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Miramax Films

14 Wicked Smart Facts About Good Will Hunting

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Miramax Films

There are plenty of reasons why Good Will Hunting is one of the most beloved films of the past 20 years. It has that great Robin Williams performance, the only one he ever won an Oscar for. It put indie director Gus Van Sant on the mainstream map. And, of course, it gave us Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Cinderella story: two up-and-coming actors who slept on each other’s couches wrote a screenplay, starred in the movie, and then won Academy Awards for their writing. (The movie tends to make us cry, too. We shouldn’t overlook that.) Here are some facts about Good Will Hunting to help you appreciate it even more. If you didn’t know some of these things before, don’t worry. It’s not your fault.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY ABOUT A MATH GENIUS AND HIS BUDDY OUTSMARTING THE GOVERNMENT.

That’s how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck conceived it, with the idea that they’d play the leads. When the producers at Castle Rock bought the screenplay (after a bidding war), head honcho Rob Reiner told the writers that they really had two movies here: the action-comedy about a reluctant whiz kid trying not to be recruited by the CIA, and the character drama about a genius and his shrink. He left it to them to decide which part of the story would survive. 

2. IT HAS A MIX OF REAL BOSTON LOCATIONS AND SETS BUILT IN TORONTO.

All of the MIT interiors were shot on a Canadian sound stage. The L Street Tavern is real, and the regulars were hugely supportive of the movie. In one peculiar instance of logistics, the exterior shots of Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College are real, but Dr. Maguire’s office within the college is a set ... a set built to look exactly like a real office at Bunker Hill Community College, where Robin Williams had visited a teacher for research. 

3. THE PARK BENCH BECAME A MEMORIAL TO ROBIN WILLIAMS AFTER HIS DEATH. 

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Located in Boston’s Public Garden, the bench where Dr. Maguire and Will have their iconic, crucial scene had been a significant part of Good Will Hunting lore since the film’s release. After Williams’ death in 2014, it’s where fans memorialized him.

4. FOR A WHILE THE SCREENPLAY HAD A GAY SEX SCENE AS A TEST TO SEE IF THE STUDIO WAS PAYING ATTENTION.

Castle Rock had Damon and Affleck doing rewrite after rewrite without getting anywhere, and the duo felt like the bosses weren’t even reading the new drafts. So they added a paragraph-long screen direction describing Sean and Will goin’ at it. Nobody said anything.

5. KEVIN SMITH HELPED IT GET MADE.

Though Castle Rock loved the screenplay they’d purchased (more so after the running-from-the-government angle was excised), they disagreed with the writers on who should direct it. Damon and Affleck wanted to do it themselves; Castle Rock thought that idea was preposterous. (Buying a screenplay from a couple of pretty-boy actors was risky enough.) They told Matt and Ben that if they could find another studio to take it off Castle Rock’s hands, they’d sell; otherwise, Castle Rock was going to make the film without the writers’ input, and that would be that. Desperate to find a buyer, Affleck approached his Mallrats and Chasing Amy director, Kevin Smith. In Affleck’s recollection, Smith said, “I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful.” (Smith’s recollection is more self-deprecating: “Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were like, ‘Why don’t you direct it?’ But I was like, ‘That’s awesome, but we need someone good.’”) What Smith did do, though, was march into Harvey Weinstein’s office at Miramax and make him read the screenplay. And Weinstein did something no other studio head had done: he asked about the sex scene between Will and his shrink, proving that he’d actually read it. So the project moved over to Miramax.

6. MEL GIBSON ALMOST DIRECTED IT.

After Weinstein bought the script from Castle Rock, he set up meetings with various potential directors, including Gibson, who was a hot commodity at the time because of Braveheart. Gibson was interested, and he spent a few months developing the project, but ultimately he wasn’t moving fast enough. Damon politely asked if he might consider stepping aside for someone who really had a passion for it, and Gibson obliged.

7. IT’S ONE OF 15 MOVIES GUS VAN SANT HAS DIRECTED, AND IT MADE ABOUT AS MUCH MONEY AS THE OTHER 14 COMBINED.

Van Sant was (and for the most part still is) a director of small, independent features, not blockbusters. The $225.9 million that Good Will Hunting made worldwide is just shy of the $231.5 million that his other 14 movies (four before and 10 since) have racked up.

8. ROBIN WILLIAMS CHOSE THE BAR.

Once he committed to the movie, Williams wanted to get a taste of South Boston by having Affleck and Damon take him around the neighborhood. They took him to a rough dive bar called the L Street Tavern, where the colorful locals mobbed the actor and drunk guys tried to fight Affleck. Williams loved the place and told Weinstein they just had to use it as a location (even though his character wasn’t in any of the scenes that took place there). “So then we got a message from Harvey," Damon said, "and he was like, ‘Don’t take Robin to any more locations!’” 

9. VAN SANT WANTED AFFLECK’S CHARACTER TO DIE.

At one point in the rewriting process, after Van Sant was onboard as director, he said, “I want Chuckie to get flattened on a construction site … Crushed like a bug.” He proposed that this would be the climax to the movie’s second act. Affleck and Damon protested, but dutifully wrote it. Van Sant read it and said, “It’s a terrible idea.” 

10. WILL HUNTING WAS MAYBE GOING TO DIE AT THE END, TOO.

Damon said one of the endings he and Affleck toyed with was where “Carmine came back with his boys and a baseball bat to kill Will Hunting, who deep down actually wanted to be killed. It was his way of getting out.” Yikes.

11. MATT DAMON AGREES WITH YOU THAT HIS HAIR IS TERRIBLE.

As he told an interviewer in 2012, “That is so my fault. For whatever reason at that age, I loved that haircut. Gus was like, ‘Really?’ Ben was like, ‘Really?’ If you look at Ben’s hair in that movie, it’s totally acceptable by today’s standards, but no, I wanted the frosted f*****’ hair. I don’t know what my problem was. I looked like I should be singing backup for Color Me Badd.”

12. STELLAN SKARSGÅRD STANDS BY HIS SCARF, THOUGH.

Miramax Films

Some have mocked Professor Gerald Lambeau’s fashion choice, and the fact that he wears it constantly, but Skarsgård doesn’t understand why. “It was not my idea, it was the costume designer’s idea,” he said. “But it was totally in line with mine because the first thing I said was, ‘I’m a college professor—no tweed.’ That was a condition because I wanted a rock and roll professor more than a tweed professor. I want a professor that f*cked his students. And I got it!”

13. THE ENDING WAS TERRENCE MALICK’S IDEA.

The reclusive director of Badlands and Days of Heaven (he was a year away from making The Thin Red Line) happened to be good friends with an Affleck family friend, so Ben and Matt arranged a meeting with him. Over dinner, they told him the plot of the movie, which at that point ended with Damon's and Minnie Driver’s characters leaving town together. Damon recalls, “In the middle of the dinner, he said, ‘I think it would be better if she left and he went after her.’ And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that’s better … He started talking about Antonioni. ‘In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that’s enough.’ And we said of course that’s enough.” 

14. IT FEATURES TWO THINGS THAT VAN SANT HAD ALMOST USED IN HIS PREVIOUS FILM: MATT DAMON AND THE MUSIC OF ELLIOTT SMITH.

Damon had auditioned for To Die For, in the role that eventually went to Joaquin Phoenix. Van Sant later said, “[Damon] looked too much like the jock and I needed more of a dispossessed boy … I wanted to use Matt so much, and I could have gone that direction, but I felt it might actually destroy the movie.” As for Elliott Smith, Van Sant was given one of his albums when he was working on To Die For, “because I was looking for something that was really raw. [But] we were thinking more in terms of heavy metal, so we didn’t use Elliott.” 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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