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7 Ways to Cope with Movie Star Deaths

As The Dark Knight approaches the $450 million mark, Oscar buzz is building for the late Heath Ledger. Christopher Nolan has insisted that he did not digitally alter or use stand-ins to complete Ledger's scenes—this was the director's attempt to preserve the integrity of the late actor's performance. Unfortunately, that honor was not bestowed upon the legacies of other departed actors. Here are a few methods directors have used to fill the gaps left by deceased movie stars—some respectable, others not so much.

1. Make it an A-List Tribute

Ledger's final role will officially come in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a magic-based film he was shooting when he died. Rather than abandon the film, director Terry Gillam has insisted that the show will go on. He has decided on a rather unconventional method to fill in the gap—using not one, but three, A-List actors (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law) to complete the film. The scenes completed by Ledger are all set in the real world, whereas the film traverses through different realms. Ledger's face will be magically changed to that of other actors used to portray different incarnations of his character. Imaginarium, like Dark Knight, will be dedicated to Ledger when it is released next year.

2. Poorly Conceal the Actor's Absence

plan-9.jpgNot all movies have access to A-List stars, like the low-budget cult disaster Plan 9 From Outer Space. There are many things wrong with this movie, but one glaring problem was the fact that Bela Lugosi died before production even began. Director Ed Wood decided to use a few minutes of unreleased Lugosi footage originally intended for a movie called Tomb of the Vampire as the basis of the script and its major selling point. After the bizarre scene with a caped Lugosi inspecting flowers in his yard, his character was portrayed by chiropractor Tom Mason. Wood attempted to hide the fact that Mason looked nothing like Lugosi (and stood a foot taller) by concealing Mason's face behind a cape and having him slouch for the entirety of the film. Due to this and other ridiculous errors, the film has become a cult classic and is regarded by some as the worst movie ever made.

The hidden face technique was used decades later with the late Bruce Lee. During production for Game of Death, Lee took a leave of absence to film the big budget Hollywood kung fu movie Enter the Dragon. Lee tragically died after filming Enter the Dragon, and thus never completed Game of Death. In order to not waste unreleased footage of a man who had posthumously become a major star, production resumed six years later using a new script and a radically different plot. Two stand-ins with sunglasses, fake beards and mysterious shadows were used to portray Lee in new scenes involving his character. Lee's absence is most obvious in a scene in which a cardboard cut out of Lee's face is taped onto a mirror for a close-up shot. The film also controversially used actual footage from Lee's funeral and a close up of his actual body in a coffin for a scene in which Lee's character fakes his own death.

3. Send in the Stunt Doubles

Of course, using stunt doubles isn't such a big deal when only one or two scenes are needed to complete a film. Natalie Wood tragically (and some argue, suspiciously) drowned during a break in production for the 1983 science fiction film Brainstorm. Though principal photography was mostly complete at the time of her death, a critical climactic scene had yet to be filmed. Production was halted for two years while the studio and director contemplated what to do with the movie. The studio wanted to abandon the project and collect the insurance money. Eventually, the decision was made by director Douglas Trumbull to use obscured camera angles and a stand in to complete the remaining scenes. The film was a critically praised tribute to Wood, but a box office bomb.

crow.jpg

4. Use Computers

Brandon Lee died in a tragic on-set accident while filming The Crow. His death was almost twenty years after the mysterious death of his father, Bruce Lee, and just a month before the release of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a big screen biography about his father. The Crow had just seven scenes left with Lee to film when he died on March 31, 1991. With the support of Lee's mother and fiancée, director Alex Proyas decided to complete the film using CGI technology to superimpose Lee's face on stand-ins. The film was a huge success when it was released in 1994, despite the notoriety of the devastating on-set accident.

The same CGI-masking technique was used to complete the unfinished scenes of Oliver Reed in Gladiator. Reed suffered a heart attack in Malta while wrapping up his role as the slave dealer Proximo. He was nominated for several awards for the role, and the film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Visual Effects.

5. Cut and Paste

Just because the star of a successful film series died before a film is written doesn't mean it can't be made. The 1982 bomb Trail of the Pink Panther was made a year after the death of franchise anchor Peter Sellers, who portrayed iconic Inspector Clouseau. All of Sellers' scenes were constructed using archival footage, deleted scenes and outtakes from other Pink Panther films. It became pretty obvious which movies the scenes were pulled from based on the clothing and quality of the footage. The rest of the non-Sellers scenes were made concurrently with new footage for the next installment of the series, which did not use the Clouseau character. Apparently, no one wanted to watch a movie recycled from the editing room floor; it was a commercial and critical failure.

Sellers' widow Lynne Frederick was not amused by the cut and paste film; she successfully sued the production company for tarnishing her late husband's name and reputation. The franchise continued without Sellers or financial success in Curse of the Pink Panther and Son of the Pink Panther. When the franchise was revamped in 2006, Steve Martin was cast as Clouseau.

6. Cover it Up

When John Candy passed away in 1994 late in production for Wagons East, the filmmakers claimed that all of his scenes had been shot and would be used as is. Fans of Candy have noticed that at least one scene with Candy in a bar was recycled with a slightly different background, and that a stand-in was used in other scenes. Additionally, fans and critics suspect the script was altered to eliminate Candy's incomplete scenes. Despite being one of the last works of a beloved actor, the film was critically panned and bombed financially.

7. Scrap the Whole Thing

Sometimes it's best to place unfinished films on the shelf when a quality product cannot be made without a departed star. The final project of River Phoenix, a bizarre drama called Dark Blood, had only 11 days of filming remaining when he died in 1993. A few scenes have been made public by director George Sluizer, who legally owns all footage from the film. He has claimed that he intends to use the footage as part of a biography about Phoenix.

Marilyn Monroe's unfinished final project, Something's Got to Give, is one of the most notorious unfinished movies of all time. The film was a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife and suffered script and budget problems from day one. After failing to show up on set many times, Monroe was fired from the film, but as co-star Dean Martin stated, "No Marilyn, no picture." She was re-hired, but there was still no picture—she died on August 5, 1962, shortly before production was to resume. The nine hours of footage featuring Monroe, including a much talked about skinny dip scene, was placed in a Hollywood vault and left untouched for decades. To save face, Something's Got to Give was rewritten, recast with Doris Day and given the title Move Over, Darling and used many of the same sets and costumes from the Monroe shoot.

In 2001, the original scenes were touched up and developed into a 37-minute segment for the biography Marilyn: The Final Days.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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