Nobody ever said that making movies was easy. At the same time, though, it shouldn’t kill you. Throughout the history of cinema, a number of shoots were reported to be so downright dangerous that, as a result, the stories behind the productions have become more legendary than the film itself.
It’s no secret that ruthless filmmakers will happily put their cast and crew through physical, mental, and emotional harm in the bid to make a great movie. On other occasions, it just seems as if a film shoot was destined to go wrong. Whatever the case, the following five examples look at films that made it through such trials and tribulations, and surprisingly onto the big screen.
Ben-Hur: A tale of the Christ (1925)
When considering how dangerous some shoots can be, it’s impossible to not mention the 1925 version of Ben-Hur. During the infamous chariot scene, one stuntman actually lost his life when he fell of his horse and was trampled to death. In addition to the stuntman, it is estimated that nearly 100 horses also died during the production. For reasons that remain unexplained to this day, the second unit director would not send problem animals to a veterinarian, choosing instead to shoot them on the spot. With a keen eye towards realism, the film notoriously nabbed a total of 11 Oscars, tying it for the most ever won by a single film.
The African Queen
With a shoot location in both Uganda and the Congo, The African Queen was never going to be an easy ride and led to many problems for the cast and crew. Residing in a primitive setting, many of those involved with the film developed malaria and dysentery; slowing production to a standstill. Katharine Hepburn was one of the most affected and had a bucket nearby during some scenes, in case she vomited. Only the film’s main star, Humphrey Bogart, and director John Huston managed to escape the health issues. It’s questionable whether this can be attributed to the fact that the two men consumed whiskey instead of water.
The Blair Witch Project
Developed on a shoestring budget, co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez wanted to keep the feeling of the film as real as possible to generate a spooky feeling that translated well on the big screen. To reach this desired effect, the directors forced the actors to go without sleep and food. In addition, they constantly moved the actors around the forest set in order to naturally disorient them; taking them the edge of physical and mental exhaustion. The sacrifice paid off and the film was a huge success, grossing almost $250 million at the box office.
The makers of 2011’s mega-low budget Bellflower cut corners wherever possible and threw caution to the wind when it came to many safety concerns. During one scene in the film, a propane tank is spectacularly exploded. To cause the explosion, bullets were fired into the tank and narrowly missed the head of Jon Keevel; one of the engineers. Throughout the filming process, there were many other situations so dangerous that primary actors Tyler Dawson and Jessie Wiseman have both stated how lucky they feel to be alive.
In pure terms of scale, no films can match the danger involved in shooting of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Shot in Peru, local natives involved in the production offered to kill the main star, Klaus Kinski, if Herzog wished. As if a death threat was not enough, other perilous situations were also present. One cast member was bit by a deadly snake and used a chainsaw to amputate his own food while another drowned. Other stories include a cinematographer who had stitches sewn into his hand without anaesthesia and a cast member who was paralysed. On top of all this, no models or special effects were used. What you see in the film is an actual steamboat being dragged through a rainforest. Truly the most dangerous set ever, the filming of Fitzcarraldo has become a true behind-the-scenes legend.
Article written by the folks at PolicyExpert.co.uk.