There are many kinds of movie marvels, but one type that never fails to impress is an effect that's achieved without any deliberate effort on the part of the filmmakers. Given the considerable financial stakes inherent in the filmmaking process, productions go to exacting lengths to portray exactly what’s in the script - jobs, and occasionally lives, are on the line if something were to go awry. Every so often, however, the camera catches something that simply can’t be repeated, as it was never meant to occur in the first place.
Whether a director aims to capture lightning in a bottle by way of deliberately ignoring the safety of their crew or by putting an actor’s body on the line, a movie's turn to realism can have a marked impact on a final film. These are some notable movie moments that were the real thing.
The centerpiece of William Friedkin’s The French Connection is the nearly six-minute chase sequence between Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Alain Charnier. Doyle pursues Charnier from beneath what was then the B train as it races through its elevated tracks in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
To achieve the scene's frenetic energy, Friedkin and cinematographer Owen Roizman filmed Gene Hackman - who played Doyle - and an alternating stunt driver as they actually wove their way through Bensonhurst traffic, honking to signaling onlookers and pedestrians to clear the way. While Friedkin did instruct additional stunt drivers to nearly miss Doyle, poor timing led to real collisions, which were left in the final edit.
Adding to the chaos, the production only secured permits to film in the train, leaving the sidewalks and roads below to be secured by assistant directors and police. Due to the clumsiness of their approach, spillover run-ins with actual Brooklynites did occur. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the process, and what was captured certainly played a role in the film’s Oscar win for best picture.see more on The French Connection
Late in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, captured outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is granted mercy by her captor, John Ruth (Kurt Russell). While the pair is snowed into a cabin with the rest of the titular eight, Domergue is granted a moment to play guitar and sing. When she finishes, Ruth is overcome by anger, which he displays by ripping the instrument from her hands and dashing it to pieces against a post.
In the final cut of the film, Domergue emits a frustrated cry for the guitar, but the tone of her exclamation reads out of step with her established character - she’s a hard-drinking, vicious woman who most likely would only be surprised by Ruth's outburst at best. In fact, the guitar Russell smashed was no replica. Due to a production miscommunication, Russell destroyed a 145-year-old Martin acoustic that was meant to be swapped with a destruction-ready copy.
In response to the incident, the Martin Museum has issued a moratorium on all loans to productions.see more on The Hateful Eight
By the time he made his directorial debut, Judd Apatow had already more than established himself as a writer and producer, with his credits including Freaks and Geeks and The Larry Sanders Show. But his first film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, broke the mold in a new way, and one sequence was especially over the top.
Determined to try the dating scene after four full decades of abstinence, Andy Stitzer, played by Steve Carell, opts to update his look. His friends pressure him to trim down his considerable mane of chest hair, leading to a sadistic waxing sequence. Carrell's pain was genuine, as he allowed his own chest to be waxed in order to deliver authentic reactions.see more on The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Of the innumerable superlatives showered upon Steven Spielberg over the course of his career, "master of directing child actors" may be one praise that is undersung. From A.I. to Jurassic Park, he’s elicited quality performances from dozens of young actors throughout his numerous films. E.T., however, still towers above the rest.
When Gertie - played by a young Drew Barrymore - meets the film's titular alien for the first time, her screams don’t sound like affected put-ons. In order to achieve the reaction that reached the final cut, Spielberg shot everything in continuity, keeping Barrymore from the alien until the pair could meet for the first time on-camera. In addition, the cast and crew had allegedly convinced Barrymore that the alien was real, compounding her fear in the scene.see more on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial