Parallel movie making

Has anyone ever applied parallelism to movie making? Hire multiple casts and shoot each scene multiple times. In post production, edit the footage into multiple movies.

As I see it, there’s several reasons to do this:

  1. This technique could allow audiences to choose a version they wish to see. A superior performance would attract more viewers. If audiences want to avoid a particular actor, say Keanu Reeves or Tom Cruise, they can do so.

  2. Movies could be made with more diverse casts. Audiences might choose a version featuring actors they identify with more. Overseas editions would feature native actors speaking in the native languages with no dubbing or subtitles needed.

  3. Regardless of the number of casts, much of the movie making costs are still fixed: pre-production (script, location scouting, casting, etc.), shoots (set design, lighting, props, costumes and makeup people, stunts, etc.), and post-production (score, foley, fx, editing, marketing etc.) Additional costs do come from cast salaries, extra costumes, makeup, food, and film, but I think the incremental cost for each additional movie would be surprisingly low.

  4. Most actors wait around for their scene because it takes time to set up the shot, light it, etc. I think it would be possible to shuffle in different casts relatively quickly once they are ready to shoot. I don’t think it would greatly lengthen shooting schedules.

  5. The studios might be able to save on cast salaries by casting cheaper or unknown actors in starring roles. There is less risk of catastrophe if an actor turning in a terrible performance… plenty of backup performances to choose from. This might even give actors incentive to outperform the other cast, so fewer actors “phone it in”. Also, this would provide a larger pool of actors to go do press junkets.

  6. The first time this is tried, people might decide to watch all versions, as a curiosity. Afterwards, box office numbers could be better if some people decide to see things again with a different cast.

  7. Technique can be applied to both regular and adult movies.

The famous example is the Spanish version of Dracula from 1931. Used the same sets as the Bela Lugosi version, but filmed with a different director, cast and crew during the night, while the team for the English version was using them by day. Well worth seeing.

I believe there are similar examples from the same period; it took a while after the advent of sound to figure out how to deal with foreign language markets.

Mostly because the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

More likely, the audences will go to one version and not the other. And no one is going to go to both. So you split the audience. Ultimately, there’d be no gain in revenues.

Cost of dubbing/subtitles is cheaper than hiring a second cast. Again, audiences choosing is not likely to bring in any more people.

But it would be a incremental cost, with no incremental increase in ticket sales.

Not really. You’d have to reset the set after each take to where it was in the beginning, and that’s time consuming. Continuity would be a nightmare.

And what happens if there’s an explosion in the scene? You’d have to build two sets. In addition, lighting and such can be different depending on the actors.

Not likely. You’d still have to pay the stars their usual. In addition, you often want stars in a film to draw in an audience. Given the same film with stars and with unknowns, the one with stars will do better. And again, anything you do will only split up the box office, not increase it.

It didn’t work for Clue. It didn’t work for Psycho (people didn’t flock to the Gus Van Sant version to compare it to the original). It might work from time to time as a novelty, but eventually people will pick one or the other. People who want to see both most likely will see a single film twice.

Sure – but with the same disadvantages.

On occasion something like “audience chooses the plot development” has been tried, and IIRC we’ve discussed it on these Boards. I recall hearing about a case at some World’s Fair (Expo '67?) where the audience got to choose one of two paths for a film to take every 10-15 minutes. But it was a buit of a swindle – instead of the large number of possible plots you’d expect to be able to make, there were only “n” choices, since after each bifurcation in the plot you ended up at exactly the same next “node” .
Basically, the reason you don’t get this sort of thing is that it’s expensive to film all those options, and a heckuva lot more complex to present.

What about the folks who boycott War of the Worlds to avoid Tom Cruise? If those folks go to the Will Smith version, you’d see a net gain at the box office.

I hate playing the race card, but Chris Rock’s bit at the Oscars indicates to me a potential for greater box office with Will Smith.

The overseas market might respond better to a version that stars Jet Li, etc.

Perhaps, but you’d have to pay both Cruise and Smith. I doubt the net gain would cover both that and the additional production costs.

I also doubt the number of people boycotting Cruise would be large enough to pay for a second film.

Come to think of it, post-production costs will increase, since you’ll have to add it to two different films. The score would have to be adjusted for the different lengths of the scenes (it’d be impossible to have each scene have the same length – the actors would say their lines at varying rates), foley would have to be recorded separately (again – different lengths and timing of the effects – it’d highly improbable for a gunshot to be at exactly the same instant in each take), and each film would have to be separately edited. Marketing expenses would also go up (though wouldn’t double), since you’d have to promote both films, and most people would probably just pick one or the other.

And then there’s one more star you have to pay. And it’s unlikely the change would make any difference: Tom Cruise films do OK overseas.

We’d have an AD shortage from all of them slitting their wrists!

[slight derail]

i once had an idea for a movie which is filmed and screened at about 90 minutes in length, but ending with a huge cliffhanger. then, over the next x months people write their own ending and submit it. eventually one is chosen and the winner gets a small (comparatively, for hollywood) cash prize and a trip to be on-set during the filming of his/her ending (likely with no control over the process at that point, although winning a chance to direct your own ending might even draw more contestants?).

anyway, after all that the movie is re-screened with the new ending.


  • standard hollywood movie gets an ending that the people actually want to see
  • plenty of merchandising opportunities during the contest phase
  • if the cliffhanger is good enough, the re-screening will likely net a huge $$, essentially netting double the box office rake (assuming promo/merchandising during contest cover the filming of the ending)

[/slight derail]

Ok, but what about movies with shitty stories? I don’t care who stars in the next remake of Rabbit Test, no one will go see it.

Now you have additional costs for each actor/actress hired. So one male and one female leading role, with 2 alternate casts and a different pair for, say, French, Spanish, Italian, Indian, Japanese and German audiences means 18 actors, not just 2.

I can tell you that each take of each scene will need technicians. If it takes a gaffer, a best boy, 4 grips and 4 electricians to light a scene, it takes that many every time you roll the cameras. HUGE expense. Also, each cast member in the same role would need their own costume; they can’t all be expected to wear the same outfit (it may not fit them, for one thing). Stunt people are paid per stunt, so each time they perform it, costs go up. Casting would be more difficult because you now have to cast 18 people, of varying languages, etc. for 2 roles, instead of just casting 2 people. That means more time, which means more money.

So if Male Lead #1 screws his scene up 40 times, now I have 8 other pairs of leads waiting to do the same scene, and I still have to pay them for standing around.

I don’t think you are going to convince many actors to play this kind of “gladiator ring” game.

Not bloody likely, mate. Hell, most people don’t even watch a whole movie twice to see the “alternate ending” on a DVD… they just skip right to it and watch the one scene.

Making a movie is a very demanding, time consuming, labor intensive process. It is not like making automobiles and painting some red and some blue. As it is a collective art, the difficulties can be staggering. Give Lost In La Mancha a view and then see if you think anyone could make this idea of yours work. Living In Oblivion is a more humorous, fictional look at movie making, but it shows some of the pitfalls one has to contend with.

Not quite the same thing, but supposedly Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are considering switching roles on alternating nights in the upcoming stage production of The Odd Couple.

Which may be a little unusual but not unheard of–I heard productions of Top Dog/Underdog and True West (the latter with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly) did the same thing.

Yes, this is acceptable to me. Judging by how long the credits are of a typical movie, there’s already a lot of people working on it. Adding 16 people isn’t a lot. If you only make two extra editions (with a white cast, a black cast and a chinese cast), you already broaden your market significantly.

You already need to pay for most of these expenses. Stunts can be performed once and fixed in post using CG. Most of the cost of designing stunts / costumes / etc. are fixed. Scene setup is mostly fixed. Casting takes longer, but is needs to be done anyways. A lot of times, the casting decision is agonizing between many qualified actors… now you can hire all of them, if they agree to your salary.

Actors spend most of their time standing around anyway. Besides, parallelism allows the building of multiple sets and rotating actors through shoots. This would actually save time. If one of your casts screws up 40 times, either you fire them, or you work with it.

Most actors would jump at the chance to be in a movie.

I know it’s fun to pooh pooh a new idea, but consider this: If War of the Worlds starred Jet Li who spoke entirely in Chinese with subtitles, would you personally go see it? Most Americans would not. In the US, there would be a noticeable difference at the box office between releasing Chinese-only and releasing a non-subtitled, undubbed English version. This difference would more than pay for the incremental costs of producing the other version. Reverse the scenario for the overseas market and think about it.

I unerstand that they did this with Jean Anouilh’s Becket back in the 1960s, with the two lead actors switching between playing Henry IV and Thomas Becket on different nights.

It’s an interesting idea from an experimental point of view, The Controvert, but it’s just not practical. First of all, you’re not talking about hiring just ‘16 more people’. While you might be able to “shuffle in different casts relatively quickly”, actually shooting the scenes with those different casts is a different matter altogether. It doesn’t take minutes to shoot a scene, you know. It takes just as long to shoot a scene with a second cast as it does with a first cast; getting them on the set is not what takes time. You’re talking about virtually doubling your shoot day (actually, probably literally doubling it, when the usual uncontrollable delays are figured in). This means either doubling your shoot schedule (going from around 60 days to 120; also doubling crew costs, equipment rental, studio time, etc.), or hiring an entire second crew and shooting at night (as bonzer mentions was done with some Spanish language films in the 20s). In either case, you’re talking major expenses.

Also, very importantly, you’re literally doubling a VERY expensive aspect of making a film: the film itself, processing, and post-production costs. You throw out that “Stunts can be performed once and fixed in post using CG”. You do realize that CG effects are very expensive, right? And effect houses charge per effect. Doubling your costs here is not insignificant.

You are under the misimpression that your idea would not significantly increase the cost of a film, but you couldn’t be more wrong here. What you don’t understand is, is that the things you’re cost-saving by shooting your way are some of the lesser expenses of making a film. You wouldn’t be saving on the real costs. While it wouldn’t double the cost of making the film, it wouldn’t be far from it.

It doesn’t matter whether I would go see it, or how many others would go see it, given the option. Simply because, at a likely total cost of 300-400 million, NO ONE would be able to go see it, because it wouldn’t be made.

Would the two versions expand an audience, as you propose? Maybe. I tend to agree with RealityChuck that you’d be actually splitting your audience, rather than increasing it. In any case, I can almost guarantee you that you wouldn’t be doubling your audience, which is what it would take to make your idea financially doable.

Sorry, but the incremental costs would eat up any overseas market profits, and foreign audiences are perfecly happy to see American stars in American movies, either dubbed or using subtitles. The cost of dubbing/subtitling Tom Cruise is negligible, so any overseas income is pure gravy.

Besides, your scenario would only work in Chinese-speaking markets. You’d have to dub Li or Cruise anyway to show it in France, Germany, Brazil, Russia, etc. And every time you added a different lead actor, your costs are going to jump.

Again, every scene with a different actor would have to have a separate scoring, separate effects, separate costumes. Post-production costs would skyrocket.

The crew gets paid by the hour. You may not have to add many new people, but everyone is going to be there longer (stands to reason: the more film shot, the more hours it takes). If you have to shoot the same scene twice, it can’t help but increase costs. And you wil have to dress and reset the set after each actor’s final take. Either you need two sets or everything featuring the parallel scenes takes twice as long to shoot.

The only scenes that can be reused would be effects shots, establishing shots, or any scenes that don’t feature the parallel actors. These are only a small portion of the entire film.

Bottom line, doing two parallel movies at once would probably increase the production costs of a film 50-75% with no corresponding increase in box office. Why spend that much money to shoot both Cruise and Li versions of the film when dubbing/subtitling would probably increase costs less than 1%?

When you’re talking about money, sure it is. Actors, especially ones that will draw people the way you allege they will, cost a ton. And quite a few get percentages–how are you going to divy those out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Significantly? You have no evidence of this. Marginally? Maybe. Bad Boys II made $138M. Do you really think that would “significantly” improve with a white set of actors? On what basis?

Yeah, once. Doing the set-ups multiple times mean (a) longer work days, and/or (b) a longer shooting schedule. Not all locations are available for extended shoots (or if they are, the costs skyrocket accordingly).

CG ain’t free. More $ to budget for.

:rolleyes: Uh, what planet are these movies being shot on? Because on Earth, a cast of 60 costs more to costume than a cast of 20. If you have more/different actors, you have more costumes to have to create. This fact can’t simply be wiped away.

Wrong. See above.

And what actor’s going to do that? Unknown actors, sure, or ones with careers on the ropes. Why risk losing Tom Hanks if, in casting two parallel movies, you get John C. Reilly and Mos Def instead? They’re both fine actors, but they won’t bring b.o. in like Hanks.

Easier said than done. How does building multiple sets save time? You do know that they’re often not in one big building, right? This isn’t a sitcom. And if you’re shooting on multiple sets with actor rotation, then you are still dealing with longer shooting schedules, and even multiple directors. Who exactly is running this show anyway? It’s all the makings of a train wreck. Your logic is “They wait around now; let them wait around longer”. That is the making for a miserable set and poor performances. And your casts will have contracts–it won’t be so easy just to “fire them”.

Movies are a high-risk investment–just because you have actors who’d be willing to work doesn’t mean they’re actors who will necessarily be worth the trouble.

Nobody’s pooh poohing your idea for fun. We are because it shows some fundamental breaks from reality. Everybody who is not involved with the film industry usually thinks that moviemaking is not that difficult. Those of us who are (myself included) often still fail to appreciate the level of logistical complexity involved. When you actually understand how most studio movies are made (and that’s what we’re talking about here; not small independent, arthouse fare), it’s a miracle as many of them come out as good as they do.

If it was directed by Steven Spielberg? And still featured state-of-the-art Visual FX from ILM? I’d say there would be an inevitable percentage drop-off, but that’s hardly “most”

And your proof: “Because I think it would”. You need to do better than that.

I don’t have to. Minority Report (SciFi, directed by Spielberg, starring Cruise) made $132M domestically and $221M outside the US. Would making a second film increased that amount dramatically? Probably not. Would it have been worth spending another, say, $70M (a conservative estimate) to make a parallel MR? No. Heck, that’s how much Hitch cost to make–you’re better off making a second freaking movie. That way, if one bombs, the other’s a hit.

Remember, if a movie’s bad, than a parallel version of the same movie isn’t going to divide the risk, it’s going to inflate it.

I infer from this that you’ve never actually been on a movie set. May I respectfully suggest that you get some actual practical experience in how a film is made, and then reconsider your idea? I agree that it may be interesting in principle, but having been involved with a few productions myself, I’ll repeat what everyong else is saying: it’s unworkable and infeasible.

(And it isn’t that hard to get some on-set time. If you’re in a big city, you should be able to find a production looking for low-or-no-paid production assistants to hang around for a few days to do the shit work: on call to run to the hardware store for gaffer’s tape or put up no-parking signs or recharge walkie-talkie batteries or ask lookie-loos to get out of the way of the incoming trucks or whatever. You could volunteer at a local college if it’s got a film program, to do the same thing.)