Greatest behind the scenes moviemaking stories

As Joel said in one of the Kickstarter updates, every movie is its own little miracle considering the massive amount of work that goes into making them, and every so often the story of making the movie is so crazy that it could make a good movie in its own right (see: The Disaster Artist). And the kind of movies featured on MST3k are especially prone to this given their typically low budgets and/or talent.

Probably the most amazing story of a riffed film is The Creeping Terror. Alan Silliphant, brother of the great screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night, The Poseidon Adventure, and incidentally the guy who convinced Hal Warren to make Manos) wrote the original script intending it to be a goofy parody of alien invasion films. Then he had the bad luck to have it picked up by a mysterious con artist known only by the alias “Vic Savage,” who insisted on treating it as a serious sci-fi film, causing Alan to walk off in disgust. Savage also stiffed the guy who created the monster suit, so he stole it, resulting in the infamous shagrug used in the film (with its operators boiling in the California heat and a few fainting from heatstroke). It’s unfortunately unclear how the soundtrack got lost, with my favorite of the numerous conflicting accounts being that the reels were knocked into a lake. In the end, Savage skipped town upon being sued for fraud, never to be seen again, though decades later a woman claiming to be his widow stated he’d died at just 41 years old, of liver failure.


I haven’t watched this pseudo-documentary yet, but have you heard about “The Creep Behind the Camera”?


I’ve watched it. It’s not good. The lead is so despicable that the film was not enjoyable. And it’s barely a documentary.


Good to know! The trailer did look a bit sketchy.


The Island of Dr Moreau, had some horrible behind the scenes “issues”


There’s a great documentary about that fiasco:

Anyone who has felt like Richard Stanley was to blame for the mess should absolutely watch the documentary.


Huh, interesting. I quoted @UZZLE at the top of ^^^ and it was immediately revoked, and the response marked as edited, as soon as it was posted.


I was reading about making of The Abyss and I was surprised at how grueling it was. After watching so many MST movies that took three days, this was something like six months of six-day, 70-hour weeks. Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio said how much they hated the movie and apparently Ed Harris refused to talk about it ever again. James Cameron himself admitted that it was a lot harder to shoot the movie than he had realized it would be.

One example. The movie features Ed Harris breathing using some sort of special fluid. The fluid does exist (and the mouse demonstration in the movie is real) but it hadn’t been tested on humans and so what they did instead was fill up his helmet with water, have him hold his breath and tow him through the water.

I liked the movie, but it sounds like it was a terrible experience for the actors.


To be fair, it was his idea to cast Brando and Kilmer so he’s not entirely blameless for some of the nightmare.


For a riffed movie, I always loved the backstory of “Teenagers From Outer Space.” It was loosely adapted for an episode of the short-lived animated series “Mission Hill.” Unfortunately, the true story didn’t have the show’s happy ending.

As for a non-riffed movie, I loved hearing about practical effects growing up. Documentary bits on things like “The Dark Crystal” or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” really appealed to me. I loved finding out how filmmakers made impossible creatures react to real, physical objects, environments, and people.


I watched the first few minutes when it was available for streaming on Amazon. I gave up quickly as it employed reenactments, which I do not care for.

Doomed is an interesting look at the Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four movie that, judging from the clips shown, was better than the ones that got released.


I’ve seen the whole thing thanks to the bootleg DVDs that are floating around, and you can absolutely tell this is a movie made for the sole purpose of holding onto the rights, which no one was supposed to actually see. Especially embarrassing is how they clearly couldn’t actually set anything on fire, which means the Human Torch never gets to actually do anything until the last scene, where he turns into what may well be the stiffest and most awkward CGI character in movie history.


Only in that it’s Corman bad and not bad bad.


There aren’t a ton of them, but I love documentaries about movies that didn’t make it to the screen (at least not on the first attempt) … if anyone knows of others, please share!

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Lost in La Mancha

Bonus entry:
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse … Apocalypse Now didn’t fall completely apart, but it certainly tried.


Well, thanks to a (sort of) coworker, I can actually access TONS of stories for behind the scenes stuff, but I think one of the most interesting ones I’ve heard of is the story behind the classic movie, Spartacus, and how it led to the Hollywood writer’s blacklist being completely dismantled, as well as led to one of the admittedly greatest Hollywood directors of all time being unwilling to even acknowledge that he directed it.

I won’t get into all the details, even though this post will still be long (I’ll post a link to the blog post below), but as the story goes, Kirk Douglas, one of the most bankable stars of the time, had just formed his own production company, and had decided that he wanted to film a movie similar to Ben-Hur, which he had yearned to be cast for and was bitterly disappointed when he wasn’t chosen for it. So his team found a novel called “Spartacus” by a man named Howard Fast, who agreed to let Douglas have the film rights for $100… IF he was allowed to write the script. Only problem was, Fast was not good at writing a script. So Douglas paid him off to the tune of several thousand dollars, but then realized he had a problem; he had partnered with Universal to make the film and now he needed a script in 14 days or he’d be at risk of violating his contract.

Cue the man of the hour… Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo was, at the time, probably the best screenplay writer in the business (he’s won Academy Awards for his writing several times, even when he wrote under a pseudonym for reasons which will quickly become apparent)… but there was just a teensy little problem. Trumbo had been blacklisted by the House Committee for Un-American Activities and was therefore unable to write the screenplay under his own name… but he had the ability to churn out a quality script in the timeframe Douglas needed it by. So Douglas hired Trumbo to write the screenplay (which he did by the semi-unorthodox method of filling up his tub, sitting in it nude, placing two boards over the tub with his typewriter on top of them, and churning out up to 20 pages of script a day), reasoning that he’d worry about the problem of crediting the writers later. So Douglas had a script, but then came another problem; the director.

Universal had mandated that Douglas use a director by the name of Howard Mann, who was a relative unknown at the time, but who understood schedules and budgets and who they felt would keep the production on time and under budget. But then Mann formed a friendship with actor Peter Ustinov (who was also in the production) and let him start stealing the show with improvised dialogue, which in turn led to Charles Laughton and Sir Laurence Olivier protesting and actually fighting over the issue… forcing Douglas to fire Mann. So now he needed a new, talented director… fast.

Enter none other than Stanley Kubrick. Who immediately threw a wrench into the production first by demanding that all the footage Mann had shot be redone (Douglas put a stop to that by telling him what they had was fine and to move on); then micromanaging the cinematographer to the point that the cast and crew started calling him “Stanley Hubris” behind his back. Things deteriorated further when Kubrick insisted they fire the current leading lady (saying she didn’t have the emotional range needed for the part), and then revealed how much of a perfectionist he was by insisting that shots be re-done over and over and over, and even going so far as to hire a group of amputees which he then fitted with prosthetics and had Douglas hack at with a sword so it would seem like real limbs were being chopped off during battle scenes. To add to this, the budget began slowly creeping up… and the movie got further and further behind schedule… but the actual footage was breathtaking, which allowed Kubrick and Douglas some leeway when it came to the studio (the fact that Universal was negotiating with MCA to have them buy the studio didn’t hurt either).

Things came to a head over two things; Kubrick’s lack of personal hygiene, and the penultimate scene where Crassus offers survivors of the battle a deal; identify the rebel leader Spartacus and they’ll be spared crucifixion. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that man after man stands up, each one calling out “I’M SPARTACUS”, showing their loyalty to their leader even under threat of death. It’s an incredible scene… and it almost didn’t make the film. Kubrick didn’t want to do it, and when talking to Douglas about that and his lack of hygiene (he hadn’t changed his clothes once in the months they’d been filming), he flat out admitted he didn’t care what the crew thought of him and he thought the idea for the scene (which was Douglas’) was stupid. Douglas snapped, and using the horse he was riding at the moment, literally pinned Kubrick to a wall and hissed at him " Listen you little prick. I’ve gone along with you on everything, and you’ve been right about most of it. You were right about cutting out almost all my dialogue… you’ve been right about making the battle scenes more realistic. It’s cost us a helluva lot of time and money, but I’ve supported you every step of the way… Shut up! …This may be a stupid idea, but we’re going to try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll cut it out – but we’re going to shoot it." And so the scene (arguably one of the most famous scenes in film history) made it into the film.

But back to Trumbo; during production, Kubrick often teamed with Ustinov, Olivier, and Laughton to re-write Trumbo’s script almost at will, which nearly led to Trumbo quitting the production. However, Douglas had an idea about crediting Trumbo that led to him staying; that they would wait until everything was in the can, and then put Trumbo’s name on the credits, presenting it as a sort of fait accompli that would, in theory, remove Trumbo from the blacklist. Only when it came time for that, Douglas ran into Kubrick YET AGAIN, who suggested that his name be put on as the writer instead, an idea Douglas vehemently vetoed and which ultimately (thanks to this incident and everything else on the production) led to Kubrick basically disavowing his association with the film in later years (he has consistently refused to name it among his accomplishments despite glowing reviews and a consistently high rating of the film among moviegoers). So Trumbo’s name went on the credits, and Spartacus effectively became the end of blacklisting in Hollywood.

There’s more to the story, and the blog post is well worth a read if you have the time (as are most of the blog posts on that blog, all of which have some great behind the scenes stories attached to the director or film or actor they’re about), but that’s the (relatively long) summary. Again, sorry for the length, but the story is just too good to cut much of it out!


Steven Spielberg’s 1941 was basically a giant drug-fueled party all through filming, with Spielberg and the writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale all feeding into into each other’s energy and causing the script to mutate just about daily (probably best exemplified by how one bit that got so far as being shot was a cameo by producer John Milius dressed as Santa Claus and doing an impression of “Bigfoot caught in your headlights” that he would often entertain the crew with, which of course absolutely no one in the general public would understand especially in those pre-Internet days). They’ve all described its massacre by the critics and middling box office as a much-needed humbling experience that allowed them to go on to the hugely successful careers they’ve enjoyed since.


It’s half documentary half fictional film. From what is stated in the commentary, they were unable to interview additional cast and crew to reach a feature length and they transitioned into a dramatization in order to finish. The lead is ridiculous and hijacks the picture. The movie has no subtlety in the recreated scenes. The interviews I thought were on point though and I wish they hadn’t mixed and matched the project.


This is pretty well known, but Mulholland Drive was originally a TV pilot shot for ABC, and when it was rejected Lynch shot more footage and worked his magic to turn it into an excellent movie.
Basically the first 2/3 of the movie are scenes from the TV pilot.


One that’s directly related to MST3K has to be the sad tale of Winky from Rocky Jones: Space Ranger, as seen in the experiments Manhunt in Space and Crash of the Moons.

While there are several more “movies” to follow, after Crash of the Moons, Winky and Professor Newton are never seen or heard from again. This is because the actor who played Professor Newton tragically died of a heart attack shortly after completing filming on the first season, and the actor who played Winky, Scotty Beckett, wasn’t available for filming because he was too busy fleeing the country after skipping bail because he was implicated in a hotel robbery and wanted on weapons charges.

He ended up down in Mexico, where he passed a bunch of bad checks, ended up in a shootout with the cops , got arrested again, extradited back to the U.S., served 4 months, then decided to turn his life around and pursue a career in law, failed that, became a used car salesman, failed that, got arrested as a drug mule, ended up seriously injured after crashing his car while driving under the influence, spent the next few years in and out of rehab, assaulted his wife, tried to stab a neighbor, and attempted suicide multiple times, only to die under mysterious circumstances after he was found severely beaten, presumably by one of the several shady individuals he owed money to.

From what I can tell, Beckett was very much the prototype for the Diff’rent Strokes style child actor gone rogue. He went from being one of the Our Gang kids, to a fairly impressive film career for a young actor, but he liked to party and didn’t like paying his gambling debts, which is a dangerous combination, which meant his career was already on the rocks by the time he took the part on Rocky Jones.

Still, you wouldn’t know that by looking at him in those old serials. He may have played an obnoxious dink living in his own rich fantasy life, but at that point he still appears to have had his act together enough to make it through recording sober… or at least hide it well enough that it took committing a felony to get him fired.


Let me also put in a mention of Hotel Torgo, a short documentary on… well, I think you know what movie. :slight_smile: