Art and life coexist in famous movies. People want to see realistic fiction, and that is made possible very often by the unintended outcome of ‘takes.’ ‘Serendipity’ is an appropriate but a word that is difficult to translate for the events that were happy accidents Sometimes the happy accident is the part of the script and is an intentional role while, at times, it is not intended but arises out of an unintended encounter and is merely an accidental event that makes its place in the script. Just as the ‘basic flaw’ is an essential element of a Greek tragedy, ‘serendipity’ is almost an essential element in most of the famous major movies. Film audiences want to ‘feel’ the myth and facts alike, but they want them ‘look’ completely different. Special effects also facilitate the realization of this requirement. For example, a film swap is double exposure photography when a person exposes a film followed by an overlapping exposure by another person in the same role. Very interesting and unexpected results are achieved in an unplanned manner without following a scientific method. At times, hundreds of takes were required by perfectionistic directors and producers to get the desired results, and the end result was a half-hearted compromise. On the other hand, there have been some excellent results achieved by single takes.
1. Well begun, is half done!
Beginning the movie Apocalypse Now with the song ‘The End’ was just an accidental development. Francis Ford Coppola, during editing saw some extra film in waste baskets meant for disposal. Just by chance it occurred to him that the waste should be examined prior to disposal, and he found the song ‘The End’ therein. Jokingly, he said, ‘It would be funny to play the song ‘The End’ here if this were going at the beginning of the movie.’ The result of this chance event was the creation of the movie Apocalypse Now; a movie with the best opening of all time.
2. Jaws (1975)
In the famous movie Jaws, two notable accidents happened. George Lucas, while examining ‘Bruce’ the shark, put his head into the jaws of ‘Bruce’ meanwhile, his friends Martin Scorsese and John Milius, played with the controls consequently clamping his head into the jaws which took quite some time to open due to the malfunction of the machinery. In the other accident, a real, Great White shark attacked Hooper’s cage and, in an effort to get rid of it, damaged the cage cables. The footage of this accident was surprisingly good. The scenes of this encounter were filmed by Ron Taylor and Valerie Taylor while Shark Expert Rodney Fox helped them. The result of the incident was so appealing that the script was changed to accommodate the scene, and the damaged cage had to be re-sized to be compatible with the real shark which was smaller than ‘Bruce’.
3. Ben-Hur Chariot Crash
The classic Ben-Hur was the first movie to win 11 Oscars, and the record remained unbeaten for 38 years. The most famous event of this movie is the chariot race. In one of the crash scenes, Judah Ben-Hur’s horses ran into the crushed chariot, and stuntman Yakima Canutt was thrown out of the chariot, but he made a quick recovery and climbed back into the chariot. Noshell Powell who worked on the film wrote in his biography that ‘Canutt turned pale as a ghost at the moment of accident, but he received only a minor injury on the chin.’ The crash was not planned, but Heston’s close-up of the accident was so good that it was included in the film and played an important role in the success of the movie.
4. Titanic Serendipity
Next to Ben-Hur, Titanic was the classical movie to win 11 Oscars. Although the said Unsinkable Ship Titanic practically sunk in the deep sea after its collision with an iceberg, the movie Titanic proved unsinkable and was a great success. As far Titanic is concerned, the happy accident was an built-in event. Di Caprio playing Jack Dawson met Rose by chance. Dawson, compared to Rose, was far less privileged. But the chance encounter of the couple followed by many other secret encounters laid the foundation of the enormous success of the movie. Their chance encounter was, in fact, the embodiment of serendipity.
5. A Trip to the Moon
A Trip to The Moon is a black-and-white silent movie regarded as one of the first, if not the first, science fiction movie. Based on H. G. Wells’ novel The First Men in the Moon, the movie was released in 1902 and was a great hit in its time, particularly on account of the use of the special effects like the landing of a spacecraft in the Moon’s Eye. It was written and directed by George Melies who accidentally discovered the special effect while his camera jammed during filming a street. On tapping it, the camera restarted, and Melies observed that the point where the camera jammed created a special effect. This accident laid a solid foundation for discovering more special effects and creating a movie like A Trip to the Moon.
6. The Usual Suspects
In an effort to achieve something better, people tend to try to do more but, in the end, return back to the pavilion without any improvement. This is what happened to Bryan Singer, who got a fairly acceptable shot for his cast of The Usual Suspects. The scene was the usual suspects behaving improperly in the police lineup. However, the actors were not serious and spoiled many takes by laughing and making faces. Singer accepted it as an accident and changed the script to show the hatred of the criminals for the police.
7. Realization of Film Printing
Film printing was an outcome of a happy accident. Johann Heinrich Schultze, while working at the Caesarian Academy in Colditz, Germany, was experimenting with silver nitrate and some other silver salts. During mixing, the salt mixture was exposed to a pencil-sized stream of light falling on the salts from the window. On exposure to sunlight, the salt blackened instantly. He utilized the phenomenon to print stenciled letters. Although he was not involved in film printing, the accidental exposure of silver nitrate to the sunlight paved the way for film printing.
8. Murch Proved He Was Worth His Salt
Modern sound designs in movies resulted from an accidental prohibition. The Academy Award winning sound designer Walter Murch was asked to handle the sound creation in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie The Rain People. Since Murch was not senior or famous enough at that time, he was denied access to the sound library, whereupon he created sound effects on his own. The effects were so impressive that he was assigned to do the sound designs in the main studio. His work rendered much of the work present in the library as obsolete.
9. Jump Cuts; A Way to Economize
Traditionally, the editing of movie shots requires ensuring continuity for smooth viewing. Certain rules relating to the angle of the camera have to be observed to meet the requirements. ‘Jump cut’ is a type of film editing that causes a discontinuity and attracts attention. In fact, it involves cutting off the middle part of two consecutive shots. This was, in fact, first done by Jean Luc Goddard on the advice of George Melies to economize by cutting short the otherwise lengthy film Breathless in 1950. Instead of re-editing, he cut shots from the middle of consecutive shots to meet the requirement easily and in the shortest possible time. The technique which was intended to solve a problem on an interim basis became an established technique and has been used in movies like Run Lola Run and in documentaries on the Discovery channel and National Geographic.
Directed by George A. Romero, the horror film Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968. It is about a house that had been attacked by zombies; the living dead. Zombies are considered dead bodies brought to life again through some magical spell. They are deprived of consciousness or will. Because of the zombies, the movie was severely criticized. The Library of Congress selected it for being preserved in the National Film Registry as a film which was regarded ‘Culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.’ Due to an error on the part of the distributor, the film was entered into the public domain.
World famous movie events include: Cannes Film Festivals, Sundance Film Festival, and Venice Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, and some others. Celebrities are awarded, Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and Golden Globe Awards for their outstanding performances on a meritorious basis. There is, perhaps, no award for serendipity because the lucky event cannot be credited to anyone specifically. However, on account of the role that such happy accidents play in the success of movies, there may be sometime in the future a Serendipity Award conferred upon someone who had been the favorite of Lady Luck.