Cutting scenes is as painful as pulling teeth, and just as necessary

January 03, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- Nearly everyone involved in the making of a film bemoans a favorite scene that ends up on the cutting-room floor. We asked some film makers associated with a handful of 1990 movies to tell us about the outtakes they most remember -- or regret.

The rough cut of Orion Pictures' "Dances With Wolves" -- the story of a U.S. soldier befriended by a tribe of Sioux Indians fighting for survival against invading whites -- came in at over five hours, and two hours had to be chopped. Film editor Neil Travis had no trouble picking the scene he and director-producer-star Kevin Costner would have most liked to save.

"It's the scene we call the Broken Forest scene," Travis says of footage shot in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. "Kicking Bird [Graham Greene] takes Dunbar [Costner] to a sacred place in the hills. They ride through this beautiful mountain meadow, full of aspens -- it's an absolutely gorgeous scene.

"And when they come to the middle of it, it's been despoiled by [white] trappers -- an acre or two right in the middle of sacred grounds, dead trees, animal carcasses, litter . . . both men are in tears.

"It hurt us to take it out. But it was just something that had to go."

The good news: A four-hour version of "Dances" is planned either for videocassette or a network miniseries, Travis says, and the Broken Forest scene "will definitely make it in."

* Did you wonder why Julia Roberts, playing a hooker in Touchstone Pictures' "Pretty Woman," climbed so quickly into the car of a passing executive (Richard Gere), thus setting up the Pygmalionlike love story?

You wouldn't if you'd seen an earlier sequence in which Roberts is chased by some drug dealers she's just told off. Gere pulls up . . . thereby providing her a getaway car.

But during audience testing, says director Garry Marshall, the sequence proved unnecessary: "It turned out nobody cared why she got in the car. They were already locked into the characters."

So the footage was cut -- along with an ensuing sequence in which Roberts and Gere encounter the drug dealers in a sleazy bar, leading to a brief chase and a confrontation in an alley.

"The film played fine without those moments," says Marshall, for whom the sacrifice was personal: His son, Scott, 21, played one of the drug dealers.

"I look back and regret that."

* During the editing of Warner Bros.' "Gremlins 2: The New Batch," director Joe Dante fought for a sequence in which the Gremlins invade a horror-flick TV show hosted by Grandpa Fred -- played by Robert Prosky. The footage not only expanded Prosky's character, but helped explain a later scene in which the nasty creatures treat Fred nicely.

Dante was also in the scene -- playing a TV director -- and says with a laugh, "So you can see, it was very close to my heart."

But Dante admits that the scene slowed the movie down -- preview audiences got restless -- and it was finally cut.

"It was particularly unfortunate for Robert Prosky, because he's such a good actor. He had a larger part in the movie and it kept getting whittled down, frankly because the studio didn't like his character. They kept asking, 'What's this old guy doing in this young-people's movie?'

"I tried to save as much as I could."

* Director Richard Benjamin sounds positively anguished whehe discusses a trim he was forced to make in Orion Pictures' "Mermaids." The scene had Winona Ryder, as an Angst-ridden teen-ager with a fixation on Catholicism, visiting a nun to seek advice.

Jan Miner -- perhaps best known as the manicurist Madge in Palmolive commercials -- played the nun, who ends up spilling out her painful life story, with Ryder never getting a word in edgewise.

The poignant, eight-minute scene, says Benjamin, had "some of the crew in tears." But in editing the film, he found it derailed the storyline.

"It stopped the movie and seemed to be about Jan," he says. "We kept shortening it, trying to save it, but finally my editor and I decided it had to go. It was heartbreaking, because it was so good."

The hardest part, Benjamin recalls, was having to call Miner and tell her. As consolation, he sent her a tape of the scene the public will probably never see.

* With "Jacob's Ladder," Bruce Joel Rubin wrote one of the year's more unusually structured screenplays, a metaphysical thriller about a young man (Tim Robbins) caught between heaven and hell. During the final month of editing, a fifth of the rough cut was trimmed.

The toughest loss for the screenwriter: a scene involving a professor, who was Jacob's mentor.

"It established the whole aspect of Jacob's background as a doctor of philosophy," says Rubin of the Tri-Star film. "It really centered the movie for me. Adrian [Lyne, who directed] loved it too and we talked about it a lot, but it had to go. It's a shame, because the audience will never see some masterful filmwork . . . but the excision helped the movie."

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