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Frozen cameras, naked extras, and other tales from the set of The Revenant

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Aside from reminding Academy voters that they have yet to give Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar and maybe they should get on that, the recently released trailer for The Revenant promised a visually stunning historical adventure from both a director—Alejandro González Iñárritu—and a cinematographer—Emmanuel Lubezki—at the peak of their talents. Following last year’s Oscar wins for Birdman, Iñárritu and Lubezki could do pretty much anything they wanted, and anything they wanted they did, insisting on the highly unorthodox techniques of shooting the movie in order, and only under natural light.

The result was what crew members are calling “a living hell,” according to a dishy article in The Hollywood Reporter. The film, which was supposed to shoot from last September until this March in Canada, is still in production, with crew members currently traveling as far as Argentina trying to find snow. There has been huge turnover in the crew for the film, including fighting between Iñárritu and producer Jim Skotchdopole that eventually led to Skotchdopole reportedly being barred from the set, a report that Iñárritu denies. (The fact that the budget of the film has climbed to $95 million, and may end up costing as much as $135 million before it’s done, might have contributed to said arguments.)


Nature itself doesn’t seem to want The Revenant to get finished; after weeks wasted on set due to a lack of snow—“even attempts to manufacture it or truck it in failed,” according to THR—temperatures dropped to 25 degrees below zero (-40 with the wind chill), so cold that it broke the cameras. Without the use of artificial light, shooting was limited to only a few hours a day, and the slightest change of weather could sabotage an entire day’s shooting. Actors were forced to contend with broken dry suits in freezing cold water, and one extra was dragged along the ground completely naked during a battle scene involving more than 200 people. Despite all this, no one was seriously hurt; as first assistant director Scott Robertson says, “We had a safety meeting every day of the movie, sometimes multiple times. No one got hurt on the film with all the crazy shit we did.”

Some disgruntled crew members say that all of this could have been avoided if Iñárritu had been willing to compromise and use CGI for some scenes, an argument Iñárritu completely rejects. “If we ended up in green screen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit,” he says. The Revenant is a movie about survival, he argues, and so a little bit of hardship was necessary to make it feel real. It worked for Apocalypse Now