Comedy Central’s Big Time In Hollywood, FL focuses on the exploits of two brothers and amateur filmmakers who get in over their heads as their latest project/scheme spirals out of control. Big Time In Hollywood, FL’s Dolfe brothers, Jack and Ben, might just be a couple of kids trying to hoodwink their parents, but actual Hollywood (California) directors have gotten stuck in their own insane quagmires. In this sponsored post, we’re looking back at some of cinema history’s most notable real life directorial debacles as an appetizer for the fictional filmmaking disaster that’s unfolding on Big Time In Hollywood, FL.
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The attempted road to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film version of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel was so beset by troubles and high hopes that it inspired an entire documentary, called simply Jodorowsky’s Dune. The Chilean director was riding high on a pair of cult hits—El Topo and The Holy Mountain—when he decided to adapt the nearly unadaptable book, roping in everybody from Salvador Dali to Orson Welles to his own son. But he never shot a frame, and David Lynch ended up making it into his own semi-disaster in 1984.
David O. Russell is a massively talented but notoriously prickly director, though it seems like his attitude had less to do with the trainwreck of Nailed than troubled financing. Russell began shooting the film in 2008 with a great cast, including Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, and Tracy Morgan. But production was stopped nine times before Russell finally up and quit. The film was finished by others and eventually had a quiet release (as Accidental Love) this year.
Even in 1942, just a year after its release, Citizen Kane had already been enshrined as a cinema masterpiece. You might think that would grant Kane director Orson Welles some creative leeway for his next project, The Magnificent Ambersons, but Welles’ studio, RKO, didn’t see it that way. After Welles and editor Robert Wise finished a near-final 132-minute cut of Ambersons, Welles departed for Brazil to start work on another project. While he was away, RKO executives—already peeved at Welles for contract disputes and cost overruns—slashed the film to 88 minutes to make it more accessible to audiences. Worse yet, the cut footage was either destroyed or lost. And on top of all that, RKO forced Welles’ assistant director to film a new, cheerier ending that clashed with the somber mood Welles envisioned. The clumsy handling of Amberson’s helped precipitate Welles’ angry departure from the Hollywood studio system.
When Hollywood directors lobby to have their names removed from films with which they no longer want to be associated, those films frequently end up credited to the fictional Alan Smithee. In an art-becomes-life twist, the director of a film about a director trying to get his name removed from a film—Arthur Hiller—actually had his name removed from that very film. (Layers upon layers!) The Directors Guild eventually retired the pseudonym, supposedly inspired at least in part by An Alan Smithee Film.
The word “quixotic” means “foolishly impractical,” and it implies that a task at hand is noble but pretty much impossible. So it’s fitting that director Terry Gilliam has been trying to nobly but unsuccessfully make his own weird film out of the novel that inspired the word, the 17th-century classic Don Quixote. Gilliam has been thwarted over the years—nine times!—by weather, financing, and more. He’s supposedly going to start shooting again this year—minus long-attached star Johnny Depp—but we’ll see if the gods will actually let it happen.