The Other Side of the Wind team on the 40-year journey to bring Orson Welles final film to the screen
It’s rare that the story behind the making of a film is as engrossing and more fantastical than the film itself, but the 40-year journey to bring Orson Welles’ final unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind to the screen is the rare exception to the rule.
Welles spent six years filming and another eight years attempting to complete Wind before his death at age 70 in 1985. In the wake of his death, countless individuals picked up the mantle of completing the project, including his cinematographer Gary Graver, producer Frank Marshall, star Oja Kodar, and Peter Bogdanovich, who appears in the film, but was also a close friend to Welles.
More than 40 years later, Marshall, who was an original crew member on the shoot early in his career, and producer Filip Jan Rymsza have finally succeeded. On Nov. 2, Netflix is releasing The Other Side of the Wind alongside They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a documentary about the 40-year saga to bring the film to the screen and the final 15 years of Welles’ life.
EW caught up with producers Marshall and Jan Rymsza, as well as editor Bob Murawski to get the extraordinary story of what it took to shepherd this labor of love to completion.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Frank, you are one of the few people here who has been with the project since its early days. What was it like working with Orson?
Frank Marshall (producer): It was very exciting. Every day you never knew what was going to happen. It was incredibly inspiring and kind of life-changing. He created an atmosphere that was so creative and artistic and exciting, and we just wanted to be there every minute.
At what point did you decide to get the footage and try to finish it?
Marshall: It was really after Orson passed away and Gary Graver, who was the cinematographer and obviously a friend by then, started out trying to get the financing to put together what they had shot and edited up to that point. I offered to help. That was quite a long time ago.
In the 1980s still?
Filip, how did you get involved with the project and trying to finish it?
Filip Jan Rymsza (producer): I heard about it 9 years ago in Cannes. It was just happenstance that I was told that the rights were available. I really didn’t know anything about the project. I was sent the script and told that [actress] Oja [Kodar] was looking for somebody to finish this and if I was interested, this go-between would make an introduction. The more I read about it, the more I researched it, it got its hooks in me. It was curiosity with it and then investigating why the film hadn’t come to be. I was really trying to figure out why it didn’t happen for others and to learn from their mistakes, and trying to figure out if I could put it together.
How did you end up getting all the footage and being able to put it together?
Marshall: That’s a very long story. In a nutshell, we tried over and over for many years. It was really a rights issue, and both Filip and I were working with different approaches to the different rights holders. Back in 2011, we decided to band together. We met each other at the Telluride film festival and we decided to bring our resources together. He was coming at it from the European side, and I was coming at it from the U.S. side and so we combined our forces. Then, Netflix [came onboard] and the rest is history.
Bob, when did you come into the project?
Bob Murawski (editor): I originally found out about the project in the early 2000s. Gary Graver, the cinematographer, lived down the street from me and we became pretty good friends. We always talked about maybe trying to work on the movie when we were between jobs and I had always hoped that I would get an opportunity. When he passed away in 2006, I thought that was the end of it for me. But luckily I heard about the movie starting up last year and met with Filip and Frank and somehow persuaded them to hire me to edit the movie. It was really lucky for me, and as somebody who was friends with Gary, I really wanted to see the movie get finished.
What percentage was already edited? How much did you have to go back in and cut?
Murawski: Orson always said in interviews that the movie was probably 98 percent finished, but when we actually started getting into the footage itself, we realized that was quite an exaggeration. Probably in the final movie, about 30 percent of the footage was pre-fine-cut by Orson and about another 50 percent was really rough assemblies. Just multiple takes strung together — basically all of his select reels for what he wanted to use to edit the movie. Aside from that, there was 20 percent of the footage that had never really been touched at all as far as we knew because we never found any sort of assembled or edited material. It turned out to be a pretty big job because over the period of six years they had shot almost 100 hours of footage in all different formats — 35 mm, 16mm, color, black and white, you name a film format they shot in it. It actually turned out to be a pretty massive undertaking but it was definitely something I was into doing and ecstatic about being involved.
Orson Welles was plagued throughout his career by his projects taken by the studios and cut in his ways he didn’t like – did that weigh on your mind as you were working?
Marshall: Yes it certainly weighed upon our minds, but I’ll let Bob tell you how we dealt with it.
Murawski: I was very aware of everything that happened throughout the course of Orson’s career and how he felt betrayed by a lot of the people he worked with. I really didn’t want to be part of that. I tried to do as much research as possible. Before I started on the movie, I went back and re-watched a lot of his movies. I read every book that I could. I went to the Academy library and read as many interviews as I could find with Orson. I watched interview clips with him on the Criterion releases or on YouTube or wherever I could find them. I tried to get access to any material that I could find related to The Other Side of the Wind — any paperwork, memos he had written to the editors he was working with. We got every version of the script we could find. We went back to the University of Michigan library in Ann Arbor where his archives are stored and I had them pull as many versions of the script and treatments as possible. We really tried to do our homework in terms of trying to figure out what Orson would have wanted and what style he would’ve wanted things cut in. The most valuable resource of all was having Frank and Peter Bogdanovich who were both there when he was shooting and were friends of Orson and knew what his intentions were with a lot of the footage.
Marshall: Orson would string together the set-ups in the order he wanted, but he would choose like 3 takes of the same shot. But they were in the order he wanted them cut in, so we had some pretty good reference points from which to work.
Rymsza: Between Frank and Peter, all the years they had spent in production and all the attempts that had failed, all the close calls, and Bob’s long history with Gary. We all came to it with a lot of research and a lot of life experience that brought us all together.
Frank, since you were there when it was happening and had a relationship with Orson – was the process at any time really painful or emotional?
Marshall: I find making movies very emotional because it becomes all-consuming. You’re all driving for this one goal of getting the picture finished, so when we would run into the hurdles and the challenges that came along, it was very discouraging and it was painful. I always go into a movie intending to finish it. So there were moments way beyond our control, that happened and it just seemed like so many of those things happened to Orson. We really wanted to try and get this film finished for Orson and for Gary and everybody that worked on it.
Murawski: It was pretty emotional for me because having been friends with Gary and knowing that he basically devoted his entire professional career to Orson Welles and to trying to make him finish this movie. It was really a powerful force weighing on me…I made a trip up to [Gary’s] son’s place in Tacoma last fall and that was a really emotional experience going through all of Gary’s possessions and boxes of his films trying to find all the materials for this movie.
Rymsza: We always talk about how this was forensics. Gary had date books where he put things in every single day, like “Bring Orson a cake,” just the errands he would run. In there were all clues of places to look…We were constantly pouring through any bit of information we could find. This was a treasure hunt for some of these things that were missing. Every little clue uncovered something else or led to a dead-end.
Both Orson and Peter were insistent that it wasn’t autobiographical, but you can’t help but feel it was in many ways – was that something you felt was palpable on set in the 1970s?
Marshall: When I was working on the movie, I was really not aware of the story we were telling. We didn’t have much access to the script. Orson would tell us what he wanted on the day and that was certainly enough. Not until the last 10 years or so did I fully understand what we were doing. I certainly felt when we were shooting it that John Huston could possibly represent Orson. I did feel there was something that Orson was trying to say about friendship and betrayal and Hollywood.
Along similar lines, you’re doing something really rare in that the pieces you’re dealing with are long gone. You captured a moment in Peter’s career that is now over and John Huston has been dead for years. Was it surreal working with these Hollywood legends with so much distance from them?
Murawski: [In some ways this is] like a found footage kind of movie, [and] is more contemporary than ever. Imagine a party where everybody brings their iPhones and everybody is filming. Back then it was 16mm revolutionizing independent filmmaking at that point. To be able to work with actors like John Huston and Cameron Mitchell and Susan Strasberg, of course, it’s an incredible experience. To be able to hear Orson Welles directing those actors and trying to get the performance. Really focusing in on the tiny details of making the movie and getting that one line of dialogue perfect. No matter how many takes it would take to get it. It’s just the way movies are still made. Everybody is incredibly focused on any movie, and Orson Welles was the epitome of that.
Some of you knew Orson, others didn’t – what’s the most surprising or exciting thing you learned about him?
Marshall: His admiration for other performers. He really appreciated comedy for example. He had a great sense of humor and he appreciated Johnny Carson, Dick Van Dyke, Steve Martin. We would actually take a break every day at 4:30 to watch the original Dick Van Dyke show, so it was his appreciation of other creative people that I was really struck by.
Murawski: At that point, he was considered the greatest director of all time. He was able to work in a realm that’s basically the realm of ultra-low budget independent filmmakers and really make the most of it. To be able to shoot outside of the studio system. When you think of how he started with Citizen Kane having the best crew in the world and best studios and best equipment and all this control and then to be able to switch gears and to work in the fashion of a student filmmaker, I thought was very impressive. [It’s] humbling to know he was willing to work within whatever parameters he had with whatever resources he had to get the job done. It was all about trying to make the best possible movie and never giving up, continuing to fight throughout his entire career.
Rymsza: This one was [shot] over the course of six years, but you can have a sequence where Orson is shooting each side or in some cases shooting three sides in three different countries across two continents. Being able to keep that all in his head, and on the fly, assign certain lines of dialogue to somebody else to rethink things and [stay] within the parameters of the things he shot before, [that] speaks to an incredible creative intellect.
What you all think or hope Orson would think of the finished product?
Marshall: I would hope he would say, “Nice work, fellas, what took you so long?!”
Murawski: I’m sure there’s a thousand things he would’ve done differently but I think he would step back and say, “You guys took a lot of footage and made it into the movie.” Hopefully, it’s [something] movie audiences will find emotional and will respond to, which was the biggest surprise for me, because I didn’t expect the movie to be so emotional. When you see it, you really feel moved at the end of the piece, and that’s a huge testament to Orson and everybody involved.
Rymsza: [Orson’s daughter Beatrice always said] he would laugh at this, at how strongly and fervently people have carried on the baton to get this done — in joy, [at] the fact that people have continued their efforts, the quest to get this done.
Marshall: Our goal as producers was always to get Orson’s vision up on the screen, and I think we’ve done that. I hope we’ve done that.