“Reshoots” is a dirty word in entertainment journalism, often used as an indicator of a disastrous film production. But the truth of the matter is, reshoots can be a good thing. The purpose of reshoots is to make a movie better, not worse. Let’s take a look at the purpose of reshoots, and why they don’t necessarily signal disaster for films like Star Wars: Rogue One and Suicide Squad.
Many of the films you love went through reshoots. My favorite movie of all time, Back to the Future, shot five weeks with one lead actor (Eric Stoltz) before director Robert Zemeckis admitted it wasn’t working and recast the role of Marty McFly with Michael J. Fox. That film went through extensive reshoots, and ended up being one of the best films of all time. Likewise, the ending of Rocky was reshot, and E.T. originally died in that government test facility before test screenings convinced Steven Spielberg to go into reshoots and come out with the now-iconic ending.
Most of the time it is not the studio that requests reshoots, but the filmmaker. Generally the filmmaker and producers are the ones that need to argue for more money from the studio to improve their film.
“I think about 75% of the movies I produced had reshoots, and the 25% without reshoots would have had reshoots if budget and schedule allowed,” says Your Next/Anomalisa producer Keith Calder. “100% of the movies I’ve produced that had reshoots were improved by those reshoots. Feel free to ask the directors.”
Another film that has been the subject of reshoot speculation in the media recently is Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad. Director David Ayer has debunked reports of the studio meddling with his vision and has explained why reshoots aren’t a bad thing:
“I don’t think there’s any director that finishes a movie and says, ‘Wow that’s perfect, that’s what I really want it to be.’” Ayer told Collider. “Every movie I’ve ever made I wish I could go and grab some additional stuff and that’s exactly the chance I got this time. It’s like getting a new car but you get fancy rims and a new stereo.”
And reshoots aren’t limited to big budget studio films. They also happen with smaller films.
“I see stories about movies having weeks of reshoots, and my first reaction is ‘I wish we could afford weeks of reshoots for our movies,’” tweeted Calder. “Reshoots are a hugely useful part of the filmmaking process, and fear of reshoots has ruined plenty of potentially good indie movies.”
Recently there has been a lot of speculation about the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story reshoots. Depending on which source you believe, they’re either an attempt to make a good film great by altering the tone to be more in line with A New Hope, or a massive months-long ordeal to fix a disaster. I’m not going to pretend to know what’s going on here, as I’m not privy to the behind-the-scenes going-ons of this production. But experience has told me that the truth is much more likely in the middle of the two extremes.
While I believe extended reshoots are a significant development worthy of being reported on, they should not necessarily be looked at as a sign that a film is doomed. Calder offers that the negativity towards reshoots “is fostered by the film press, film schools, and general culture around art that artists must get it right the first try.”
“Maybe a lot of people see reshoots the same way they see auto recalls: like the film was out the door before getting pulled back inside,” tweeted film journalist Scott Beggs, who wonders why “‘We’re not satisfied yet, so we want to spend time/$$ to improve the product’ somehow equals ‘disaster’ when it’s call[ed] ‘reshoots.’”
If a studio is spending more money on reshoots, it’s because they have confidence they can get it right. Remember, reshoots cost money. And extensive reshoots can cost a considerable amount of money. How much money does a movie studio have to spend before they decide it’s “good enough”? At what point does a movie studio decide to cut its losses on a big-budget film and not approve reshoots?
In fact, Star Wars: The Force Awakens went through a number of reshoots and additional photography, most of which went under the radar due to being conducted in JJ Abrams‘ mystery box of the Bad Robot offices. Big moments from the film were reshot in spaces inside the Santa Monica-based production company, and on the roof of the headquarters. While we see behind-the-scenes footage of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega acting in huge moving rigs on gimbals, the truth of the matter is a lot of that footage didn’t even make it into the final film. Instead you’re watching reshot footage with the actors sitting in an office chair in front of a green screen in a small room in Bad Robot (see image above).
“When I was on the set of the Millennium Falcon and we started to do work with Rey and Finn, the first time we did it, it didn’t work at all,” Abrams said at the Tribeca Film Festival. “It was much more contentious. I didn’t direct it right.”
Harrison Ford‘s injury allowed Abrams to “rewrite quite a bit of that relationship.”
“We actually just reshot from the ground up, those scenes. It was an amazingly helpful thing to get these two characters to where they needed to be.”
As Isaac told Rolling Stone, many of the moments that people love from The Force Awakens, including much of the material involving Oscar Isaac‘s Poe Dameron, were the result of reshoots:
“All of the funny lines – including one about Poe being unable to hear Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren through his helmet, and the “who talks first” exchange – were added in reshoots, and Isaac improvised some of them. He’s always pushing to complicate and deepen Poe, who started as little more than a charming archetype. “We’re making s*** up as we go.”