo slaughter and Marlo Brando being a proper fat bastard all hampered production on a classic movie that almost never was.
- Final Cut: The making and unmaking of Heaven’s Gate
What happens when a movie runs massively over budget, your director is a tyrannical maniac and the press slaughters your production in reviews? You get Heaven’s Gate, a box office bomb of Hiroshima levels that almost wiped out the United Artists company.
Heaven’s Gate isn’t just a cautionary moment in cinematic history, it was a game-changer. It’s the kind of film that had such a massive impact when it belly-flopped at the box office, that it changed the way that studios handled creative control on their films. And it’s worth seeing how a simple idea for a romantic war movie became such a harsh lesson.
- Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy
These days, Star Wars is a license to print money. But when it was first pitched? Hoo boy, did studios balk at the idea of an intergalactic action saga film. George Lucas and his team had one hell of a massive uphill battle on their hands to get Star Wars made. It was all worth it of course, but seeing a young cast and crew work their magic in one of the biggest film franchises of all time, is something special.
- Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau
If ever there was a film that was doomed to fail, it was the remake of The Island of Dr Moreau. Director Richard Stanley had a bold vision for the film, a nightmarish and tense thriller that updated the classic novel.
What happened instead, was a film production that was plagued by Marlon brando’s legendarily dickish behaviour, while Val Kilmer went full-on crazy mad and got Stanley fired. With new director John Frankenheimer on board, the production descended into even more insane difficulties, to the point where the crew had to capture actress Fairuza Balk before she managed to escape the Australian sets.
It’s a completely crazy look at one of the worst films of all time, that clearly deserved better. Instead, all it got was Marlon Brando making life miserable for everyone around him.
- South Park: Six days to air
I’m cheating a little bit here, but South Park was a movie so this sort of counts. Sort of. By now, everybody has seen an episode of South Park. The show has been around for years, originating as a crude animation of carboard shapes and into a sleek production of computer animation.
But through the years, the show has managed to retain its signature art-style, which has allowed for episodes to be produced within less than a week. An entire episode, from start to finish, in six days. But it isn’t easy keeping up that hectic pace, as the documentary Six Days To Air chronicles the production of a South Park episode.
Last Updated: July 23, 2015