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16 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Making Of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’

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What really went on behind-the-scenes of Bram Stoker's Dracula?

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola was desperate. He was coming off the financial and critical disappointment that accompanied the release of The Godfather Part III and his Zoetrope Productions needed a hit. A big budget, operatic, R-rated horror movie didn't seem like the best way to get one - even with a hot young cast including Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, and Anthony Hopkins fresh off an Academy Award for Silence of the Lambs - yet that's exactly what Coppola set out to make. And, being Coppola, he didn't go the safe route.

The filmmaker fired production designers and special effects teams, drastically reimagined the character of Dracula (while also staying truer to the book than perhaps any other production), put his 24-year-old son Roman in charge of special effects, and pushed his actors to the breaking point. The result was the hit that Coppola needed, netting three Academy Awards and bringing in a worldwide box office of more than $200 million.

The troubled production also ensured there would be plenty of behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Bram Stoker's Dracula - some of them as strange and uncanny as anything that happened on the screen.

  • 1

    Test Audiences Booed The Original Ending - And George Lucas Fixed It

    The ending of the original script of Bram Stoker's Dracula doesn't seem that much different than what got put on film, but it made a world of difference to audiences. "The audiences at the previous sneak preview booed and yelled and cursed this ending," screenwriter James V. Hart recalled of the film's original happy ending, in which Mina forces a Bowie knife through Dracula's heart before she "launches herself into the arms" of Keanu Reeves's Jonathan Harker and "walks off into the Transylvanian sunset as the music swells." 

    It was actually George Lucas who pointed out the problem with the ending, after a special private screening he attended along with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, who had done some design work on the film. "We had broken the rules of how to [slay] a vampire that we had established in the film," Hart said. So, the ending was rewritten, new storyboards were created, and new footage was shot. Of course, that meant getting the actors back together, which was a problem since, as Hart recalled, Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman had "literally been at each other's throats."

    "Do you think we can get Winona back to cut off Gary's head?" Coppola allegedly asked Hart. "It's the only way you will get her back," Hart replied. But get her back they did, and the needed moments were captured. "In the film's climax," Hart later recalled, "there are close-ups, medium shots, and high angles that were filmed almost a year apart."

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  • 2

    Cramps Frontman Lux Interior Provided Dracula's Anguished Shriek

    It was Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, Sofia, who suggested Lux Interior, lead singer of the punk rock outfit The Cramps, provide the anguished shriek that virtually opens the film. When Gary Oldman's Dracula returns home from fighting the Turks to find that his great love has taken her own life, he renounces God and becomes a vampire. He also lets out a scream of despair and pain that, Coppola decided, Oldman's vocals weren't up to delivering. 

    "Just remember, you're back from the war, you're horrified, but you still have feelings of romance." Those were the instructions that Lux Interior said Coppola gave him before he performed. "Now, the scream lasts one second. Okay, go!"

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  • 3

    All Special Effects Were Accomplished Live Or Through Camera Trickery

    "In the script there were a million effects," Francis Ford Coppola told Entertainment Weekly, "but I wanted to do them all live. Nothing in post-production; do them all in the camera."

    Coppola says the demand proved too much for the crew that had been assigned, so "I fired the special effects department and hired my young son, Roman, who was an enthusiast about magic." Roman and Francis Ford Coppola worked together to bring to life (almost) all of the effects in Dracula using old-school techniques and camera trickery. For example, Coppola reminisced about how the scene with the green mist coming through the window was achieved:

    That was double exposed. The mist was shot as an element by itself. You photograph a scene and then you make good notes and you put it in the refrigerator and a week later you take the film out and then put it in the camera, and re-photograph the next element. In some cases we passed the film through the camera three or four times before it was developed.

    In fact, the only post-production optical effect in the entire film is the blue fire outside Dracula's castle, a detail lifted directly from the book.

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  • 4

    Oldman Spent Weeks Getting Into Character Before Ever Filming A Scene

    "He was always testing people, and he loved it... even when he was not filming," actress Sadie Frost, who plays Lucy Westenra in the movie, said of Gary Oldman's performance as Dracula. Weeks before he was scheduled to appear in any scenes, Oldman showed up on set to work with the makeup team and got himself into character. And once in character, he rarely got out. "He was like Dracula all the time to me," Frost said. "Every time Gary was around, he was so powerful and so strong. I was very scared; didn't want to get too close."

    Oldman admits he "studied my star a bit," even in rehearsals. "I was very unrelenting in intensity. You get an opportunity to play a character like this, where you're not really restricted by any frame... it seemed insanity not to take advantage. And not only that, but also do it with Francis. Here is this sort of God of the cinema who can, when pushed, lean toward the operatic. And you think, 'Well, why not give him a good show?'"

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