Filming any sort of movie is an arduous process, even if just it’s something like My Dinner With Andre, where people sit at a table talking for two hours. If you work on a film production you can expect long days, menial tasks, and a lot of sitting around waiting for lights to be set up. This process can be made even harder if you are filming in an inhospitable location, or the weather turns against you.
Even a terrible movie needs a lot of work put into it, and great movies take even more. If you want to make a World War II epic, then you’re going to have to get down into the mud of the trenches, if you want to make a film about Eskimos then you better buy a thick coat.
In order to create some of the best movies ever made, certain film crews had to endure terrible hardships beyond what normally happens on a shoot. From the mass poisoning of the film crew of the Titanic, to angry native tribes attacking the set of Fitzcarraldo, here are the fifteen legendary movies that mistreated their crews.
15. Sausage Party
According to numerous accounts from anonymous animators who worked on the film (that have kept their identity a secret in order to ensure their employment prospects are unaffected), the studio took severe liberties with its staff. The film was produced by Nitrogen Studios, who, according to the reports, forced their staff to work overtime without pay or face termination. If one person refused to work the extra hours, then other staff members would be forced to come in on weekends in order to make up for lost time. Those who tried to hand in their notice were threatened with a industry-wide blacklist. It took the entire crew banding together and contacting Annapurna (the co-producers) to ensure that they were paid for their work.
14. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
The desert planet Tatooine has been home to some of the most iconic moments in cinema history. Who can forget a young Luke Skywalker staring at the two suns setting in the sky, dreaming of a better future. It is a location so beloved by Star Wars fans that the movies returned there in both the prequels and Episode VII.
Do you know who didn’t love Tatooine? The crew that had to film in the scorching hot heat of Tunisia, especially the poor schmucks who had to do it while wearing costumes.
You would think that working in a desert location would keep all of the equipment dry – this was not the case. The set was hit by an incredibly rare Tunisian rainstorm that almost stopped the production then and there. Even when it was dry, the sandy winds would often clog up the props and would interfere with the electronic equipment. The situation was so bad that it began to affect George Lucas on an emotional level. The stress of making a movie that only he had faith in, coupled with going over the budget meant that he took his frustrations out on the cast and crew.
13. The African Queen
The African Queen was a film released in 1951 about a missionary (played by Katherine Hepburn) and a rugged sailor (played by Humphrey Boggart) who run afoul of the Germans in Africa at the beginning of the first World War. They form a plan to use their steamboat (the titular African Queen) to try and take out a gunboat owned by the Germans.
The movie was shot on location in the Congo. As outdoor filming in an exotic and dangerous location was still a relatively new thing at the time, the production was ill-equipped to deal with the harsh environment. In modern times, the crew would have brought their own water supplies to a remote location like this. While filming The African Queen, the crew drank the local water and all but two of them caught dysentery. For those unfamiliar with the illness, dysentery is like a mixture between a terrible fever and super-diarrhea.
Of all of the infected crew, no one had it worse than Katherine Hepburn, who had to keep a bucket on set so she could throw up between takes. Her co-stars managed to avoid contracting any illness by drinking whiskey instead of the local drinking water.
12. Alien 3
To the people who were surprised about the level of studio meddling going on with Suicide Squad, you should know that this sort of thing has been going on for years. The biggest example of this may be Alien 3, the third instalment of the smash hit series that got reworked into the ground.
At the time, Alien and Aliens were highly acclaimed films and also big financial hits at the box office. Another film in the series seemed inevitable, with a setting that was wide open for further exploration. Early teaser trailers suggested that the Xenomorphs were coming to Earth, a concept that would have been amazing… if it had actually been made.
So what did they do instead? The script went through numerous rewrites before settling on a planet-sized wooden monastery in space, which was later changed into the penal colony we see in the final film. The film went through numerous staff and crew members and went way over budget due to the numerous stops and starts. After a mostly negative reception, director David Fincher has all but disowned the film, and takes any opportunity he can to slander it.
When making a film on the scale of Titanic, it’s no surprise that numerous injuries take place among the cast and crew. There was almost something far worse in store for James Cameron and his team however, as a prank almost back-fired and killed the entire production crew.
According to reports by the Screen Actors Guild, nine serious injuries took place on the set of Titanic, with one so serious that a stuntman needed his spleen removed. This unprecedented level of harm, along with being way over budget, almost got production shut down.
The worst was yet to come, however. The crew sat down for some lobster chowder one day, unaware that it was poisoned with the illegal narcotic PCP. All eighty members of the crew were drugged and began hallucinating. Luckily, they were taken to the hospital before any permanent damage could be done.
10. The Godfather
The Godfather is one of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards (winning three) and was a huge success at the box office. The path to this great success was filled with strife, however, as many people had different ideas of how to bring Mario Puzo’s classic novel to the screen.
According to director Francis Ford Coppola, he was only hired due to a huge list of other directors refusing the job. When he was hired, he then had to fight to get both Marlon Brando and Al Pacino their roles.
When filming began, no one had any faith that the production was going to be a success. Coppola caught his own crew members bad-mouthing him behind his back, saying that the film was “junk” and that he had no idea what he was doing. Coppola heard rumours that he was to be replaced with fellow director Elia Kazan, and it was only due to Brando threatening to walk off the set if Coppola was fired that his was able to finish the film.
9. Apocalypse Now
When making a film about the Vietnam War, it is only natural that the production should end up in the jungles of Vietnam. This was not the case for Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now, as he decided to shoot the film in the Philippines. This decision led to many major problems on an already troubled shoot.
Along with the usual issues of filming in an exotic location (such as disease), Coppola did not have a finished script yet. Harvey Keitel was originally cast as the leading man, but was fired after two weeks of shooting. Martin Sheen was called in as his replacement, with no one aware of his ongoing issues related to alcoholism. After a month-long pause in shooting, Coppola wanted to return to the Philippines, but most of his production staff mutinied and left.
Another thing that caused numerous delays were the helicopters used in the film. They were on loan from the president of the Philippines, who then asked for them to be recalled so they could be used to fight off rebellions in his own country before they could be returned to the film.
8. The Bridge On The River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a classic World War II movie about the construction and, later, destruction of the Burma Railway. In real life, thousands of prisoners of war perished while building this railroad for the Japanese war effort.
The movie took over 250 days to film in Sri Lanka. Nearly all of this time was spent in the jungle, featuring scorching hot weather and squalid housing conditions for the crew (leading to numerous cases of dysentery). This was exacerbated by director David Lean’s thoroughness in getting the perfect shot as he would often take far longer than usual to film scenes. His lack of brevity also added another problem to the film – it went roughly $800 000 over budget (which was a staggering amount in 1957).
The harsh conditions on the production, coupled with the director taking far longer than originally planned actually led to an official union strike by the crew. This halted production until the crew were satisfied that conditions would improve for the remainder of the filming.
7. The Abyss
In 1989, computer graphics that could be used as special effects in films were still in their infancy. Nowadays, doing a film that is mostly underwater would be made easier through the use of CGI and green screen. When production began on The Abyss, a film mostly set aboard a submarine, they had to do things the hard way.
Roughly 40% of The Abyss took place underwater. This led to part of the production being filmed inside two giant concrete containment tanks in a nuclear power station. The cast were expected to film under the water, and had to be constantly monitored by professional divers armed with spare oxygen masks in order to prevent them from drowning.
Due to the cast using weighed down diving equipment so they could walk at the bottom of the tank, they frequently suffered from panic attacks brought on by claustrophobia. At one point, Ed Harris (who played Virgil) almost drowned because his safety diver was caught on a cable and couldn’t get to him quickly enough. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (who played Lindsey) suffered a physical and emotional breakdown on the set due to the stresses of filming.
Jaws is one of the scariest movies ever made. If after watching it you refused to go swimming, then the movie did its job. If you also refused to get into the bath, then it probably did its job too well.
The production of Jaws was a nightmare from start to finish. Despite being based on a famous novel, the movie did not have a finished screenplay. Many scenes that were due to be shot didn’t even have finished dialogue until the morning of the shoot, causing delays.
By far the biggest problem on the set of Jaws was the shark itself. The shoot required the use of three massive animatronic shark that barely worked. A lot of the problems with running the sharks only came up when filming in the water… which is kind of important when you are doing a film about a shark. These issues managed to inflate the production time and the budget to the point where it was lucky the film came out at all.
5. The Blues Brothers
Whilst filming The Blues Brothers, one of the titular siblings plunged the shoot into a cocaine-fuelled nightmare. John Belushi was already deep into the throes of the drugs that would one day claim his life when filming began.
Due to Belushi’s massive cocaine habit, coupled with his partying lifestyle, he managed to delay filming on numerous occasions by simply not being at locations when he was supposed to. Dan Aykroyd once went looking for Belushi after he went missing during filming and found him passed out in a home that he had just wandered into. Luckily for Belushi, he was a massive star in Chicago (where the film set) and the owner was cool with him eating all his food before passing out on the sofa.
As the film did not have a completed script going in, a lot of the car chase scenes were planned late in the production. These impromptu effects made the film go over budget by around $10 million dollars. As shooting went on, no one on the crew had any faith that the movie would be a success. Luckily for them, the film made $115 million at the box office, so all previous mistakes were quickly forgiven.
4. Life Of Pi
The film Life of Pi, which snagged its director Ang Lee an Oscar for Best Director, is known for its stunning visual effects. It seems that the effects may have been a little too stunning, however, as the VFX studio behind them went bankrupt.
All of the visual effects for Life of Pi were created by a studio named Rhythm & Hues. When Life of Pi was finished, the studio was $17 million in debt, despite the company having worked on both the Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings series. Rhythm & Hues were forced to declare bankruptcy, an act which left hundreds of their former workers unemployed.
A lawsuit was later filed by the ex-employees of Rhythm & Hughes against its three former directors. In the suit, it was claimed that they misappropriated company funds, using them to fund their family members’ businesses. They were further accused of mishandling the company’s assets to the point that they became worthless.
3. The Evil Dead
The plot of The Evil Dead mostly takes place in a haunted cabin in the woods. If you thought the cabin was scary in the film, it was nothing compared to what it did to people in real life.
When production began, the crew scouted out the cabin as the perfect location to use in the film. There were a few problems with this, however – most abandoned shacks in the woods don’t have heating, running water, or even electricity, something the crew quickly discovered. The only thing it had that they could use was a working phone line.
Due to the extremely cold weather and the lack of proper heating, whenever a possessed character had to use contact lenses, they could only be worn for around fifteen minutes at a time. Having to change the contact lenses repeatedly ended up slowing down the production even more.
As time went on, the crew could no longer afford to stay in the house they were using, so they all had to move into the cabin. They ended up having to burn all of the furniture in order to stay warm.
2. The Shining
When discussing the horrors behind the production of The Shining, all of the pain and terror were centred on one individual – Shelley Duvall.
In order to “help” his lead actress give a convincing performance as a terrified wife whose husband is trying to kill her, Stanley Kubrick decided to mentally abuse Shelley Duvall to the point where she was at her wit’s end. He kept her purposely separate from the rest of the cast and crew in order to instill in her the isolation that her character felt. Kubrick specifically told everyone (including his own daughter) not to fraternize, nor sympathize with Duvall during the shoot.
The pinnacle of this treatment came with the famous baseball bat scene at the top of the hotel stairs. This scene is in The Guinness Book of Records for having the highest number of recorded takes. Kubrick made Duvall do 127 takes. Shooting the film took over 500 days, due to Kubrick filming the scenes in chronological order (rather than reusing already prepared sets/locations, which would save a tremendous amount of time), meaning Shelley Duvall endured Kubrick’s torture for nearly a year and half.
When filming near the Amazon rainforest, you have a lot of things you need to look out for, such as dangerous animals, poisonous plants, and disease-spreading insects. The production crew behind Fitzcarraldo learnt this the hard way, however, as they discovered far more dangerous things out there in the jungle.
The production of Fitzcarraldo required the use of natives of the Amazon in order to have people who could work that were also familiar with the harsh environment. This led to director Werner Herzog paying the crew around two dollars a day, whilst they worked in appalling conditions. This led to the malaria-caused deaths of several crew members, who had no rules nor union to advocate for them.
Due to Herzog using actual tribes as extras (for realism’s sake) and then moving said extras into other tribes’ territories – he inadvertently kicked off a mini-civil war. Several extras working on the film were attacked by other indigenous tribes. This led to serious injuries on set as his crew literally had spears thrown at them.
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