5 Classic Movies That Were Made Possible By Insane Schemes
Like it or not, film as an art form is all about money. Even a tiny independent film about a couple of dudes hanging around their apartment can cost more to make than an average waiter makes in a year.
So for the aspiring filmmakers who don’t happen to have wealthy friends or connections at a studio, securing funding is by far the biggest obstacle between them and the fulfillment of their vision. Sometimes that means getting creative. Horribly, horribly creative.
#5. Robert Rodriguez Paid for Movies With Medical Experiments
You know director Robert Rodriguez from movies like Machete and Sin City, though he also finds time for family fare like the Spy Kids movies. But once upon a time (in the ’90s), Rodriguez was an indie film hero for making El Mariachi. It was a microscopic budget film (made for as little as $7,000, reportedly) starring some dudes he knew and using every money-saving trick in the book. Rodriguez became an inspiration to every film student and video store clerk who dreamed of making a movie on their own terms, without having to sell out to The Man.
But how far did he have to go to scrape the cash together to make his little action movie? Let’s put it this way: It involved letting people perform medical experiments on his body.
“Take everything except my artistic integrity. And my penis.”
In his book Rebel Without a Crew, Rodriguez describes his life as a “human lab rat,” signing up for several rounds of drug testing and medical studies to generate enough cash to fund his short films and eventually his first full-length feature. It started with a desperate Rodriguez looking through classified ads and seeing he could get a few thousand dollars for participating in a medical experiment and staying in a hospital for about a week. It’s one of those things that seems too good to be true if you’ve never seen a horror movie.
Rest assured, he’s already recreated the whole agonizing experience in 4D.
And, yes, there was a reason they didn’t mention what the experiment actually entailed until he got there. The company running the experiment, with the delightfully evil-sounding name Pharmaco, was testing a drug to help with the healing of skin and muscle tissue. What they didn’t mention in the ad is that to test “healing” his skin, they would have to “wound” his skin. A few football-shaped chunks out of the backs of his arms and a seven-day hospital stay later, and he found himself $2,000 richer.
He would have held the money in his arms but, you know, mangled.
This is when Rodriguez figured out that the medical studies that paid the most were high-paying for a reason — they tended to hurt. Still, money was money, so he came back for more, signing up for studies that promised even longer stays (and presumably more awful side effects).
To fund El Mariachi directly, he signed up for a one-month drug trial that paid $3,000 but put him through Draconian scheduling (his days were planned out to the minute, and showing up late to things like meals or his daily blood draws would cost him $25 an occurrence). Even more fun, he was required to poop into clear Tupperware, place it in a fridge alongside the other patients’ samples and discuss his poop’s consistency with a drug counselor.
It only cost $7,000 and a lifetime of human dignity.
It would be worth it, in the end. Though the film didn’t make much money, the right people noticed it. This enabled Rodriguez to more or less remake it as Desperado, launching the English-speaking careers of Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas in the process. Fifteen years later, Rodriguez is still making movies … and he still has his medical testing scars to remind him where he came from.
#4. The Original Willy Wonka Was Just One Big Product Placement
Maybe you thought the 2005 Johnny Depp remake of 1971′s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a cynical ploy to cash in on a classic. Really, Hollywood, does even this eccentric childhood fantasy have to get sucked into your reboot machine?
Oompa Loompa, do-ba-dee-get out.
Well, good news, kids. The 1971 original was just one big scheme to sell candy bars.
The odd back story began with a Hollywood producer named David Wolper who met with the Quaker Oats Company. They wanted a vehicle to launch a new chocolate bar. A short time later, who would walk in but director Mel Stuart, holding a copy of the Roald Dahl children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Having not read the book, but realizing that the word “chocolate” was in the title, Wolper convinced Quaker Oats that they totally needed to get into the movie business, preferably today.
“Can’t it be Jedidiah Platte’s Quiet, Traditional Oat Press?”
Faster than you can say “golden ticket,” Quaker Oats was on board to fully finance the project, paying for all pre-production, securing the movie rights to the novel and eventually putting up all the money for the multimillion dollar film budget. And best of all, from their perspective, they had a ready-made tie-in just waiting to be sold: the Quaker Oats-branded Wonka Bar. What could possibly go wrong?
The movie stayed within budget, was well received and posted a healthy 25 percent profit margin. Everybody wins, right? Well, everyone except for Quaker Oats. According to Wolper, the completed Wonka Bars shipped to some stores, but they faced a “production problem” that resulted in a speedy recall; namely, that the bars “tasted horrible.” OK, guys, how do you fuck up a chocolate bar?
If you can’t get whipple-scrumptious into a recipe, then we can’t help you.
It’s true that Wonka-branded candy still exists on store shelves, but the Wonka logo that you see now is by Nestle and not the company that had specifically financed the entire endeavor as a means to sell their ill-begotten candy bar. “Thanks for making the brand famous, Quaker Oats! We’ll take it from here!”
#3. The Animal Farm Movie Was Funded by the CIA
Most of the American readers in our audience didn’t make it through middle school without reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm, or at least seeing the animated movie. It’s a cautionary tale about totalitarianism, as played out by adorable talking farm animals. The animals overthrow the owners of the farm where they’re being raised (in an obvious allegory to the communist revolution), but over time, the animals find out they’ve traded one set of oppressors for another.
The lesson learned, of course, is that beer is awesome. Also, glue.
During the Cold War, this was clearly the kind of story the American government wanted told. So when it came time to adapt it to a feature-length cartoon, the filmmakers found themselves with a surprising backer: the freaking CIA.
In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency decided that the book by the then-recently deceased George Orwell would be ideal propaganda against what they saw as growing pro-Communist sentiment. So clearly that shit needed to get into theaters.
“This is the only way to stop the next generation of beatniks.”
Working through intermediaries, the CIA labored behind the scenes to secure the rights to the novel and to get the project made. First, sending a representative to England, they convinced Orwell’s widow to sign over the film rights. What did it take for her to do something so, well, Orwellian? They told her they could arrange for her to meet her movie star hero, Clark Gable.
This is the handsome cost of capitalism, America.
The CIA also made arrangements for the film to be made entirely in Britain, which is vaguely ironic since American taxpayers were funding it. Everything was done in the shadows — so complete was the hidden nature of their involvement that the people actually making the film never knew that they were working with the CIA. In fact, news of the CIA’s involvement was kept under wraps for almost 50 years. Considering that the modern CIA can keep a secret for about three months, this is fairly astonishing.