Six improvised moments in movies that turned out to be genius…

As I said in yesterday’s article, being a film director must be incredibly difficult. Balancing everything so that it works the way you want it to must be a huge pain the ass. And, if nothing else, you have to make sure that every scene goes to plan, and that every line of dialogue is spoken exactly as you initially planned. There’s nothing worse than having a loose cannon in the cast who tries to do his own thing. Although, as you’ll find out in this article, that happens a lot more than you’d expect- and some of those improvised moments ended up creating moments of genius in already amazing movies.

Indiana Jones was a lot different due to Harrison Ford having an upset stomach

Unless you’ve been on a century long expedition to the Amazon, there’s a high chance that, even if you haven’t watched all of the Indian Jones movies, you’ve at least watched the first in the saga- Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it stands to reason that a movie with such adventurous spirit would go off the script once or twice.

And, in fact, one of the most famous scenes in the movie happened due to the fact that Harrison Ford came down with a stomach upset. In the scene, Indiana Jones is doing what he spends two whole movies doing- running away from the Nazis- when he rounds a corner and finds himself faced with a swordsman. A swordsman who looks like he knows what he’s doing with that blade. But instead of the epic fight you expect, you are treated to a scene in which, after a lot of threatening taunts, the swordsman is killed by Mr Jones whipping out his pistol and shooting him dead. It works so well because it’s unexpected but it also fits the character so well. It makes perfect sense that Indy wouldn’t want a pointless fight, and if a gun settles the issue, then so be it.

But the scene only happened by circumstance. The day before the shoot, the stuntman had choreographed an elaborate and no doubt thrilling fight scene, and he had even taken time to rehearse the whole thing with Harrison Ford. The following morning, though, saw Ford wake up with an upset stomach which was so bad that it actually held up shooting for the day. Unfortunately, the fight absolutely had to be filmed that day, as the crew and cast had to change venue. But Ford wasn’t feeling up to a big fight scene, and so he spoke to the actor playing the swordsman and, when the cameras started rolling, he pulled out a pistol and shot the man dead. Steven Spielberg was no doubt fuming, but when he watched the scene back, he realised it had everything in it to become a classic movie moment- and so he let the scene stay in the movie. One of the greatest moments in the entire trilogy (yes, it’s a trilogy: Crystal Skull has been erased from my memory) only happened because the star felt rather unwell.

Hannibal Lecter’s famous hiss was spur of the moment

If there’s one thing we remember about the Hannibal series of movies- other than the scene when he feeds Ray Liotta his own brain- is the moment when Hannibal Lecter himself does the famous “first I’ll eat your liver” speech, followed by that now infamous hiss in Silence of the Lambs. Come on…you know what hiss I mean. If you don’t then go and watch the movie, come back, and let me know how you found it…go on, I’ll wait.

Whilst the speech that precedes this classic moment was completely scripted- in fact, it was adapted from a passage in the book- it was lacking something. Actor Anthony Hopkins, who played Hannibal Lecter, even spoke to the writer and director about it, saying that it didn’t sound menacing enough it the character of Lecter merely just said it. But after a few hours of thinking, nobody could come up with a way to make the speech more creepy…that was, until the cameras started rolling.

Famous Improvised Movie Moments EMGN15

In a moment of pure inspiration, Hopkins believe the speech- which everybody involved with the movie admits was the best take of it- and finished it up with that eery, canibalistic noise. It was completely spur of the moment and, in fact, Hopkins hadn’t felt that confidence about it. He was likely fully expecting to have to shoot the scene again when it was universally agreed by everyone present that the noise was just perfect. And so it was kept, and it went on to become an iconic moment in horror.

The ‘acting’ in the Chestburster scene wasn’t acting

In the first Alien movie, we got to watch John Hurt get attacked by a face-hugger and- as I’ve already explained in the ‘Movie alien’s article- become impregnated with alien eggs. The scene that occurs a bit later is so shocking that even if you know what is about to come, you’re still made to jump out of your seat the first time you watch it (that is…assuming you’re sitting down).

You may have been amazed by the performances that the case gave, too. It was pretty realistic, right? Well, that’s because they had no idea that it was about to happen. Before the scene was shot, all of the cast had been told to leave, other than John Hurt himself, who probably had to know what was going to happen considering it involved his own chest. He was then hooked up to a pretty extreme looking prop, which was essentially a spring-loaded alien head that would quite literally burst out of his chest.

Then, whilst cackling maniacally, the prop crew called the cast back and the scene began. When John Hurt starts having spasms, the cast already look troubled (remember: they had absolutely no idea about anything that was to happen in this scene). They must’ve wondered why everybody in the crew was carrying on with their jobs whilst a cast member was clearly dying. The first time, the prop didn’t work properly- but this was all part of the plan. This was done to trick the cast into leaning in closer to see what happened and then, having not cut filming, a man in the room triggered the alien head to burst out of John Hurt’s chest. So all of the reactions you see from the cast are genuine gasps of surprise, and the ‘blood’ you see splatter a few actors was just as much of a surprise to them as it was to the audience.

Veronica Cartwright, the actress who takes a faceful of blood very bravely indeed, spent the next half hour (after ‘cut’ was called) sobbing hysterically. She also fainted later on and had to take a break from filming until the next day. But, hey…at least she put on a convincing performance, right?

Willy Wonka genuinely creeped out the cast

Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka- I think anybody who has seen the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory would be in agreement. However, you might have wondered how he managed to give such a convincing performance as a total lunatic, and just how the cast managed to keep a straight face.

That’s because none of the cast had met the character until the very second filming started. They knew Wilder was playing the role but, they assumed, he wasn’t available yet because he had a busy schedule. In reality, it had been agreed by the production team and Wilder that, in order to get the desired reaction to the character, he shouldn’t make an appearance until absolutely necessary. In the scene, Wonka pretends to be crippled, needing a cane to walk, before dropping the cane and proceeding to front-flip incessantly to the delight of everyone in the vicinity. And this scene was experienced first-hand.

According to the children in the case, Wilder actually walked out with the cane, and they were generally puzzled that the titular star of the movie was in such a state. Had he suffered a horrendous injury in the last few days? No. It was all part of the master plan. Wilder thought it would help put the children at ease, but it had the adverse effect- they were a little concerned about this utter creep that had apparently managed to sneak onto the film set dressed up as the title character.

Also, the entire set of the chocolate factory- which had been properly built (no CGI here, kids)- was a surprise to the cast, who were revealed the separate rooms at the same time as their characters would. So the wide-eyed faces and awed performances were actual genuine moments of surprise by the cast. In fact, pretty much every Goddamn scene was totally thrown upon the cast, who must have had a nightmarish time (apart from Gene Wilder, who seemed to be enjoying himself a little too much).

The Blair Witch Project was made up on the spot

The Blair Witch Project is pretty much solely responsible for the rise of found-footage movies, which is both a blessing and a curse, because the concept was original but is now so overdone that it is almost painful.

But it is apparently incredibly easy to stick a group of young actors in a forest and scare the life out of them. Because that’s exactly what the crew did for the duration of this movie, as every single ‘scare’ in the movie was a surprise to the cast, thus making their reactions in front of the camera completely genuine. The movie had no script, and the actors were given a camera, told to go out in the woods and camp, and pretty much left to their own devices. Some random actors- who were playing the creepy towns folk in the early scenes of the movie- were introduced just to scare the actors, and so every ‘interview’ they give to the camera were also genuine. They honestly were creeped out by the events and had no idea what to expect next.

Of course, they weren’t helped by the case, who crept through the forest shaking branches. The actors were left in a forest, totally alone with a hand-held camera (or so they thought) and were now experiencing some pretty strange occurrences. All they knew was that they were being paid to document events, so no matter what happened, they were encouraged in the prep talk to film everything they could.

Oh, and to top it all, the production crew (if you could call them that) gave the three main actors less and less food every day, until they actually started to go ever so slightly mad from hunger. Although all of that just gave movie-goers the feeling that this movie was really scary, really original and “wow, those actors were really convincing.” 

The actors, meanwhile, probably still come out in a cold sweat whenever anybody asks them about their experiences.

Sylvester Stallone breaks himself for pretty much every movie he’s in

Despite the fact that he’s technically a pensioner now, Sylvester Stallone could still kick your ass, my ass, and the collective asses of everybody within a five mile radius. It’s just a shame that his face looks like its made out of melted rubber and his speech is more slurred than a chronic alcoholic’s after a 24 hour binge-drinking session, but seriously, would you actually say that to his face? Of course you wouldn’t.

What is even more admirable is that he does his own stunts in most of the movies, and, as he is just flesh and blood, he regularly injures himself. In First Blood, his first appearance as John ‘could-kill-a-man-just-by-looking-at-him Rambo’, there is a scene where he has to jump off a cliff and land in a tree to break his fall. Stallone felt that, sure, a stunt double could do it, but it wouldn’t look convincing and so he sized up the jump and went ahead and did it himself. He landed in the tree pretty roughly and ended up breaking his ribs. Like the true hero (or madman) he is, he shrugged it off, winced a little and climbed down from the tree to continue shooting for the day. He did the jump three times and only after the third time did he decide that he was in sufficient enough pain to call it a day and to wrap it up.

You’d think that, as he grew older, he would want to protect his increasingly fragile body, and you’d be very wrong. During The Expendables, there is a scene where Stallone’s character has a fight with ex-WWE wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, who can only be described as a mountain vaguely resembling a man. In the fight, which was supposed to be choreographed, Stallone’s characters remarks that he is “getting his ass kicked” and, actually, that is pretty much exactly what had happened. Stallone kept pushing the fight further and further until Steve Austin, who by this point had probably been convinced that ol’ Sly was made entirely of rubber and could survive anything, kicked him so hard that he hit the wall behind and fracture his neck upon impact. I’d like to say that he got back up and continued the scene, but even Stallone isn’t stupid enough to think he’s unstoppable, and he sought medical help immediately. However, the scene stayed in the movie, probably because Stallone didn’t want to have broken his neck for nothing.





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