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12 Movies That Filmed Scenes At Real-Life Events

September 29, 2020 31.5k views12 items

If a movie script includes a scene set at a huge public gathering, like a sporting event or a parade, that presents a challenge for the production team. There are lots of ways a film production can execute a crowd scene, but none of them are cheap. A production could use thousands of extras, but those extras all have to be paid. Modern movies can rely on CGI to create virtual crowds, but convincing visual effects can cost tens or even hundreds of millions. One company even lets movie productions rent inflatable plastic crowd members, but those don't come free, either. 

Often, the simplest and cheapest solution is to film at a real-life event. But while this might keep a movie's budget low, it can also create a whole slew of logistical headaches for the production team. Here are some movies that filmed at real-life events, and how they pulled it off.

  • At one point during the 1993 action thriller The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) eludes capture by blending into the crowd at Chicago's famous St. Patrick's Day Parade. The parade has a long and storied history going all the way back to 1843, so director and Chicagoan Andrew Davis didn't want to try to fake it. The city gave the producers permission to film at the parade, but they had to be as unobtrusive as possible. On the day of filming, and without a rehearsal, Ford and a steadicam operator slipped into the crowd and filmed the scene. (Then-Chicago mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris are visible in the background.)

    Ford later said his character's need to keep a low profile actually helped him blend in better, and it was several minutes before parade-goers realized they were marching alongside Harrison Ford.

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  • John Frankenheimer's 1977 box-office flop Black Sunday is about a terrorist plan to detonate a blimp filled with 250,000 steel darts directly above the Super Bowl. Rather than have to fake the biggest sporting event of the year, producer Robert Evans got permission from the NFL to film during Super Bowl X, at the former Orange Bowl in Miami, FL. 

    When movie productions get permission to film at big events, they are typically only given limited access during the event to film establishing shots and B-roll, and return later to film their more challenging scenes. The Super Bowl attack sequence was filmed over multiple days. During the game itself, the film crew disguised themselves as CBS camera operators and filmed the action from the sidelines - including actors, like star Robert Shaw, who in one scene darts through the stands and sprints down the sideline - all while the Super Bowl was actually taking place.

    A few days later, with the stadium empty, the production returned to stage the climactic blimp attack. To fill the stadium, the producers made a deal with the United Way. The charity agreed to bring in thousands of volunteer extras, and in exchange, the production agreed to produce the charity's 1976 campaign film for free. 

    During the blimp scene, the assistant director whipped the extras into such a frenzy, many of them were actually injured. Even a member of the Miami Dolphins, safety Barry Hill, injured his hand during the chaos. It ended up being the only time Hill was ever injured during his football-playing days.

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  • An actor dying in the middle of production is - beyond the human tragedy itself - probably the biggest setback that can happen to a movie. It leaves producers with various options for how to go forward, some better than others. One of the riskiest options is to try to complete the movie anyway using movie magic. And the reason more movies don't do this is probably because of the example set by Game of Death

    When Bruce Lee perished of cerebral edema in 1973, he had only filmed about 40 minutes of Game of Death. At first, producers decided to shelve the project, but a few years later, they opted to finish the movie. They used a variety of techniques to replace Lee in various scenes - for example, using stand-ins, lookalikes, and disguises. However, some scenes required Lee's face to be visible, so producers had to alter the script. They decided to have Lee's character fake his own demise and then undergo plastic surgery. They also decided to use footage from Lee's real Hong Kong funeral, including shots of Lee's body.

    Sadly, the decision made things worse for everyone already grieving Lee's passing. Various conspiracy theories had popped up to explain his untimely passing, and the footage of Lee's bloated face led conspiracy theorists to speculate that this was due to poisoning. In reality, Lee's appearance was due to a bad embalming job.

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  • Illinois native John Hughes was able to take advantage of Chicago's yearly German-American heritage celebration, the Von Steuben Day Parade, to film the memorable "Twist and Shout" scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off - although parts of the scene were technically staged. Filming took place over two consecutive weekends. During the first weekend, when the real parade was actually taking place, the filmmakers entered a genuine parade float into the procession and filmed Matthew Broderick and his backup dancers on it.

    The next weekend, filmmakers returned for Ferris's lip-synching sequence. To simulate a crowded parade, producers bought radio and newspaper ads inviting the public to the set, and over 10,000 people showed up. Additionally, the construction workers and window washers who can be seen dancing along to Ferris's songs weren't professional dancers, just Chicagoans who joined the fun.

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