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The Working Titles of 14 Popular Movies

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Most Hollywood movies go by a different name—also known as a working title—until the film is released in theaters. These cinematic pseudonyms can be used to hide a film’s production from rampant fans or to keep costs low. Here are 14 working titles for popular Hollywood movies. 

1. Working Title: "Blue Harvest"

Actual Title: Return of the Jedi

By the time filming on Return of the Jedi started in 1982, Star Wars was a gigantic pop culture phenomenon. Lucasfilm decided to use a working title to mask the film’s production from fans and film journalists. “Blue Harvest” was used throughout the film’s production in the United States.

“Blue Harvest” was allegedly a horror film with the tagline “Horror Beyond Imagination.” It was used on almost every facet of the then-titled Revenge of the Jedi, including the crew's t-shirts, shipping crates, and invoices. The title Revenge of the Jedi was later changed to Return of the Jedi when George Lucas realized that a Jedi has no concept for the evils of revenge. 

Another reason why “Blue Harvest” was used for the film’s working title was to keep production costs low: Apparently, locations and services had increased their prices when Lucasfilm was filming The Empire Strikes Back a few years before.

2. Working Title: "Planet Ice"

Actual Title: Titanic

Before the epic film Titanic was announced, director James Cameron began to shoot footage of icebergs off the coast of Nova Scotia under the guise he was making a film called “Planet Ice.” The reasoning behind the working title was to throw off any rival movie studio from making a movie based on Titanic before Cameron’s movie was in theaters.

3. Working Title: "Rory’s First Kiss"

Actual Title: The Dark Knight

When he was filming The Dark Knight in Chicago in 2007, director Christopher Nolan attempted to hide the true identity of the movie using the working title “Rory’s First Kiss." But the fake title wasn't enough to fool Batfans: When a casting call went out for "real police officers, sheriffs, county guards and bagpipers to work in non-speaking roles in August," a film journalist sniffed out the subterfuge after a quick look on IMDB.com, which identified Nolan as the director of “Rory’s First Kiss,” which also starred Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. It was easy to see that Nolan was working on the sequel to the widely popular Batman Begins.

Christopher Nolan used the working title “The Intimidation Game” for Batman Begins and also used the working title “Magnus Rex” for The Dark Knight Rises. For Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, the British director used the working title “Oliver’s Arrow.”

4. Working Title: "Incident on 57th Street"

Actual Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

To avoid attention from Harry Potter fans, the filmmakers behind Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets used the strange working title “Incident on 57th Street” throughout the film’s London shoot. Their inspiration? A Bruce Springsteen song of the same name.

5. Working Title: "How the Solar System Was Won"

Actual Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Arguably the greatest film ever made, director Stanley Kubrick and screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke secretly referred to their 1968 science fiction collaboration as “How the Solar System Was Won,” a reference to the 1962 Western from MGM titled How the West Was Won. When Warner Bros officially announced the sci-fi project in 1965, the press release called the film Journey Beyond the Stars.

Kubrick and Clarke eventually decided on the title 2001: A Space Odyssey 11 months into the film’s production. Other titles the pair considered were Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, and Planetfall.

6. Working Title: "Star Beast"

Actual Title: Alien

Screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett envisioned a new film that would be a science fiction and horror genre hybrid. Before settling on the title Alien, the pair’s screenplay was titled “Star Beast,” which was named after the terrifying Xenomorph alien in the movie. O’Bannon decided to change the title to simply Alien when he realized how many times the word was used in the screenplay.

7. Working Title: "The Seven Deadly Sins"

Actual Title: Se7en

In 1995, director David Fincher made a thriller called Se7en starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The film was originally titled “The Seven Deadly Sins” because the film featured a serial killer who used the capital vices as a way to murder his victims. The filmmakers changed the name of the film to build mystery and awareness of the movie before it opened in theaters.

8. Working Title: "Paradox"

Actual Title: Back To The Future Part II

“Paradox” was the title of the original pitch for the Back To The Future sequels. Originally, the film was conceived as one movie, but when the film’s budget grew too expensive, the film was split into two separate sequel films. Director Robert Zemeckis continued to use the working title as a way to lessen fan attention while shooting the films simultaneously.

9. Working Title: "Black Mask"

Actual Title: Pulp Fiction

When Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery were working on the screenplay for Pulp Fiction, they originally titled the film “Black Mask,” as a way to pay homage to the hardboiled crime fiction magazine that popularized the pulp fiction genre in the 1930s and '40s. Later, the pair changed the name to emphasize the genre rather than a particular magazine. 

10. Working Title: "Everybody Comes To Rick’s"

Actual Title: Casablanca 

The film Casablanca was based on a then-unproduced stage play called “Everybody Comes To Rick’s.” While the authors of the stage play, Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, couldn’t find funding to produce the play on Broadway, Warner Bros bought the film rights for $20,000 in 1942. The title was changed to Casablanca as a way to imitate the 1938 smash-hit film Algiers.

11. Working Title: "Group Hug"

Actual Title: The Avengers

Marvel has special codenames or working titles for all of their films (the codename of Captain America: The First Avenger, for example, was “Frostbite”—because Captain America was encased in ice at the end of the film). For The Avengers, Joss Whedon chose the working title “Group Hug” to throw off  eager fans. Tom Hiddleston told Elle magazine that the working title was fitting. “The Avengers was 'Group Hug,'" he said. "It felt very much like a group hug on set." 

12. Working Title: "A Boy’s Life"

Actual Title: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

During the production of E.T., director Steven Spielberg used the working title “A Boy’s Life” in order to keep the film’s premise a secret—he didn’t want a competing film to beat him to the market. Actors had to be supervised when reading the script and everyone on set had to wear security ID cards to make sure the film shoot was secure.

13. Working Title: "Corporate Headquarters"

Actual Title: Star Trek

J.J. Abrams has a penchant for secrecy and mystery. During the production of the first Star Trek reboot, he used the working title “Corporate Headquarters” to throw off the scent of any snooping film journalists or fans. Security during production was extremely tight; each actor was under supervision while reading the film’s script or rehearsing scenes. But when a suspicious casting call asking for actors who had a “Vulcan-type eyebrow shape” emerged, reporters and fans soon found out that J.J. Abrams' new film was, in fact, Star Trek.    

14. Working Title: "Changing Seasons"

Actual Title: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

In 1998, it was no secret that Peter Jackson was adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling epic of Middle Earth with the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Jackson and his production team in New Zealand spent two long years making three movies simultaneously for the first film’s Christmas 2001 release date. When Fellowship of the Ring arrived at movie theaters around the world, the film canisters had the title “Changing Seasons” attached to them, so hardcore Tolkien fans would be fooled into thinking it was a different movie.

For the subsequent films—Two Towers and Return of the King—Peter Jackson used the titles “Grand Tour” and “Til Death, For Glory” respectively.

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

Warner Bros.

Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes? And [Hanson] said ‘Dean Martin.’”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

Warner Bros.

[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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