Film productions thrive on extensive planning and preparation; any delays would result in thousands of dollars wasted in the production budget.
Glenn Williamson, film producer and adjunct film professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, said, “When you are scheduling a production, you map out every single day.”
When uncontrollable elements like weather set the stage during filming, productions must interestingly plan to improvise.
However, even the most meticulous attention to detail can’t stop the destructive powers of a hurricane, ice storm, drought or other weather phenomenon.
Three blockbuster films, the original Jurassic Park (1993), Mockingjay Part One (scheduled release in 2015) and Field of Dreams (1988), had weather which unexpectedly impacted their completion into finished movies.
Classic blockbuster Jurassic Park’s production had the unfortunate coincidence of occurring at the same time and place as Hurricane Iniki, the strongest and most destructive hurricane to hit Hawaii in over a century.
The storm hit the island of Kauaʻi on Sept. 11, 1992, when the production was scheduled to shoot on the island for the last day. According to the Washington Post, the entire production was halted as the 130 cast and crew members waited out the storm in their hotel.
During interviews for the 25th anniversary re-release of the film with the TODAY show, Jurassic Park star Sam Neill said it completely shut down production. “It destroyed all our sets; we had to go back to L.A.”
Reminiscing about when the hurricane was approaching the island, Neil said, “I remember standing on a beach with Laura [Dern] and she said, ‘do you think we are going to be alright, Sam?’ and I said, ‘you know, I think we might die, Laura.’ And she laughed.”
While the hurricane did not cause any fatalities or injuries amongst the production staff, Neill said, “It was a real adventure.”
The filming of the third installment of the Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part I, was disrupted by an ice storm that battered Atlanta, Ga. in February of 2014, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
A state of emergency was declared in 45 counties of Georgia, including the filming location, in anticipation of the dangerous storm.
The production was reportedly scheduled to shoot in downtown Atlanta on an event space functioning as a stage set. Williamson, a film producer familiar with the effects of weather on a production, said, “If they were shooting on stages, obviously that would be affected by a power outage.”
Days scheduled on location, which is considered a production work day that occurs away from the studio lot or soundstage, are usually powered by trucks attached to generators. Being on location allows the production to circumvent that loss of power to a municipal grid, providing the cast and crew are able to complete their tasks safe from the inclement weather.
The filming had to be halted due to the storm, and the production staff likely made adjustments to the remaining filming schedule to accommodate the delay.
Even with stars Jennifer Lawrence and Sam Claflin due to film that day, the Hollywood Reporter said, “The storm stole the spotlight.”
Weather events can be an unexpected plot twist not written in any script. The 1988 classic “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner is yet another film that was negatively impacted by the weather.
“Field of Dreams” was filmed in Iowa during the infamous drought of 1988. This may have not greatly disrupted the filming of most movies, but Jeff Carney, who worked on the production, said the corn stalks featured in the film were not only integral but were “almost another character in the film.”
The script explicitly stated the corn needed to be over 6 feet tall and taller than their star, Kevin Costner.
Carney said, “What no one counted on that summer was the drought. It was so bad, that by the time we finished filming all the interiors and the shots in the city, the corn was only ankle high.”
The producers eventually decided to install an expensive but incredibly effective irrigation system around the corn to water the crop 24 hours a day until the scenes needed to be filmed.
“By constantly watering it, the corn started to grow about 2-3 inches a day. By the fourth week, the corn was the proper height,” he said.
As the viewers of the film can attest, the corn grew to the required height and provided the pivotal backdrop to the story.
Even as film technology advances with 3D and special effects, the unpredictability of weather can always wrangle a meticulously planned and budgeted production.
“It’s costly to be caught by the weather because it can cost thousands and thousands of dollars. And on larger films, it can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars a day,” Carney said.
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