The Movies That Underwent Major Changes After Their Festival Premiere | Features

“I’m a massive fan of [Benjamin’s] and he was actually on top of my list for years,” “Boy Kills World” director Moritz Mohr explained recently. “When we got him it was just a dream come true. In the process of editing the movie, we did two things: We had H. Jon Benjamin and we had Bill, and we just sort of tried it out. For the screening at TIFF we decided that we would try out Bill, and we realized that it’s an amazing performance but it’s more on the dramatic and emotional side. Afterward, we were like, ‘Jon’s funnier.’”

Mohr is hardly the first filmmaker to have a change of heart after a festival premiere. Although hardly exhaustive, I decided to spotlight some of the most memorable instances of movies that went through radical changes in the wake of their debut. To be clear, I’m not including any instances in which a studio or producer demanded cuts—these alterations were all (at least as far as we know) initiated by the director. You’ll notice some commonalities in these stories: For one thing, filmmakers frequently blamed the changes on not being properly finished with their movie before the high-profile premiere. Another is that they found the festival screening to be incredibly enlightening in terms of what wasn’t working with their film. Sometimes, the changes helped—other times, it didn’t make a difference. But for those who saw these pictures at a festival and then caught them at the multiplex, it felt, in some ways, like a brand-new film.

“Apocalypse Now” (1979)

This article includes several stories of filmmakers rushing their movie to completion in order to screen them at a prestigious international festival. But none has been as infamous as Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” which was presented as an official work-in-progress when it unspooled at Cannes. 

When it played at the festival, the hallucinatory Vietnam War epic was approximately 140 minutes long and contained no credits, an indication of how last-minute the film’s “completion” had been. Also, it appears the movie’s opening was slightly different: Writing from the festival for The New York Times, Susan Heller Anderson noted, “It has an overture, in quintaphonic sound, of jungle noises—birds singing, mosquitoes buzzing—blended with the whir of helicopters and electronic music.” Does that mean the Doors’ “The End” appeared in a later cut? Perhaps: In 2014, an unnamed “eyewitness” to the film’s making told The Hollywood Reporter, “Francis was drunk, desperate, and rummaging around in garbage cans of film saying, ‘I’ve gotta find an opening scene for my movie!’ The ‘trim’ barrels were filled with film you threw away. Garbage, basically, thrown-away film turned upside down and used to space out the sound on the soundtrack. … [O]ne said ‘The End,’ the Doors music. I said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if we started the movie with ‘This is the end’ at the beginning?’ So that’s a case of destiny or just chance that helped make the beginning of the movie.”