Starting from the end? Safety Last

Ahh, early Hol­ly­wood, where film­mak­ers were just fig­ur­ing out how to do things.  Where mas­ter­pieces could  be spun out in any way the direc­tor saw fit.  Pre­vi­ously I posted about how Buster Keaton would often build his sto­ries beginning-end-middle.  Now I dis­cov­ered this quote from Harold Lloyd.  It’s from an essay titled “The Seri­ous Busi­ness of Being Funny”.

About using scripts.  In Safety Last, prob­a­bly one of our most pop­u­lar films, we did the final scenes of that clock climb first.  We didn’t know what we were going to have for the begin­ning of the film.  We hadn’t made up the open­ing.  After we found that we had, in our opin­ion, a very, very good thrill sequence, some­thing that was going to be pop­u­lar and bring in a few shekels, we went back and fig­ured out what we would do for a begin­ning and worked on up.  We tried out the same thing in The Fresh­man.

In The Fresh­man we tried to shoot the foot­ball sequence first — it’s the best sequence, nat­u­rally — and we tried to do it first just as we had done the clock climb first in Safety Last.  We went out to the Rose Bowl where we did a great deal of the pic­ture, and we worked for about a week and a half, but it didn’t come off.  It didn’t come off because we didn’t know the char­ac­ter at that time — we didn’t under­stand him well enough, and we were off with the wrong kind of mate­r­ial.  So we went back and did that story from the begin­ning, and the foot­ball game was shot at the last.

I can imag­ine con­ceiv­ing a film this way.  Hav­ing a flash of an image or sequence that is so pow­er­ful, you could build a story around it.  For ani­ma­tion, that actu­ally sounds quite accept­able.  But to actu­ally start shoot­ing that scene with no idea what came before, that would be con­sid­ered crazy these days.

Here is one more sig­nif­i­cant quote from the same essay:

Look, all the come­di­ans of my day had to be stu­dents of com­edy.  You stud­ied com­edy, it just didn’t hap­pen, believe me.

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