So after reading this Hollywood Reporter story about the sturm and drang of filming this thing, I was put in mind of tales that leaked from the sets of Apocalypse Now and from James Cameron’s The Abyss (an experience that proved so horrible, it made Ed Harris cry).
Veteran crewmembers who have toiled on director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant say the director’s follow-up to Birdman could turn out to be epic and Oscar-worthy. Some also say that making the film has been by far the worst experience of their careers — “a living hell,” as one bluntly puts it.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as early 19th century explorer Hugh Glass, Revenant went into production in September and was supposed to wrap in March. But cameras still will be rolling into August as the budget has climbed well past $95 million, with insiders predicting it will reach or exceed $135 million. Crewmembers say they have seen huge turnover, including many who were fired and others who quit. They say the behind-the-scenes drama led Inarritu to bar producer Jim Skotchdopole, who worked with him on Birdman, from the set.
Inspired by real events, Revenant follows DiCaprio’s character through deep snow and ordeals including battles with Native Americans and a near-fatal mauling by a bear. Inarritu, 51, made the unusual choice to shoot the film in sequence, using only natural light. While the plan was to film DiCaprio’s trek entirely in Canada, the weather did not cooperate, so the filmmakers now are headed to a location at the tip of Argentina in quest of snow.
The images are startling, which is not surprise given the director. But good gravy and abag of rocks, what they had to endure to capture them.
Multiple sources say the film started to spin out of control early on, as a major battle scene was shot over two weeks. Originally it was going to involve about 30 trappers and about as many Native Americans, but it expanded to 200 players. Leaving little time for the crew to prepare, Inarritu decided that a naked character should be dragged along the ground. The director remembers being concerned about the actor’s genitals and laying down plastic sheeting to protect him. “I asked him several times, ‘Are you fine?’ ” says Inarritu. Each time he asked, he says the actor replied that he was prepared to try another take. “I was super considerate because he was a nice, 22-year-old guy,” says Inarritu. While crewmembers say the actor was in pain, Inarritu dismisses that as “a lie.”
The director says safety always was a priority and no serious injuries occurred on set. An actor who was immersed in freezing water had a broken dry suit, volunteers Inarritu, “but he was taken care of 10 minutes after he was done.” A crewmember says some necks of the dry suits were cut off so they wouldn’t show on film, but first assistant director Scott Robertson denies that and says just one actor’s dry suit had the neck cut, and it was only to aid him after he reacted adversely to the cold water. Overall, Robertson says, there was a great deal of rehearsal and planning to protect the cast and crew. “We had a safety meeting every day of the movie, sometimes multiple times,” he says. “No one got hurt on the film with all the crazy shit we did.”
OK, calm down, just asking…
What’s interesting about Inarritu is that he appears to despise the overly technologized modern Hollywood film, and yet goes out of his way to produce the same kinds of effects “naturally,” which is to say, with the camera rather than in the computer.
Still, some crewmembers believe a lot of misery could have been avoided — and money saved — if at least some parts of the movie had been conceived with computer-generated effects. “That’s exactly what I didn’t want,” counters Inarritu. “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit.” Revenant is about survival, he says, and the actors and crew benefited from having to make it in nature.
“When you see the film, you will see the scale of it,” promises Inarritu. “And you will say, ‘Wow.’ “
I bet. Take a look for yourself.
Opens Christmas Day. It’s one of those “just in time for Oscar consideration” rollouts, with showings in a couple of big cities first and then the big release come January 2016.
By the way, I came across these “Making of…” videos, with the actors and crew talking about what filming The Abyss was like. (My dad and I saw this at Radio City Music Hall when it opened. I don’t remember how we scored tickets, but I do remember having dinner beforehand at a joint on 57th Street and seeing Martha Plimpton at the next table.)
Below are parts 1 and 6 (if you’re interested, go to YouTube.com for the other parts):
That critique of the supernatural/space alien storyline is very true. They should have stuck with the human drama, which was tense enough. By introducing jellyfish from the planet Bongo, the whole story arc went sideways. Dropping the alien sub-story would have made the film tighter and less…ludicrous.
And while we’re at it, whatever happened to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio? She was one of my favorite actresses for years.