Anybody who has ever worked on a film of any scale can imagine how difficult full-blown Hollywood productions can be. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides stands as one of the most expensive movies ever filmed at $379 million, and this was due to its technical difficulties and the sheer size of the project. From gargantuan sets to complex sound editing and strategic marketing, the amount of work it takes to produce a film is a feat in itself.
Here are some of the standout films that have been known to be extremely difficult to produce but paid off in spades with their success and recognition up until today:
The war-drama film needed a realistic setting to represent the Vietnamese landscape as closely and accurately as possible, so director Francis Ford Coppola chose to shoot the movie in the Philippines. The cast and crew encountered immense difficulty with the climate as Typhoon Olga destroyed the set and nearly all their equipment. This pushed the production back eight weeks.
Filming was supposed to take just five months but ended up stretching out to over a year. Martin Sheen also had a heart attack while filming. All those challenges paid off in the long run as Apocalypse Now remains one of the most popular films to date.
Shooting a film at sea can pose several challenges, especially if scenes need to be shot underwater. When Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was shot in the 1970s, the main obstacle they faced was not having an underwater camera and finding workarounds to still create an effective thriller. They just didn’t have the technology to easily support Spielberg’s vision.
Today, however, there are now underwater cameras with waterproof components, including a waterproof printed circuit board (PCB) and weather-sealed lenses. These cameras have rigid-flex PCBs that are lightweight and highly durable, making underwater cameras easy to maneuver. The size of this circuitry allows manufacturers to easily make them waterproof. If they had this technology back then, production would have been much smoother. You can see this in more recent shark movies such as The Shallows starring Blake Lively, which was filmed using underwater cameras. While Jaws was incredibly challenging due to technical shortcomings, it still set the bar for succeeding blockbusters.
Star Wars is also another hit that brought new heights to cinema, particularly in the science fiction genre. The space opera saga is known for its breakthrough special effects, thanks to technology that enabled experimental movie-making – not to mention iconic transition frames. One such example was the Dykstrafle, a computer-controlled motion camera that used VistaVision cameras onto hardwired circuits.
By creating multiple visual axes, the cameras were able to create the illusion of high-speed space chases and realistic starship maneuvers that made the original trilogy and its successors so revolutionary. However, the franchise also made the mistake of adding too much jarring CGI in the prequels, resulting in a dated look, especially when newer installments were released.
Titanic is still one of the most ambitious and highest-grossing films of all time. It’s no surprise that there were many challenges encountered on set and the film’s overall production. Director James Cameron was intent on making the scenes as authentic as possible, curating the set design meticulously to the last detail. Most of this caused the budget to bloat – including visual and mechanical effects, real Beluga caviar for dining scenes, and the historically accurate reconstruction of the ship.
As if the immense production requirements weren’t enough, the last days of shooting were made even more difficult. A crew member added hallucinogenic drugs in a soup served for lunch, sending people to the hospital. Thankfully, the result was a cinematic masterpiece that has stood the test of time.