Tensions were high when shooting one of the last scenes for Groundhog Day – to the point where it took a cast and crew vote to resolve them.
Spoilers lie ahead for Groundhog Day.
Even films regarded as having next-to-perfect screenplays are beneficiaries of small moments. Day-to-day on-set decisions that go the right way, maybe, or a writer slaving over their writing implement of choice, choosing to take one turn over the other.
It’s often said that decisions by committee are the worst, though. That instead of resulting in something bold and interesting, something generic and safe tends to be spat out the other side of the creative process when more people get involved. The bigger the project too, the more compromised or uninteresting the decision.
Take The Amazing Spider-Man, the Sony-ordered bland 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man big screen movies. It was pretty well known that there was a fair amount of management-level input into the reboot, and a few years after the film’s release, comic book legend Brian Michael Bendis gave an insight into that.
Chatting to Yahoo at the time, he talked about the decision in that film for Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man to use mechanical webshooters strapped to his arms, as opposed to the organic ones we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
Bendis tells the story of being invited into a meeting in the office of then-Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal. It was Pascal “and a big roomful of producers and writers and directors”, Bendis said. She asked him: “organic webshooters or mechanical webshooters?”. Bendis went for mechanical, and only then discovered he was the casting vote in an democratic process that had taken place before he walked in. And that’s why Andrew Garfield’s Spidey sports mechanical shooters. That full Bendis interview can be found here.
There were some pros to the Spider-Man reboot, not least the casting, but ultimately, a further reboot came along a few years’ later with Marvel’s input. You probably know the story.
Less known, anyway, is how the end of Groundhog Day came about, and in this case, the decision – as with many on the film – was just about perfect.
It’s no secret that the creative process on the film was a testing one. Danny Rubin penned the original script, then when the late, great Harold Ramis was hired to direct, he went away on his own and rewrote it. Rubin thought he was off the project.
In then came Bill Murray, who himself took a pass at the script, and called Rubin back in. Between them, the refashioned the screenplay to something close to the shooting script. Murray and Ramis’ working relationship on the film would then be bumpy, and that’d send them their separate ways afterwards. They reconciled only a short while before Ramis passed away.
On the set of this particular film, the tensions came to a head right near the end of the shoot.
Stephen Tobolowsky, who of course played the wonderful Ned Ryerson in the film (pictured above), told The Epoch Times the story a few years’ back. The argument centred on the moment when the film’s story finally takes us to February 3rd, the day after Groundhog Day.
Ramis and the crew thus came to shoot the scene where Murray wakes up alongside Andie MacDowell’s Rita the morning after. And Murray, initially, simply refused to shoot the sequence.
As Tobolowsky recalled, Murray said “I refuse to shoot this scene until I know how I am dressed. Am I wearing the clothes I wore the night before? Am I wearing PJs? Am I not wearing that?”.
What do to? Should Connors have changed into night attire? Or still be in last night’s clothes? It was a question that Harold Ramis for once hadn’t got an answer to and, unusually, he ultimately decided to put it to the vote. Tensions were high on set anyway, and the cast and crew duly made their choices. The result? A tie.
The frost wasn’t thawing. That was until an assistant set director raised her hand. It was her first film, it sounds as though she was nervous as hell, but she plucked up the courage to make a notable intervention.
“He is absolutely wearing the clothes he wore the night before”, she said.
“If he is not wearing the clothes he wore the night before, it will ruin the movie. That’s my vote”. And she lowered her hand.
After a second, the set relaxed. Ramis nodded, said “then that’s what we are going to do”, and Bill Murray finally agreed to shoot the sequence. The ending was in the can, and Groundhog Day was on its way to becoming a modern classic.
Of course, in the original script for the film, on February 3rd Connors wakes up freed of Groundhog Day, but Rita discovers she’s stuck in the same day instead. You can hear that story on the Film Stories podcast we did on the film, here.
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