As film after film rolls into our theatres, we generally give little thought to the process that brought them there – beyond, perhaps, appreciating the technical prowess on display. The fact is, for most movies, the process begins long before, and involves screenplay purchases, re-writes, production financing and detailed scheduling, among other challenges. In reality, getting any film into a theatre is, in itself, an achievement of perseverance, ambition, and dedication.
Stories of troubled productions are legion, with the most famous often generating their own films. Possibly the greatest example of this is The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which is a film adaptation of the book Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Terry Gilliam has made a reported seven attempts to film this project between 1998 and 2014, with the most spectacular occurring in 2000, when cameras actually rolled, but were halted by catastrophic flooding, illness and financial difficulty. The 2002 documentary Lost In La Mancha started life as a ‘Making Of’ featurette, but grew into a full-length record of the apocalyptic difficulties that can befall a movie production.
The common theme in any ‘almost didn’t make it’ movie story is the refusal to throw in the towel. Even this is shared by The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, as it is currently back underway with a planned release date of 2016. There are countless examples of films that were hauled – exhausted and bleeding – across the finish line and into theatres, where they found legendary status and influence. Where would modern cinema be without Blade Runner, for example? These types of films contradict the negative assumption that production problems create bad films – something that the team behind the upcoming Jane Got A Gun will be hoping holds true.
This is a Western, the screenplay for which featured on the 2011 Black List, penned by Brian Duffield. It tells the tale of a woman – Jane Hammond – who must turn to an ex-lover for help when a gang sets out to kill her outlaw husband. Natalie Portman has remained loyal to the project through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, during which her castmates have rotated through roles or departed completely, her original director (Lynne Ramsay) simply didn’t show up, the script faced numerous rewrites, and the company that acquired it – Relativity – spiralled into bankruptcy. It has had no less than four release dates cancelled, and is now expected to appear early in 2016.
Audiences might be tempted to write off Jane Got A Gun before ever having the chance to see it. How can anything possibly survive that many heavy body blows? Hold off on the condemnation, however, because stranger things have happened. Here are five films that almost never were – but now that they are, we couldn’t imagine cinema without them.