It is a universal truth very rarely acknowledged that we’ve all directed a few of our own films in the theatre of one’s own imagination. Usually, they are quite basic compositions that entail an idealised version of yourself strutting down the street, scored by whatever is pounding in the old headphones at the time. These imagined movies always go swimmingly during production and are met with adulation by an audience of one (that deluded goon who just tripped over a paving stone and tried to style it out as something that was meant to happen).
The reality of working in Hollywood, however, is a world away and quite often this has to do with a disconnect between a director’s vision and the demands of the studio. From the outside looking in, it would seem Hollywood bigwigs exist only to meddle and derogate.
Whether it be a cigar-smoking depiction of an erratic movie totalitarian in Barton Fink, the seedy sinister conspirators in the recent Mank, or the tragically hilarious self-loathing in Steve Tesich’s epic novel Karoo — avenging silver screen dissidents have painted such a clear picture of the average producer, that most movie fans imagine if Shakespeare was reborn as a fledgeling writer-director then Romeo & Juliet would be redrafted by a script hack, hot off the cash-flowing heels of Avengers IX, as some sort of mild-mannered romcom ‘with some frontal nudity’.
Aside from meddling producers and moneymen, a multitude of things can cause mayhem in a movie’s production. Sometimes you watch a reel of comedy outtakes and think, ‘I can’t believe these lucky bastards get paid for this’, other times you hear of a movie so nightmarish in the making that it would seem if Dante was to rework his Inferno for modern times then filmmaking would surely be reserved as a circle of hell. The making of Predator was the latter to such an extent that the literal predator that they were hunting would’ve sooner left rather than be part of the shitshow.
John McTiernan’s 1987 sci-fi/horror starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a chopper loving hardman was beleaguered by bad luck throughout, and not least because of the jungle location. The first blow to production came when the first predator suit arrived after weeks of waiting. The bright red costume was described as looking like “a guy in a lizard suit with the head of a duck”. That’s hardly the sort of terrifying man-killer that could lurk unnoticed in the undergrowth that they were expecting. Naturally, this caused a lengthy setback as they had to wait for a less ridiculous hell beast outfit to arrive.
The next bump on the road came along when Jean-Claude Van Damme refused to perform stunts in the bulky replacement suit, thus a second stunt performer had to be hired and he almost instantly fractured his leg vindicating Van Damme’s concerns.
If this debacle indicated just what the cast and crew were up against while trying to shoot dangerous action in the depths of the jungle, then the training exercise that followed only reaffirmed the dangers further. An exercise designed to help out in times of emergency ended up causing one of its own. The cast and crew were stranded 20 miles from civilisation in the unrelenting heat of the jungle when several members became severely ill after drinking contaminated water.
Fortunately, the lead star Arnie avoided the sickness outbreak and returned back to base camp healthy, only to consume some dodgy street food and fall victim to his own bout of sickness. With production falling way behind schedule, he even had to film a scene with an IV bottle in his arm.
Then finally, just as things were back on track, McTiernan fell out of a tree and broke his wrist during production. Thankfully everyone survived the ordeal and the iconic movie stands as testimony that it was all just about worth it.