Magic Mike is out in Australian cinemas this week. The film is Channing Tatum’s passion project after director Steven Soderberg convinced him to turn his real life experience as a male stripper into a film with the offer to call the shots. The film was written by Tatum’s business partner Reid Carolin and financed independently by the team’s production company. Not all films make it to the big screen so easily but thanks to a few passionate filmmakers, ideas become a reality, so we’re taking a look at the top 10 film passion projects.
Rumoured to have sat in writer/director Christopher Nolan’s mind for around 10 years before it got the green-light. Many studio heads rejected the script because they believed it was too complex to film and for audiences to understand. Nolan leveraged the financial success of The Dark Knight to get ‘Inception’ made and it was well worth the wait.
Writer/director James Cameron has been obsessed with shipwrecks since he was a kid and after seeing an IMAX documentary about the wreck of the Titanic we was inspired. He began a crusade to convince Fox to pay for an expedition for him to explore the ocean floor where the Titanic rested with the proviso that we was also working on a film about the fateful maiden voyage. From there the project evolved into a $200 million dollar blockbuster that was fraught with an arduous production that saw Cameron sacrifice his financial stake in the film in order to keep cameras rolling. Billions of box office dollars and 11 Academy Awards later it was worth the drama on and off the screen.
Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest living filmmakers but he’s also a huge music geek. When rock group The Band decided to call it quits they staged a farewell concert and Scorsese was recruited to film the event as well as put together a small documentary. With Scorsese’s passion for music the concert film grew into something bigger as he meticulously storyboarded the show so he could plan cameras to be on guitarists during solos and organize lighting cues. With The Last Waltz Scorsese defined the concert film and many hail it to be the greatest concert film of all time.
Johnny Depp developed a friendship with writer Hunter S. Thompson while making the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that was based on Thompson’s book of the same name. Depp allegedly lived with Thompson before the shoot to study him for the role. In the year 2000 Depp signed on to executive produce and star in the film adaptation of Thompson’s book The Rum Diary. From there the project had a long gestation and Thompson became frustrated that the producers could not get their act together. Sadly, while the film was still in development in 2005 Thompson passed away. Depp pushed on with his own production company Infinitum Nihil making sure the film made it to the screen in honour of Thompson. While the final product released 2011 was a little messy, the overall intention was to honour Thompson which Depp achieves despite the film’s flaws.
6. Ali (2001)
After the failures of Wild Wild Wild West and The Legend of Bagger Vance, Will Smith needed to correct his career projection and wanted a shot at an Oscar. Every actor has that one film where you can see them begging the Academy for attention in each scene and Ali was Smith’s plea. A film about the legendary boxer Muhummad Ali was always going to happen, it was just a matter of when. The might of Smith and director Michael Mann made it happen. Smith immersed himself in the life of Ali with vocal training to nail down the charismatic boxer’s unique prose as well as undergoing a year of hard physical training to achieve the supreme physical fitness of a boxer. Smith got his Oscar nomination but did not win.
5. Passion of the Christ (2004)
Director Mel Gibson’s gift to Catholicism that gave everyone something to complain about but he was committed to getting it made. Gibson directed, produced, co-wrote, and funded the entire film that’s rumoured to have cost $30 million. By making the film independently from the studio system, Gibson could make it the way he wanted which included all of the dialogue in Aramic, Latin and Hebrew with no subtitles (they were later included on insistence from distributors), a cast of unknowns and realistic violence that earned the film an R rating in America. Gibson’s faith paid off because upon release the film became the highest grossing R rated film of all time despite the outrage that came from anyone who could access a sheet of cardboard, a post and a stick of glue.
Filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez became friends and Rodriguez would visit Tarantino’s house where he would regularly show double features in his home cinema. Most of the films were old ‘grindhouse’ movies that showcased exploitation genre films. The duo came up with the idea of working together on a grindhouse inspired double feature that became Planet Terror and Death Proof. Both films were released together complete with fake trailers, purposely damaged film and even reels missing. The release was a flop at the box office and subsequently the whole grindhouse double feature concept was scrapped for a majority of its international release. Planet Terror and Death Proof we’re released separately as solo films with missing reels resorted and fake trailers missing. It was a huge mess but through the miracle of Blu-ray the release can be experienced the way it was intended and it has since established a cult following.
A documentary about the quest to complete a passion project, director Chris Smith follows the journey of filmmaker Mark Borchardt and his attempt to make the independent horror film Coven as well as getting sidetracked with his other film Northwestern. Borchart is an intriguing character and his passion is infectious. Unfortunately, his plans weather several setbacks including a low-to-zero budget, a drinking problem and several shooting mishaps.
The legend is that Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for Rocky in a three day fever after watching the fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner in 1975. Stallone also threw in flourishes from the life of boxer Rocky Marciano and the story was complete. Stallone then lobbied the screenplay to a series of different producers with the condition that he fill the role of Rocky. Several studios and producers offered Stallone a sizeable amount of cash to take the script off his hands as long as he didn’t star in the film. Producers Robert Chargrill and Irwin Winkler tried to talk Stallone out of it but relented knowing that with an unknown they could keep the film’s budget low that mean the film had a good chance of getting the go-ahead from United Artists. The film was made on a budget of $1 million dollars and upon release Rocky won the hearts of audiences around the world. At the Academy Awards in 1976 the film was nominated for 10 awards that included Stallone for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. The film went on to win Best Picture, Best Film Editing and John G. Avildson won best director. Stallone’s persistence had well and truly paid off and he spun the success into a Rocky franchise as well as several acting and directing opportunities.
1. Schlinder’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg’s Jewish heritage compelled him to tell the story of Oskar Schindler and the people he saved during the holocaust. An amazing story of the power of the human spirit and the power of good when there is nothing but despair. Spielberg was so committed to making the film that he refused to be paid but it was a long road to production. Spielberg first heard about the story in the 80s when a review of the book Schlinder’s Ark was sent to him and Universal Pictures were convinced to buy the film rights as a result. Hesitant to make the film due to his immaturity, Spielberg tried to convince director Roman Polasnki to make the film, but he rejected the offer because of the painful memories it brought back due to the fact Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. Sydney Pollack and Martin Scorsese were offered the chance to direct but they turned it down and destiny still favoured Spielberg. Several events are rumoured to have inspired Spielberg to final accept the responsibility such as several vocal Holocaust deniers, the rise of neo-Nazism after the fall of the Berlin Wall and ideals of the Jewish faith Spielberg was starting to instill in his children. When finally ready to make the film it’s alledged that due to the sensitive subject of the film, Spielberg would be allowed to make Schindler’s List as long as he made Jurassic Park first. The film won seven Academy Awards although no accolade could accurately reflect the respect Spielberg paid to the story and the lives of the real people affected by the Holocaust and Oskar Schindler.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies