Reshoots are not just a case of ousting a thespian as if nothing has happened other than what amounts to an array of expensive screen tests. Contrary to wishful thinking on behalf of the many studios, reshoots are not delayed pick-up shots. If reshoots are like rehab then meetings are like interventions. If an actor or actress is replaced after shooting a number of scenes that go way beyond the screen test stage, there is no way that it can’t be an inconvenience unless it’s been planned beforehand. It’s not cheap if the ousted performer is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Unless non-union personnel are hired, SAG-affiliated cast and crew members have to be paid more for coming back. This wouldn’t be a problem if the producers want publicity from expenditure. Some movies only get attention because of this.
It’s the next thing to impossible to do extensive reshoots on a Hollywood feature film whose maximum spending is under three or four million dollars. A great deal of this has to do with the fact that all of the studios have heavy duty contracts with the unions which require a lot of people to be around the set, whether you need them or not. If you intend to do any location work, you’ve got to hire Teamsters to drive the trucks, and they don’t come cheap. Union contracts prevent the same make-up person from making up both faces and bodies. The studio is hardly blameless, as their creative accounting methods will pass off as much of the overhead of running the studio onto the production budgets of films as they can get away with. Add it all up, throw in the stuff you really need, and you just can’t get away cheap.
Studio administration (not just lawyers and agents) have to vet the contracts. If Gene Hackman had signed a contract for reshoots in Superman II, he would’ve been contractually obligated to stay. If footage of a replaced actor has to be reused (as was the case in Aliens), the script supervisor (a.k.a. the continuity checker) has to be more of an eagle eye than usual. If there is a legal barrier that prevents the film-makers from reusing footage without the actor’s permission then the script supervisor (as well as other crew members along with cast members) have to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Walter Hill didn’t have to worry about this when firing Thomas G. Waites from The Warriors. His character simply met a premature end which happened logically. This also happened to Conan Lee after squabbling with Phillip Ko during the making of Fury in Red.
Tammy Lauren temporarily retired from acting after being dismissed from a CBS TV series titled Martial Law. She made it as far as five episodes – the first episode being the most notable because the original pilot was half an hour and featured Dale Midkiff as Louis Malone until The Magnificent Seven was picked up. Even though the network loved Tammy, Jack Clements (the producer) hated her. He came up with an excuse to dismiss her by retooling Martial Law as the TV version of Rush Hour. Arsenio Hall filled her place, and it was only better when compared to the Rush Hour TV reboot. As a result of the dismissal, Tammy was left to pick up the pieces of her shattered confidence. This would come back to haunt Jack as the show would only last for 2 seasons. Tammy’s role was popularly cynical – she was the oppositional protagonist with a heart of gold.
At least she was given time to make an impact, Holly Fields suffered from battered pride when she was no longer allowed to play Piper in Charmed before a single frame was shot. The reason was for this was because of the coincidentally-named Holly Marie Combs having a particular relation to one of the stars (the lead actress who played Prue). When interviewed for the January 1999 issue of Femme Fatales, Fields said: “Shannen Doherty wanted her friend to play my part. It was one of the best pilot scripts I’ve read in my life. I was so excited about the part, but then Combs ended up doing it. At least she’s a really good actress. If she’d been a horrible actress, I would have been really mad.”
If a director doesn’t want to forego an actress who isn’t available then he will film around her instead of casting someone who may be miscast or problematic in general (drugs are more manageable than divas). Given how many takes can go into a single shot, it would be interesting if someone had the money to film the same shot with a different actress so as to see who fares better in the dailies or in the test screenings. With or without firings, the director would need to consult with the unit production manager because of budgetary preparations, location approval, shooting schedules, meals and transportation. If a director was to suddenly die, the U.P. manager should take over since they have the storyboard and the overall bigger picture. A greedy co-director could still be credited as the sole director as long as he directed at least 51%.
It’s not enough to worry about the availability of the cast and the consistency of the overall movie. Sound stages and the backlot in general may have been already booked for other films. Locations have to be renegotiated. If not, new ones will be procured. Delays can be hampered by undesired weather and obligations to other projects. These external delays can also hinder what may be a case of perfect timing in terms of distribution. If the release date can’t be delayed then the shooting schedule has to go into overtime and weekends to meet it. It’s what they refer to as the golden hour. For action films, you would need to pay for more second-unit professionals and post-production staff if you’re dealing with CGI. This last issue is particularly problematic if the director is a novice (or a foreign first-timer as was the case with Demolition Man) who is being given the opportunity so that he can be controlled.
If reshoots on an action movie involve replacing someone who did extensive training and stunt-work, the insurance company would need to be renegotiated with (this didn’t happen on Aliens but it did happen on Full Metal Jacket). If a military instructor couldn’t be brought back, they would have to find another one. One scenario for reshoots is when a company is unable to finish due to a lack of either confidence or financing. Another company could purchase the rights to the film and complete it so that they can boast that they did something with it that their competitor couldn’t. If the cast members are available, the transition will be smooth like TV networks renewing a series. If only some members are available, exposition would suspend disbelief. If not, unused reels will be shown within the context of a character’s TV or cinema screen.
Editing is the most important aspect of film-making because it decides what the structure is (order of scenes and/or shots). The use of dissolves can ease the potentially jarring shifts of tone or time, especially if you have to compensate for narrative gaps. You can get away with this for incomplete movies. You can get away with incomplete movies if the financing is miniscule or if the investor is a millionaire. Cynthia Rothrock’s first movie, 24 Hours to Midnight, was incomplete circa 1985, so Leo Fong decided to do what Godfrey Ho did – combining old footage with new footage of a different movie altogether in the hopes that something would mesh. When nothing was meshing, the editors had to think of new footage to film. As for why the movie wasn’t complete in the first place, Cynthia had fallen out with her boyfriend.
Coincidentally, something similar would later happen with Lady Reporter. She had a relationship with the director since 1985 (i.e. Mung Hoi a.k.a. Harrison Mang as credited on No Retreat, No Surrender) but the movie was shelved due to a conflict of interest. When it was revealed in 1988 that Sylvester Stallone was thinking of casting her in a movie, Golden Harvest brought Cynthia back to complete the movie (released in the U.K. as Born to Fight) which became known overseas as Above the Law 2 (a sequel to the alternate ending of Righting Wrongs). It was released in H.K. as Blonde Fury. Yuen Kuei (a.k.a. Yuen Kwai or Corey Yuen) was the new director and choreographer. The reshoots remind me of what happened with the recent Fantastic Four reboot i.e. the actress has dark blonde hair in the old footage, and light blonde hair in the new footage.
ln the October 1991 issue of Martial Arts Illustrated, Bey Logan revealed the difference in plot between Lady Reporter (1987) and Blonde Fury (1989): “In the original version, Cyndy is a naïve young reporter who comes to the aid of her friend Judy, whose father is attempting to prosecute a top gangster in a fraud case. The father is drugged, and the owner of Cyndy’s newspaper kidnapped. Together, Rothrock, an insurance investigator (Chin Siu Ho) and a photographer (Mung) stage an assault on the villain’s lair to free the newspaper boss, and gain the evidence needed to ensure a conviction in court. In the fresh version released here by VPD as Above the Law 2, Cynthia is an F.B.I. agent sent to investigate a counterfeiting ring.”
The narrative structure was changed significantly: “The film’s original end sequence now takes place towards the middle of the movie. Set in the strangely bare Dragons Forever set, it was to have seen Mung Hoi fight kickboxer Billy Chow, and get beaten up. Chin Siu Ho beats Billy Chow, then gets kicked to bits by Thai boxer Wei, who in turn is defeated by Rothrock. In the released version, the Chow/Mung fight is more or less cut all together, and Chin’s duel is also trimmed. Keen-eyed viewers will spot the unconscious form of the newspaper owner (Wu Ma) through the door via which Wei makes his entrance. Wu Ma plays quite a different character in the finished print, and isn’t supposed to be in the scene at all!”
Reels which equate to that of a short film can be reformatted as proof of concept (a storyboard that shows potential to would-be investors). This leads to an ethical dilemma which has been done before – casting an actor or actress in a movie so that a rival competitor can not use him nor her. The ideology behind it is that the selected choice will be a placeholder for a bigger star to assume the mantle. Many times, there has been an instance where someone dropped out of something or turned down something to appear in something else which dissipated. Studios are willing to waste a lot of money for an endgame, hence why Morgan Creek wasted money to reshoot Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist as Exorcist: The Beginning. They were even willing to lie about the original cut being lost so that they can claim to discover it as was the case with The Exorcist III.
Another scenario is finding a way for short films to be certified as well as bankable as feature-length films. A director could make two short films that could be edited as one film as long as additional scenes are shot which explain the connection. It would be the cinematic equivalent to a cross-over except less obvious due to using the same film stock or digital camera. A film that was scrapped by the director or rejected by a distributor can be incorporated within the context of another film by having a character tell a campfire or bedtime story. Alternate scenes can be used as dreams, daydreams, nightmares or misguided premonitions. Replaced cast members (or even finalists for test shots) could have their footage be depicted as parodies, reconstructions or biopics as long as the other cast members don’t share the screen.
Overseas distributors can necessitate reshoots by prompting the producer to have big stars. For example, Guy Pearce starred as Errol Flynn in two versions of the same film as seen by the titles – Flynn and My Forgotten Man. Guy described it as the worst film that he was ever involved with. Slave Girl was a melodrama titled The Flame of Tripoli, but the cast and crew realized that it was better to make a laugh-out-loud comedy than a laughable drama. The test screenings weren’t promising, so more reshoots were commissioned. The changes paid off. Back to the aforementioned Superman II, the original director wanted to make a more serious film. Similarly, Fantastic Four (2015) was initially intended to be a body horror film until the studio got cold feet. The finished result was neither here nor there.
In an episode of Hollywood’s Best Film Directors, Joe Dante talked about directing a Sci-Fi movie that was produced by Steven Spielberg. Innerspace was conceived as a serious film until Jeffrey Boam rewrote the screenplay after pitching it under the scenario of imagine if Dean Martin shrank and was put inside the body of Jerry Lewis. This affected a change in casting in that Dennis Quaid was cast because of his ability to impersonate Dean, whereas Martin Short was cast because he was quirkier than the other actors in the same way that Jerry was quirkier than anyone else during the height of his fame and popularity. Because of the change in script, Dante became the director because Spielberg didn’t have a reputation for being a comedy director. Dante joked that he would be hired for movies which Spielberg wasn’t going to do.
Rewrites cost more money than people realize. It’s not just a matter of salary and printing hundreds of paper sheets, but copyrighting. More dialogue can result in a higher percentage of the box office intake. Regardless, rewriting is a cheaper yet more sensible alternative to recasting and reshooting. A screenplay will have to be shortened or at least rewritten to be cheaper because the star power is unavailable or uninterested. If a screenplay is shortened, it means that the distributors have conferred with the exhibitors to learn that a movie can only be a certain length depending on who is starring in it. A movie that is over two hours long has to prominently feature (if not star) someone who starred in a movie that grossed a fifth of a billion dollars. For instance, Pulp Fiction prominently featured Bruce Willis.
With stars, distributors can still be evasive. Into the Forest cost 6 million dollars to make but was produced by 17 people because small amounts from many accounts will lead to less worrisome and quarrelsome minds. This is an indication that it wasn’t exactly going to be a blockbuster. It wasn’t going to be made until Telefilm Canada (a feature film fund) invested over 2 million dollars. Even after it’s made, the distributor doesn’t have to distribute. Sometimes, the distribution can cost as much as the production. Each print can cost 2,000 dollars, so opening a movie on 3,000 screens could cost 6 million. The distributor must be sure that the movie can draw enough people to make the costs worthwhile, especially since publicity can cost at least 10 million. Into the Forest was a flop that was a death knell for the star’s A-list movie career.
If the director has already exposed several hundred-thousand feet of film to realize a casting mistake, then that exposed film still has to be developed by a laboratory, who charge by the foot. To avoid costs, directors should know if things aren’t working by looking at the monitor while the camera operators are bringing the director’s shots to life (thus why it doesn’t take more than a month of filming to realize that someone is miscast). Whatever the reason for reshoots, entrusting a first-time director to direct a mega budget film is only good if you want to cause a bit of a stir in the press (as was the case with Tron Legacy and Maleficent). Big budget productions shouldn’t be given to directors whose only experience are within the realm of music videos and commercials. Directors who have directed TV serials tend to adhere to deadlines.
TV serials are easier to reconfigure due to the free-form nature of the medium. Glenn Quinn’s short-lived time as Allen Francis Doyle on Angel was written off as a simple case of throwing a curveball to the fans. Such deception was easy to pull off because Joss Whedon is renowned for his plot twists. It was only three years later that it became obvious that Glenn had a drug problem. In 2002, he died. This calls into question other times in TV serials where characters disappear with no explanation. In the old days, stars wouldn’t get enough time to have love interests because it was revealed that those playing the latter were homosexual. Either the executives assumed that they wouldn’t partake in heterosexual activities or the producers experienced some sort of disallowance. In the days which exist between old and new, a thespian may have left because of refusing to engage in physical interracial romance.
Low-budget film-makers, like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, end up doing reshoots on bigger movies. Necessary reshoots can be achieved in other ways like voiceover narration or an epilogue. Continuity errors should be fixed in post-production but never are. Crew should disguise themselves and their equipment but never do e.g. dressing in the same clothes as the characters who can be seen in the reflections. You would think that directors know that we can see the lighting screens on glasses and sunglasses. Exterior shots should be done on fake streets because there won’t be people looking at the camera. Likewise with transportation interiors unless it’s during a time of day when commuters aren’t around. Abandoned factories are ideal substitutes for sound stages. Filming shots in chronological order would stifle continuity errors, but thespians need to memorize even simple actions.
Another solid way to restrict continuity errors is to halt improvisations from cast members. If they must improvise, multiple cameras should be used so as to allow for seamless editing. Contracts usually describe reshoots as an additional period of post-production services. The reshoots clause can be seen as the devil coming to collect your soul. Debating before, during and after production is pointless when test screenings indicate things that may or may not have been suggested in any given aspect of the creative process. Also, test screenings are not representative of the majority of the ticket holders. In actual fact, reshoots would be avoided if surveys were conducted prior to the making of the film. Film-making without surveys made sense before the golden age of social networking websites. Teens shouldn’t be trusted for R-rated films.
It’s already happened, in a sense, with TV serials where viewers can cast their votes for their preferred ending (ala Psych and Hawaii Five-0). I’m surprised that there isn’t a reality TV show about test screenings. Out of all the actors who were cast before being cast away, Harvey Keitel is the most ashamed (Apocalypse Now and Eyes Wide Shut). Out of all the actresses who went through the hiring and firing process, Judy Garland was the most ashamed of them all (fired from Annie Get Your Gun and Valley of the Dolls). Ironically, Garland replaced a pregnant June Allyson in Royal Wedding but was then replaced by Jane Powell, when her drug problems caused serious production delays. TV budgeting was cutting into studio profits in the early `50s, so the days of long delays caused by star behaviour were over. Emily Lloyd also got fired from three movies but she is the least famous. She hasn’t warranted a mention in history books.
The Royal Wedding hoo-ha marked the end of Garland’s film career at MGM, who thought long and hard then figured that her problems were mounting. They surmised that she’d never really be a bankable commodity again. Her comebacks, each riddled with problems due to her drug abuse and mental health, proved that MGM was partially correct. Reshoots of Jonah Hex (this article’s featured image) resulted in Megan Fox calling it her worst film. Hancock managed to have reshoots despite being a project that spent over a decade in development Hell. Sometimes, projects are in this state because the producers know that there will be reshoots. If such shoots turn out well, the producers get plaudits. If they turn out bad, the producers don’t have to worry about saving their skins because most people would associate the scenes with the director unless it’s obvious that scenes have been reshot.
The most unfair instances of reconstructing is when Pat Johnson was credited as the sole fight choreographer for both Shootfighter (1993) and Mortal Kombat (1995). The former was reshot by John Barrett (who played Mongoose) whereas the latter had two additional fight scenes by Robin Shou – Scorpion challenging Johnny Cage and Reptile ambushing Liu Kang. The only reason why Pat retained sole credit is that both movies relied on advertising him as the choreographer, especially in magazines aimed at a community who should be aware that the Miyagi and turtle movies are not the best for martial arts action. If a production overruns and the budget goes into loan-shark territory, the producer goes to his insurance company who asks to see the continuity sheets. If a cast member’s name features heavily when discussing delays, there will be a decrease in employability.
Orson Welles couldn’t bring in a film on time, so he had a gradually difficult time in raising funds to make his cinematic dreams happen. This not only explains why Jackie Chan was disallowed to be a director for the majority of the nineties, but why Sammo Hung was credited as the sole guide on The Moon Warriors (1992) after the fact (i.e. being a guest director who had a say in how the overall film was being edited). It’s a testament to his talent as a perfect visionary that a film involving the work of four other visionaries has a running time that falls way short of the hour and a half standard. The same can’t be said for Swordsman (1990). This had six directors spoiling the broth. Having more than one director is only good if time is a factor (time is money). If the budget is that tight, it’s best to film all the master shots first.
In Michael Caine’s Acting in Film, he made a remark that instantly reminded me of Brandon Lee’s death during the filming of The Crow. Michael claims that the only time that a cast member is requested to do a dangerous stunt is on the last day of filming when no-one cares about said member because most of the footage is in the can. In 2000, there was an old message board where the topic was about how movies would have fared if actors had switched roles. Someone wished that Tom Berenger and William Baldwin switched parts in a Sharon Stone film. Jim Beaver had this to say:
“They sort of did. I was in Sliver. Originally, the film was filmed with one actor as the killer. Three months after we shot the film, we were all called back to shoot a couple of new sequences, which made a different actor the killer. Producers decided that audiences would be happier if it ended differently, so they reshot a couple of scenes to make it end differently, despite the entire house of cards of the film having been structured on the original ending. The first version was pretty stupid, but the second version was idiotic. It was the first time that I ever went to a cast-and-crew screening of a film where the picture was booed!”
On a final note, if Steven Spielberg could afford to shell out several thousand dollars from his own account for Jaws then richer directors should follow suit. The most materialistic example of a reshoot is when Eddie Murphy’s character was added to Best Defense after it took a test screening to realize that Dudley Moore wasn’t appealing enough. The strangest reshoot was when Olivia Munn played different characters in Iron-Man 2. For all of the continuity errors which reshoots bring forth, reshoots are better than using stock footage produced on a different film stock. If it is not possible to reshoot and the production is abandoned, all of the negative film coverage will reimburse the insured’s expenses. Speaking of negative, Winona Ryder and Claire Danes had to reshoot Beth’s deathbed scene because a lab worker spilled Coke on the film of the original take.
In general, doing more than one take only makes sense when cast members can’t keep a straight face during a comic scene. Lastly, if a film has two writers then there’s bound to be disagreements in a way that results in one version of the screenplay becoming a novelization. Usually, the penultimate (second-to-last) draft becomes the novelization. This means that there are less chances of one screenwriter selling the other one down the river. Using a shooting script as the basis for the novelization results in a pointless retread which leads to a lack of book sales.