Long Time Coming: Movies That Spent Forever in Production
With Boyhood, Richard Linklater hits upon a unique approach to the coming-of-age movie by following the same boy — fellow Texan Ellar Coltrane — over the course of 12 years, from ages 6 to 18. As Linklater recently told the New York Times, it was the only way he felt he could understand the experience that his main character would go through. “I knew Eller would grow up. I didn’t know how, what or exactly who he would be, but I knew he would be somebody,” he said. Whatever its artistic upsides, it’s rare for a film to shoot for that length of time and rarer still for it to be an intentional choice on the part of the filmmaker. Here are some past examples of movies with lengthy productions and how it helped (or hindered) the finished product.
What is is: Orson Welles directed, produced, and played the title role in this stylized adaptation of William Shakespeare’s grand tragedy.
Timespan of production: 1949–1951
Reason(s) for the holdup: One word: money. As in, Welles didn’t have any. An Italian financier originally agreed to fund the production, but went bankrupt days after shooting began, so the director pulled out his own checkbook and kept filming until his bank account also ran dry. After that, whatever money he made from other acting gigs went directly into his Othello fund, and he resumed production whenever he could — often with different actors and in different countries.
Final result: The film won the Palme d’Or at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival and enjoys a healthy critical reputation, but even its most ardent admirers admit that the ragtag nature of the shoot is apparent. “To put it mildly, it was quite an adventure,” Welles remarked in his 1978 self-directed making-of documentary, Filming Othello. “It led us before we were done to many strange and rather wonderful places in the world, into and out of more than one disaster. There were moments of sheer desperation and there was much delight.”
The Antoine Doinel Series (1959–1979)
What is is: François Truffaut’s accidental franchise, which spans 20 years in the life of his onscreen doppelganger, Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), first glimpsed as a troubled young boy and last seen as a thirtysomething man.
Timespan of production: 1959–1978
Reason(s) for the holdup: Truffaut didn’t plan to check back in with Doinel every few years after 1959’s much-lauded The 400 Blows: it just kind of worked out that way. Initially revisiting the character in a 1962 short film, the director went on to make three additional Doinel-centric features in 1968, 1970, and 1979.
Final result: Given the way it observes the growth of one individual from boy to man, the Doinel series is probably the closest equivalent to Boyhood, although Truffaut took longer breaks between filming than Linklater did. “Doinel was someone who both of us knew intimately,” Léaud told the Village Voice in 1999 about his two-decade collaboration with the French New Wave icon. “It wasn’t me — he was someone I would see from time to time in films.”