Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Top 10 Making-Of Documentaries

Making-Of documentaries can be compelling for a number of reasons. They can reconfirm your love for a movie you’ve always enjoyed, or act as a cautionary tale for what not to do while working on a movie. Whether they’re shorts included on the main film’s DVD, or standalone features, a great Making-Of documentary will teach you about film and filmmaking. Below are my favorites, but considering there are thousands to choose from, do feel free to list your favorites as well.

10. Lost in La Mancha (2002)
dir. by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is the film that has eluded Terry Gilliam throughout most of his career. In 2000, after several failed attempts to get the film off the ground, Gilliam began production on his dream project. It was budgeted at $32.1 million and financed completely outside of American involvement, which is nearly unheard of for a film that size.

Now, if you’ve never heard of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Lost in La Mancha will show you why. Gilliam’s film unravels within literal hours of the first day of shooting. Everything goes wrong, and Gilliam is left in complete disarray. Lost in La Mancha began as a Making-Of featurette to be included in Don Quixote’s promotional materials, but it soon turned into a feature documentary about a film that cannot outgrow its curse.

Lost in La Mancha is currently available to stream on Netflix Instant

9. Within the Ring: The Making of The Wrestler (2008)
dir. by Niko Tavernise 
Niko Tavernise was invited to shadow Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler for the duration of its production, resulting in one of the finest Making-Ofs I’ve seen for a modern independent film. There’s a scene in Within the Ring in which star Mickey Rourke is obviously not feeling it. He’s phoning in his performance and lazily delivering his lines. Suddenly, Aronofsky appears out of nowhere, grabs Rourke by his jacket, punches him in the chest, then walks out of frame. The first time I saw this, I gasped out loud. It’s a perfect example of the trust an actor and director must have in order to create something special. Aronofsky says nothing in that moment, but really, he’s saying everything.

Within the Ring is available on The Wrestler DVD, and right here on Tavernise’s Vimeo page

8. Full-Tilt Boogie (1997)
dir. by Sarah Kelly
Robert Rodriguez loves his Making-Ofs docs. His Ten Minute Film Schools (featured on nearly all of the DVDs for his movies) are essential for anyone with a remote interest in filmmaking. (El Mariachi is the best, which you can watch here.) But no Rodriquez Making-Of is more encompassing than Full-Tilt Boogie, which chronicles the entire production of the Rodriquez/Tarantino vehicle, From Dusk till Dawn.

Full-Tilt Boogie is an excellent inside perspective on what it means to make an independent film. Sure, there is plenty of footage with Rodriquez, Tarantino, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis and so on, but Full-Tilt Boogie is chiefly interested in the mood on the entire set, not just with the stars. You hear from production managers, stunt coordinators, script supervisors, key grips – everyone has something interesting to say. Full-Tilt Boogie also captures the repercussions of running a non-union production on a film of this size (From Dusk Till Dawn was budgeted $19 million). Again, this is a very “insider” doc, but it’s a thrilling watch all the same.

Full-Tilt Boogie is available on the From Dusk till Dawn Collector’s Series DVD, and on Netflix Instant

7. The Making of The Shining (1980)
dir. by Vivian Kubrick
The Making of The Shining is a rare and essential inside look of a Stanley Kubrick set. Directed by Stanley’s then 17-year-old daughter, Vivian, the film chronicles the overall tension on set, as well as the technical proficiency required for some of the film’s most famous sequences. You’ll laugh (there is no end to the pleasure of watching Jack Nicholson being a goof between takes), you’ll cry (Scatman Crothers’ interviews are unexpectedly moving), you’ll feel pain (Shelley Duvall really had it bad making this movie), and you’ll marvel at watching the determined, frustrated Master Kubrick at play.

The Making of The Shining is available on most DVD/Blu-Ray releases of The Shining, and various places online

6. American Movie (1999)
dir. by Chris Smith
Mark Borchardt suffers from one of the worst cases of delusions of grandeur I’ve ever witnessed. Even though the amateur filmmaker can’t seem to finish his short horror film, Coven, he knows that once it is completed, he will be able to use the profits from Coven to fund his first feature film, Northwestern. From there, he will certainly reach glory. Problem is, Borchardt has no money, little talent, and next to no resources to complete his short.

Although well versed in the filmmaking vernacular, Borchardt simply doesn’t have a clue. Already in debt for various reasons, Borchardt has three kids he can’t pay child support for, a mother who seems eager to get him out of her house, and an increasingly serious dependency for alcohol. He truly thinks he’s the next master of horror, despite not having anything to show for it. American Movie is a very good film about the making of a very bad one. It’s one of the most tragically humorous documentaries of recent memory.

American Movie is currently available for free on Crackle

5. Overnight (2003)
dir. by Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith
Troy Duffy’s overnight success is the stuff that Hollywood dreams are made of. A bartender by day, Duffy’s life changed when his script for The Boondock Saints was picked up by Miramax for $300,000. Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein fast tracked The Boondock Saints into production (with a handsome budget of $15 million), with Duffy set to direct and score the film with his rock band, The Brood. Oh, and Weinstein offered to buy the bar Duffy worked in, so that he and Duffy could own it together. Because why not?

That’s as good as it gets in this game. But what starts as a story of the American Dream quickly melts into a horror show of insane ego and baffling arrogance. As depicted in Overnight, Troy Duffy is an egomaniacal asshole who sabotages his own good fortune. Every sentence he utters is delivered with jaw-dropping elitism. He insults his friends (including Montana and Smith), family members, movie stars, heavy Hollywood players – really, anyone within earshot. Naturally, Weinstein doesn’t appreciate Duffy’s blowhard behavior, and quickly retracts everything he offered Duffy.

Overnight is a shocking portrayal of everything not to do once you’ve been afforded your dream. And if you think Duffy was riding high from all the money The Boondock Saints made in DVD sales… just wait until you watch this film.

Overnight is difficult to find, but worth tracking down by any means necessary

4. Project Greenlight: Season 3 (2005)
produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Sean Bailey, and Chris Moore

Project Greenlight was an honorable attempt for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to help young filmmakers break into the biz. But despite their noble efforts, the first two seasons of the show produced very weak films. For Season 3, the producers changed things up by creating a horror flick financed by Dimension Films. Sadly, it takes mere minutes into the first episode of Season 3 for things to fall apart. Matt Damon is particularly pissed that Dimension has already chosen the script they want to produce (for a monster movie called Feast), before deliberations with the Project Greenlight committee even begin. But, as is often the case in Hollywood, the studio holds firm, leaving the creative people scratching their heads.

From there, things only get worse. The committee chooses John Gulager as the director, a promising filmmaker with low self-esteem and zero social skills. Gulager is an awkward but good-hearted guy who simply doesn’t know how to manage a film production. He routinely battles with the casting director, the director of photography and various actors (many of whom act like complete divas). Basically, for those interested in pursuing a career in studio filmmaking, the third season of Project Greenlight should be essential viewing. It paints a very accurate picture of just what in the hell you’re getting yourself into.

Project Greenlight: Season 3 is currently available to watch in full on YouTube 

3. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)
dir. by Eleanor Coppola, George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr
Apocalypse Now is generally regarded as one of the most horrendous productions in film history, and Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, was there to capture every moment of it. Eleanor was given access to everything – the delays, the breakdowns, the drunken brawls, the typhoons, and on and on. Years later, Eleanor enlisted George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr to help shape the footage, record new interviews with the cast and crew, and ultimately deliver a remarkable feature film. Whether or not you’re a fan of Apocalypse Now, Hearts of Darkness is an absolute must watch. If nothing else, it’ll give you a newfound respect for Francis Ford Coppola and his talent.

Hearts of Darkness is available as a standalone DVD, and on various DVD/Blu-Ray releases of Apocalypse Now

2. Burden of Dreams (1982)
dir. by Les Blank
I’m hard pressed to think of a better, more appropriate double feature than Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams. The latter focuses on Werner Herzog’s insurmountable production of his mesmerizing film, Fitzcarraldo. The best way to describe Burden of Dreams: in one scene, we watch Herzog and his crew literally pull a massive ship over a mountain. It’s a monumental feat, but nowhere near the most difficult thing Herzog endured on this movie. At the forefront of the frenzy is Fitzcarraldo’s star, Klaus Kinski, who is such a ceaseless tyrant that Herzog’s South American crew actually offers to kill Kinski, just to get him off Herzog’s back.

Blank’s camera is still and unassuming, capturing a young, tireless Herzog as he slowly begins to lose himself. Many critics think Burden of Dreams is actually superior to Fitzcarraldo. A tough call, but one worth researching for yourself.

Burden of Dreams is available via the Criterion Collection

1. Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963) 
dir. by Vilgot Sjöman
Ingmar’s Bergman’s films changed the way I look at movies, and Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie changed the way I look at Ingmar Bergman. Originally shot for Swedish television, Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie is a two and a half hour documentary about the making of Bergman’s masterpiece, Winter Light. From screenwriting through critical reception, Sjöman’s film is a fascinating and exhaustive documentary that consistently finds Bergman in a relaxed and congenial mood (which was rare). We’re privy to countless interviews with Bergman in which he discusses the themes of the film, but also his process in general. Life, love, faith, filmmaking – there’s no stone unturned here, and I love every minute of it.

There have been many excellent Making-Of films about Bergman’s work (the 1986 feature, The Making of Fanny and Alexander, could easily top this list), but Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie is the best. If a better Making-Of documentary exists, then I certainly haven’t seen it.

Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie is available as a special feature on the Criterion box set of Bergman’s Faith Trilogy

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  1. Of the films in that list, the ones I've seen are Lost in La Mancha, Within the Ring, and Burden of Dreams. Watching Lost in La Mancha was painful because you see everything that Terry Gilliam is trying to make crash in front of him and I felt sad that his dream project fell apart. Burden of Dreams is great as it showcased how much balls Werner Herzog had in making the film while I also liked the stuff that didn't make it in the final film that Herzog eventually showed in My Best Fiend where Klaus Kinski tears a new asshole on one of the assistant directors.

    That's one of the things I love about DVD special features as I loved seeing the making-of featurettes of Sofia Coppola's films and the one on the making of The Darjeeling Limited. The one making-of doc that gave me a fucking headache was This is An Adventure by Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, and Matthew Prinzing on the making of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. All of that ambition was just overwhelming and I'm sure there's things that Wes would've like to scale back on.

    1. You know, you gotta wonder why Les Blank cut those crazy fuckin' Kinski flip outs. I guess they were "too much" for the tranquil tone of Blank's film.

      I really like the Sofia and Wes making-of docs as well. I've never seen This is An Adventure, but thanks for the heads up.

  2. My favorite making-of documentary isn't about making a film. It's I am Trying to Break Your Heart about the making of Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" album. I recommend it heartily, even if you're not a huge Wilco fan (but it helps, because there's a LOT of Wilco music in it).

    1. That is a great film. I just love everything about it as it's my favorite album by Wilco and it captured everything that it takes into making an album and some of the trouble that occurs which includes some of the horrors of the record industry.

    2. I haven't seen that film, but I love that you went with an album Making-Of. I'm not very familiar with Wilco's tunes, but I'll definitely check out the film.

  3. Well even though I've heard of just over half of these I now know what I'm doing this weekend! Aside from the rest, Overnight just sounds incredibly fascinating. I hated The Boondock Saints (even my love for Dafoe can't make me feel anything but rage towards that piece of shit), but hearing about it's troubled production sounds like the exact opposite. I'd also like to throw in a film I thought was pretty interesting - Kiarostami's 10 on Ten which I thought was a pretty cool insight into his head and how he views his own movies.

    Lost in La Mancha was easily one of the scariest movies I've seen though (in regards to making a film).

    1. I was in high school when The Boondock Saints became a thing, and most all of my guy friends flipped shit over it. Me... I never got it. It seemed like D-grade Tarantino, at best. Overnight, however, is incredible. I've honestly never seen a guy as unapologetically arrogant as Duffy. Naturally, after the film was released, his defense was, "Yeah, well, if you film someone almost everyday for two years, of course you can edit the footage to make them look like an asshole."

      Very true, but there are things Duffy does in the film that defy editing tricks (like calling a high-ranking, female Miramax exec the C word, or proudly bashing A list celebrities, or repeatedly calling his friends worthless).

      I'm definitely going to track down 10 on Ten. I love these kinds of films.

  4. Great list! I cannot say much about these since I haven't seen any of them apart from Burden of Dreams, which was some time ago so I don't really remember it. I will keep my eye out for them though :)

    Oh, and I FINALLY saw Boyhood. Holy fucking shit, was that a perfect movie or what? I have a feeling 2014 is going to go down as one of the best years of this decade, if not the best.

    1. Thanks! Sooo happy you loved Boyhood. It's been months now since I've seen it, and it hasn't worn off in the slightest. We have a great season of movies coming up, but nothing will top that one for me. It's so damn special.

  5. I've only seen Within The Ring on this list, but that one is great. Being a life long pro wrestling fan (do not laugh at me) I really appreciated how Aronofsky got everything right.

    1. I wouldn't laugh at you! Who am I to judge what people enjoy, you know? At besides, it's great to hear from a wrestling fan how much Aronofsky got right. I still think that's my favorite Aronofsky film.

    2. The only people you should be laughing at are John Cena fans.

  6. Holy shit that moment you described between Rourke and Aronofsky is insane! I need to see that, I really liked the making of on Black Swan DVD

    1. It's crazy. No one on set makes a big deal about it (though Rourke is clearly confused at first), but that is a BIG DEAL on a movie set. I loved the Black Swan making-of as well. Really shows you how impressively they hid the special effects.

  7. I'm so glad you made this post. The Wrestler is my favorite of Aronofsky's and the documentary sounds like something I need to watch asap.

    1. It's really good, especially for fans. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks so much for reading!

  8. No Demon Lover Diary?

    1. Holy hell, I'd never even heard of that. Might have to check it out.

  9. There are a lot of great choices on this list, especially Hearts of Darkness. George Hickenlooper came to my high school film class, and he was a really cool guy. Another making-of doc that's just stunning is "Under Pressure: Making the Abyss". If you haven't seen it, it's a must watch.

    1. I really love Hickenlooper's movies - that's so cool that you got to meet him and that he was a nice guy. Just watched Under Pressure... wow. I had heard stories of that production, but I never knew it was THAT intense. Great recommendation.

  10. Nice list. I haven't seen most of these, but YES to Project Greenlight Season 3 and The Making of The Shining. Though I never saw Feast, I still kind of want to check it out. I've always enjoyed Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy and the making of Indiana Jones docs on the trilogy set. They're fun if you're a fan, which I know you're not. ;)

    1. Ha, well, even if I'm not a fan of a movie, I often appreciate how those milestone films were made. Like, those flicks may not be for me, but I understand the huge impact they've had over cinema, you know?

      Feast actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I think they did a good job of highlighting how awful the production was on Project Greenlight. But all told, not that bad of a flick.