After a long time, I had a moment to spare to watch some movies. Whilst my collection is nothing special and does not contain many flicks film buffs would tell you to watch, I noticed an interesting trend with then. Behind the Scene stuff changed across the ages. For example, with Star Trek‘s behind the scenes footage was quite honestly just someone on the set doing home videos, with the occasional Roddenberry-owned goof tape he used to sell at conventions without any approval of the studio or the actors. I think you can still find pirate versions of these tapes floating around the Internet. These are honest showcases of what was happening, all the flips and flops of the actors.
Television didn’t exactly have the same amount of documentaries about making of television or movies, all these were relegated to magazine articles and newspaper interviews. Something that the studios themselves didn’t do at all. The value wasn’t in there for them. Genre magazines shone with their exclusive contents, behind the scenes photos and such.
Things changed, albeit slowly. By the late 1970’s you began seeing more and more material on the television about movies being made, as studios began to recognize the PR value. Outside the usual interviews, footage was more often than not honest to the reality.
A paradigm shift began to take hold in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, where some studios began to intentionally build a library of making of documentaries for documentary and PR use. While only Laserdiscs could really contain large amount of extras, television saw more of these Behind the Scenes stuff to a larger extent. These documentaries have a more professional feel and look to them, as they’re shot as intended for a purpose.
However, it wasn’t until the 2000’s when Behind the Scene documentaries lost pretty much all plausability. Star Wars Episode I; The Phantom Menace‘s footage is one of the last Making Of documentaries, where you see the director and his staff being completely honest. That footage is interesting, because it has no veil on it, and you can see all the little bits that would build up the movie, for better or worse. There are multiple moments of Lucas himself telling directly in a natural environment what he is doing and how. Him watching old silent comedy for Jar Jar Binks, using a marker to draw on storyboards or reviewing readied models, it’s all there.
Then jump to Star Wars Episode VII. By 2010’s, Hollywood has fully recognised the power Behind the Scenes and Making Of features have. DVD brought us an era, where discs were chock-full of specials features, something we’re starting to lack with BDs. While a lot of the special features were simply transfers from the LD versions, at some point you could find yourself watching a Making Of, where the actors, director and everyone else who is involved being interviewed against a backdrop, over a footage they act in or make models.
In effect, these features have become less about the reality of the situation and fully about the public relations aspect, and how the studio and its staff can promote each other to the fullest. These studios, Disney especially, exerts large control over what material gets out and how it should be presented. A book called Making of the Force Awakens supposedly would’ve revealed lot of the background while making the movie, including some of the details about the deal Disney and Lucas made. The only reason a book like this would get cancelled is because it had something negative, something that could’ve damaged reputation of Disney or Star Wars as a franchise. There would have been no questions about its potential sales, as Star Wars was at its hottest since Episode I at the time.
The design of these things have never truly been about what’s happening behind the scenes. However, with time these features have become effectively fraudulent, showcasing a reality that doesn’t exist. Well, perhaps this was to be expected, a documentary is one’s subjective view of the events after all, not the objective reality.