Some scenes or stories in movies/tv are particularly hard to figure out. They require a whip-smart visionary team of directors, costume designers, cinematographers, casting directors, producers, actors, and stunt coordinators who have a deep understanding of how to achieve the right feel and look of the piece to make it come alive. Here, we explore the making of eight of the most legendary scenes in film/tv history. Enjoy!
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
In "Death Becomes Her", Meryl Streep's character, Madeline, learns of an immortality treatment, and jumps at the chance to outdo her long-time rival.
In the transformation scene, they wanted to show a sense of youth appearing on Madeline's body. If anyone knows anything about gravity, it is that gravity + time = sagging. So, what better way to show this than to have Madeline's breasts perk up as though she were a 20-something youngin' who needn't even bother with bras.
At first, the props department tried to create an inflatable bra mechanism, but that failed to do the trick. Instead, they came up with this clever idea to pull it off.
Meryl Streep's assistant but his hands into her shirt, which was strategically very flowing, so as to conceal his hands. Then, at the right moment, he pushed them up, so as to create the illusion of perkier breasts.
That there, folks, may be the luckiest assistant in the entire world.
In Mission Impossible III, there is a particular scene around the 1.5 hour mark, in which Bronway (Eddie Marsan), injects a capsule into Ethan (Tom Cruise)'s head.
The scene is extremely aggressive (it is, after all, a torture scene), so Tom Cruise's head is not dealt with in the gentlest of fashions. His head is jerked back by his hair and a gun is shoved into his nostril, ready to inject the capsule.
Only, there was one problem: in order to make it look like a legitimately aggressive torture scene, the gun was pressed into Tom's nose in an aggressive fashion. It hurt. A lot. So much so, that Tom had to talk to the director about it.
So J.J. Abrams came up with an idea.
They would angle the camera so the person holding the gun's arm was out of the shot. Then, he gave the gun to Tom, and used makeup to paint Tom's hand to the skin tone of Eddie Marsan. Then, Tom pressed the gun against his own nose. This way, it was a lot easier to gauge how hard he could push without causing himself pain.
The same goes later when Musgrave puts the phone to Ethan's ear, then Ethan bites Musgrave's hand. The hand that Cruise bit was not Billy Crudup's, but again was his own hand.
What's that? You want another fun hand fact? How about this...
At around twenty-seven minutes) The doctor's hands extracting the capsule from Agent Farris' head at the IMF headquarters belong to J.J. Abrams.
In the episode titled "Lesbian Request Denied", in Orange is the New Black, we learn a little of the backstory of one of the most loved characters on the show Sophia Burset.
In this episode, we learn about what Sophia's life was like before, during, and after her transition from male to female. The actor who plays Sophia, Laverne Cox, is also a transwoman. In the episode, we see Sophia before her surgery, when she was New York City fireman Marcus Burset.
The casting director and series creator were tasked with finding an actor to portray "Marcus", which is difficult, considering how much he would have to look like Sophia, as a man.
Jenji Kohan, series creator, approached Laverne to tell her that they were looking to hire someone. In an interview, Laverne said that Jenji said to her, "I don't want to traumatize you, by having you play a man again." You know, because I tried to play one for many years in my real life, and unsuccessfully.
But, I'm an actor. I can play this … I got this. I can do it.
"So … we talked about it, we did a hair and makeup test to get Sophia's looks throughout her transition together. One of those looks was her as [Marcus], as the firefighter, but Jodie didn't think I looked masculine enough to play [him]," Cox continued. "And so it was decided that someone would be hired. I did my best to butch it up, and it wasn't butch enough, apparently."
Despite Laverne's stellar acting skills, it wasn't working.
That's when the casting director discovered a fact that changed everything:
Laverne has a twin brother. M.Lamar auditioned, and despite not being an actor, was an obvious choice for the role. He did a great job, and looked the part, perfectly.
Steven Spielberg's Jaws contains one of the most unforgettable opening scenes in the history of film. The scene, Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) leaves a beach party to take a quick dip in the water. Treading through the water alone, she feels a tug. Then another. Then, audiences watch in horror as Chrissie is violently dragged through the water before disappearing under the surface forever.
In this scene, audiences don't see the shark a choice Spielberg explained in Making Of Jaws:
I thought that what could really be scary was not seeing the shark and just seeing the water; because we all are familiar with the water---very few of us have been in the water with a shark, but weve all gone swimming. And the idea of this girl going swimming and the audience going swimming with her wouldve been too extraordinary if, like a leviathan, the shark had come out of the water with its jaws agape and had come down on her…it wouldve been a spectacular opening for the film. But there wouldve been nothing primal about it—it would just have been a monster moment that weve all seen.
There needed to be a way that audiences would clue into the fact that Chrissie was being attacked by a vicious monster that was lurking under the surface of the water. At the point when Jaws was being developed, CGI was very new. Spielberg didn't want to use it, because he thought it would ruin the movie (the technology didn't have the capabilities to make things look realistic).
So, the crew was posed with an interesting dilemma how do we get it to realistically look like Chrissie Watkins is being attacked from below by a shark?
To achieve this, they attached a harness to Backlinie. For the initial tug under water, they attached a cable to her that dropped down from the stomach-area of her harness, and fed that cable down to an anchor that was laying at the bottom of the ocean, and back up to where Spielberg was sitting.
According to Backlinie, "The first jerk-down Steven [Spielberg] did.... he just sat and when he wanted that pulled he just would pull."
For the side-to-side thrashing from the shark, more cables were attached to Backlinie's harness, then threaded through two pilings on either side of her, and stretched out to the beach. There, a group of men on each line would pull the two ends of the cable and run back and forth along the sand, to pull her to and fro.
To ensure Backlinies safety, she was outfitted with a special string that she could pull to release herself from the cables if it got too intense.
It was very cold," Backlinie said, of the experience. "I was in for two to three hours at a time."
Another interesting detail of this scene is how they created the gurgling, drowning sounds that you hear during Chrissie's attack. For that, they asked Backlinie to stand in front of a microphone, turn her head up, and they poured water down her throat.
Her dedication to that one scene is astounding. After Jaws, Susan Backlinie quit acting and went into accounting are you surprised?
The shower scene in Psycho is perhaps one of the most famous scenes in all of film history certainly the most famous shower scene. Though it is less than 3 minutes, the scene was so precisely measured that it took over 7 days to film and includes 70 different camera setups.
Psycho was released in June, 1960, and shocked audiences for its incredibly disturbing murder scene of a woman in the shower.
However, the film's creator, Alfred Hitchcock, was faced with a huge dilemma whilst creating the moment movies had very high censorship at that time the scene could not contain a shot of any genitalia or breasts, and couldn't actually show the stabbing or any knife wounds.
Hitchcock and his team of wizards used considerable artistry to accomplish the murder scene within these confines...
1. Hitchcock decided to use a 50mm lens, which gave the scene a slightly less glossy feel Hitchcock wanted audiences to feel like they were seeing the events firsthand.
2. Because of this, Hitchcock decided that the shower scene would be too disturbing in full color, so opted for black and white film. Also, black and white film is far less expensive, so that could have been a factor, though it's not confirmed.
3. In order to create the illusion that audiences were witnessing a far more graphic scene than was actually shown, he took an impressionist approach. Several small cuts were strung together in quick succession. These rapid cuts created a fast paced tone that paralleled the adrenaline rush and confusion that the protagonist was experiencing at the time of her murder. It also capitalized on a natural human tendency to "fill in the gaps" with our own imaginations. If you show us a knife, a woman screaming, and some blood in the bath water, we will naturally fill in the gaps.
4. Another major hurdle in creating this scene was properly lighting the shower water, so that it felt very visceral, and protecting the camera from the water. The props department created a special shower head that, when the camera was tilted at a specific angle, the camera could look straight up at the shower and not get wet.
5. To show audiences that the woman was being stabbed without actually showing the stabbing, the camera focused on the blood that was trickling through the bathtub and down the drain. Though matching color wasn't important, (because it was in black and white), Hitchcock was very concerned that the blood be the right viscosity. After testing movie blood and ketchup, he settled on chocolate syrup.
6. To create a realistic stabbing sound, the special effects crew stabbed watermelons with large knives.
In Saving Private Ryan, the "storming of Omaha beach scene" has been hailed by historians, and by the men who survived the event, as the most accurate depiction of war in film.
The actual event, known as D-Day, went like this:
On June 6, 1944, 156,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers landed on the a 50 mile stretch of France's Normandy 50 coast, which was fortified by German soldiers.
It was among the largest military assault in world war history. This event was the beginning of the end of WWII.
Spielberg didn't want to rely on massive special effects to create the grandeur of war, which would ultimately make it look glossy and fantastical. Instead, he wanted to create a portrayal that was visceral and real, so viewers could have a real sense of what the horrors of war were like. It was a massive undertaking.
So... how did they do it?
Trying to find a location that could accurately pass as Omaha Beach was difficult. The actual Normandy Coast is protected as a historical landmark, so filming there was out of the question. Yet, they wanted a place that was an exact replica of the location, including sand and a bluff similar to the one where German forces were stationed. Production designer, Tom Sanders, found Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe Strand in Wexford, Ireland. Perfect.
Whilst in Ireland, they hired 1500 actual Irish Army Reservists to portray the role of soldiers in the film. These men all had the look and experience to fit the part.
Next came the costumes. Designer Joanna Johnston started the project under the impression that she would be able to find a bunch of old WWII uniforms and alter them to fit the actors. Wrong! It turns out that barely any of these uniforms have survived past their time, so that was a near-impossible feat.
But, they wanted authenticity. So, Johnston and her team recreated 3000 authentic uniforms. She then found the company who made the original troops' boots, and ordered 2000 pairs. That's a whole lot of war-wear!
To bring a sense of authenticity to the organizational and military tactics of the crew, they hired former U.S. Marine Core Captain, Dale Dye, to direct the thousands of extras on set.
In pre-production, they put the core actors through a miserable bootcamp that bonded them as a unit, in the same way that soldiers under extreme duress would be bonded. It also prepared them for the very realistically harsh conditions on set.
Spielberg through away his standard method of creating a storyboard for the film a visual aid that would guide the look of each shot. Instead, he wanted to create the camera crew to have spontaneous reactions to the scene as it unfolded. It allowed for viewers to feel the chaotic and unpredictable energy of war in a realistic way.
Spielberg wanted the look of the film to be desaturated and low-tech (again, no glamour).
To achieve this, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski actually removed the protective coating from his camera lens to give the picture a softer, diffused look, and put the negative through an additional process to extract more of the color. He also shot in such a way that all movement blur was removed from the shot adding an extremely crisp, jarring look to the explosions. It feels a lot realer when you can see individual drops of water and bits of dirt.
Now this is where it really gets into Spielberg's near-obsessive attention to detail...
Spielberg's special effects team created a technology that would allow actors to die from gun wound with perfect timing. They put a sensor on the squib packs (packs of blood that explode) of every actor being shot, that would detect when another actor was firing their gun, take distance and speed of bullet into account, and explode at precisely the correct time.
A major choice that set this scene apart from other wartime scenes in movies is the sound. While most movies that feature a battle scene have a sweeping, epic score underneath, Spielberg decided to use nothing. There wasn't music playing during the real WWII, so it wasn't going to play here either. At certain moments during the battle, the sound of bullets whizzing and bodies falling cuts out altogether, to mimic the shellshocked state of Tom Hanks' character, Captain Miller. The sounds are replaced by a slow, haunting sound, like the sound of pressing your ear to a seashell. To simulate this, sound designer Gary Rydstrom recorded the sounds of the beach, played them over a speaker, and recorded them through in a microphone through a long tube. When asked about the sound, Rydstrom said, "It's like a psychological tea whistle."
In order to create the horrors of actual war, the casting department hired dozens of real-life amputees that would more convincingly portray the injuries acquired throughout the battle. The props department made 1000 meticulously detailed dummies that littered the beach illustrating the massive amounts of bodies along the shore in the real battle. They washed these bodies in hundreds of gallons of fake blood.
Saving Private Ryan won 5 Oscars that year, including best director for Steven Spielberg.
Most people remember the dragon attack in Game of Thrones, Season 7, Episode 4. When Daenerys finally unleashed Drogon on Westoros against the Lannister forces, they swung low and blasted a breath of fire onto unlucky soldiers below resulting a whole lot of crispy bodies. If you were impressed by the scene itself, just wait until you read what went into making it.
In a behind-the-scenes feature from HBO, the shows creators and crew discussed the extreme dedication it took to make this scene a reality. There were hundreds of soldiers and 27 wagons bathed in fire, a process that required fancy camerawork from numerous cameras, including a camera with the ability to fly through the air at 70 miles per hour, another attached to a drone, and one on an off-road pickup truck.
But the really wild thing, was how they executed the fire blast on the actors. Twenty stuntmen were hired to run away from the approaching dragon. As they did, they ran over explosive charges, which set off the fiery explosions, made to look like they were from the dragon's mouth. The stuntmen were ACTUALLY set on fire, (wearing fire protective gear underneath their costumes), and writhed around on the ground for twelve seconds before someone put them out with a fire extinguisher.
This episode set a world record for the most stuntmen simultaneously set on fire.
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there is a scene in which the protagonists are inside an old memory of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Joel is the size of a child. This wasn't done using CGI.
Instead, the set department and camera crew worked together to make it look that way with real-life illusions.
The set department built a room, called an Ames Room. The room looked like it had a straight back wall, but in reality, the wall was on an angle.
Rooms like these are the reason that these two friends look disproportionate to one another.
This is how it works:
Voila! There you have it.