In an era of dime-a-dozen remakes and sequels, it’s a miracle that Netflix would gift to the world a lost Orson Welles film. Rest assured, 137 million-plus Netflix subscribers, reruns of The Office have not prepared you for the experience that is The Other Side of the Wind.
Wind follows director Jake Hannaford’s (John Huston) last night on Earth, and he snarks at anyone who dares speak his name. With whip-speed editing and Welles’ kinetic eye, we follow Jake from the studio to his 70th birthday party, where he attempts to show the latest cut of his latest film. Featuring a film within a film, with long takes inspired by Antonioni, Wind contrasts the laborious art of filmmaking with the high-stakes grifting of Hannaford and his long-suffering crew.
The Film Stage spoke with the team behind The Other Side of the Wind’s resurrection. Producers Frank Marshall–who was an accountant and production manager on the shoot–and Filip Jan Rymsza tell us about bringing the film’s three rights holders together for the first time. The producers along with editor Bob Murawski agree that Norman Foster delivers one of the film’s greatest performances. That came as a surprise to everyone because Orson only developed the character on set. Foster’s performance is one of the many gems to emerge from the production’s four-month edit.
There’s much more in our lengthy interview with the principal collaborators of The Other Side of the Wind, so dive into this journey, 40 years in the making, below.
Bob Murawski: So you basically like it?
The Film Stage: Yep.
Murawski: Okay, good. That’s a relief to me because it’s been a lot of pressure, if you can imagine editing a movie by Orson Welles–the greatest filmmaker of all time.
Orson talked about taking advantage of accidents when making a film. Were there any happy accidents in assembling The Other Side of the Wind?
Frank Marshall: That is one of the things I learned from Orson: as a director you’re presiding over happy accidents, if you can, and you go with those. As a magician I think you see that from him too. He loved the unpredictableness of shooting. He let the actors be comfortable in maybe doing their own thing. Maybe he wouldn’t agree with it, but he would guide them in other ways. Those accidents happened a lot.
I think our ‘accidents’ were the little discoveries along the way. There would be a shot or a line that was in a location it didn’t belong in that Bob Murawski (the film’s editor) would discover. “Hallelujah!” we’d hear him yell and we’d run in. For example, we didn’t have the pink lobster, but there was a moment he found it in another scene where he was reviewing the footage.
Filip Jan Rymsza: The editing process was a very different exercise from what production would have been like with Orson. A lot of the editorial process was simply trying to figure out the method, rhyme and reason for why we found things the way that we did. It’s more forensics. Finding evidence of little things within the assemblies. So it was a different process. Sometimes we would get lucky by moving things around. Bob would have a short sequence which we knew we would cut together, but we weren’t quite sure because those were pickups and reshoots. If there was such a thing as a happy accident in editing, we would simply shift it over in time somewhere and it would be totally self-evident that that’s where it belonged. For instance, Norman Foster would now be holding a drink, which he has toward the latter part of the story, so another part of the film would suddenly reveal itself to us.
How did the project finally come together?
Marshall: Beatrice Welles, Oja Kodar, and Les Films de L’Astrophore had the film rights, and L’Astrophore had the rights from Mehdi Bushehri. Filip Jan Rymsza (the film’s producer) started to pursue this on the European side because that’s where Oja was. I had already obtained the L’Astrophore rights from Showtime. Beatrice was involved because in French law, the family has rights even if they weren’t in the will. Filip would get one and I would get one, then one would drop out. Finally, in 2013, we met at the Telluride Film Festival—which is wonderful and why we premiered there this year because that’s where the film came together—and we said why don’t we team up and try to do this together? We eventually had all three rights holders to sign on and then Netflix came on board.
Rymsza: A lot of this was learning from past mistakes. I was hoping to do it quietly. I knew that Frank and Peter were still involved in some way. They had a relationship with Showtime who wanted to make it. I felt the best strategy was to begin on my own without engaging anybody else to figure out what was holding up the negative in Paris. To come to it very well researched and having already secured some of the rights, by the time I came to Frank I already had a good idea how the rest of it should fit together. I felt like partnering with Frank would be very important because he had a history with the production, he and Peter remained great friends, and being a player as a producer. I made an invitation saying I have these things, come join me. In retrospect, it was very audacious to show up at Frank Marshall’s house at Telluride and say, “I’m the guy who’s been competing with you on this project. This is what I have. I think this is the right time. Come join me on it.” Within a few months of that we flew jointly to meet with Beatrice Welles. I had learned that everyone feared Beatrice and nobody engaged her directly. I said, “Let’s do what nobody else has done. Let’s reach out without attorneys. Let’s fly to her house and sit down with her and just have a conversation.” Frank said, “We’re going to do what? No, you don’t meet with Beatrice Welles!” I said, “Let’s not do the same thing everybody else has done. Let’s engage everyone and have them believe in it because we believe we’re doing something great.”
Murawski: I found out about it years ago because I was friends with Gary Graver, Orson’s cinematographer. He was my neighbor in Studio City in L.A. He has this lost Orson Welles movie in his garage. We always talked about getting together and getting the movie finished. I think it was more my fantasy than the reality, because knowing what I know now, it would have been impossible to work on it on weekends in his garage. Then unfortunately Gary died in 2006, but then last year I heard the movie had been resurrected. It turned out my first assistant editor got on the movie but the original editor they hired couldn’t wait any longer because it took so long to get the footage together. I called my agent and said get me a meeting with these guys, I need to get on this movie. They hired me the next day. I originally thought they would think I was too mainstream or too Hollywood because I did all these Spider-Man movies.
Frank’s pretty mainstream, too.
Murawski: Frank is very mainstream. I clicked with him but I thought I didn’t click with Filip because I knew the kind of people Filip was trying to hire and his background was more in artiser movies. It was super intimidating after getting hired.
Bob, how long was it from the time you were hired until the final cut?
Murawski: Not enough time. [Laughs.] I was hired in August of 2017 and I said I need to start immediately. I couldn’t because they had just received the footage from France and were digitizing it. I was supposed to start in the beginning of October. It ended up being delayed another couple of weeks. It was about four months of editing, which was not enough time. But of course, you compensate by working as many hours as you can. I was working day and night. I was there until after midnight every day. By early March it was pretty much done in terms of picture cutting. We still had to do the music and the sound. For a movie that took 45 years up to that point, the post was way too short. If they had given me a year I would probably still be complaining about the amount of time. At the end of the day we were pretty thorough and I had a great crew of film assistants who had it organized in a way that let me get the job done.
Why did you open the film with Peter Bogdanovich doing voice-over as Brooks Otterlake circa 2018?
Marshall: Well, we had the script, and the opening said “OW voice,” and unfortunately Orson never voiced it, but it was crucial to the story because it set everything up. I asked Peter originally if he would do it, and he suggested he do it as Otterlake. That’s it. Then Peter wrote a small paragraph that talked about why he was doing the narration and it kind of brought the movie into the present day. He told the story as Otterlake and I think it really worked. It puts Otterlake in the role we were in assembling the movie, and makes sense given the fact that Jake Hannaford [John Huston] died.
How do you respond to negative feedback about the movie?
Marshall: I think there are people who don’t understand the movie, but it’s not my movie. We didn’t shoot anything. The only thing we did were some effects shots because we didn’t have the movie projected on the screen at the drive-in or in any of the screening rooms–it was just blank. Obviously, no one from the production’s around so we couldn’t shoot anything. This is Orson’s movie. You take it for what it is. Some people don’t like Steven’s (Spielberg) movies. I just say, “Look, see it again.” It’s a really complex movie, it’s a complex story. It’s a comment on what Orson was going through. His comment on Hollywood, machoism, friendship, betrayal. Someone said to me, “It’s not Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons.” Well, he wasn’t trying to make those. He was pushing the envelope. He wanted to do with the picture and sound what hasn’t been done before, and I think he did it. You may not like the themes of it or think it’s crass and impossible to understand, but you’ve got to look at it from this filmmaker’s viewpoint. This is one of our greatest filmmakers and now we have Citizen Kane and The Other Side of the Wind to bookend his career.
Murawski: Rex Reed wrote a scathing review. He said it was the worst movie ever made and then he said since it was never finished, it was the worst movie never made. Which I thought, of course Rex Reed is going to come up with a funny way of looking at anything. Plus, it made me feel bad. Any project you work on, you want people to like it, or at least be fair to it. It was a difficult movie to make and I know it’s not for everybody, but so far the response has been incredibly positive. People are giving it the benefit of the doubt because they realize what a Herculean task it was to get it done while trying to make something out of it without having Orson with us. In my heart I’m happy with the way the movie came out. It feels like a complete movie. Going in I was worried it would feel like an oddity, like an incomplete project we were putting together as a historical piece to show what he was doing at the time. We didn’t know until we put the movie together that there was actually a movie in there. Orson would lie every time he did an interview. At one point he said he was finished editing the entire movie and only needed to do the negative cutting and the sound. As we got into it, we realized that was the farthest thing from the truth. He had only really edited about a third of it. A lot of it was never touched. But once we got it together and saw there was a story that kind of made sense with dramatic arc to the characters. It felt good. It felt emotional. It felt like a real movie to me.
Will you talk about Norman Foster’s performance as Billy Boyle?
Marshall: Oh! I loved all of the repertory company. Of course, I was familiar with in. I was 25, but Norman Foster was a wonderful actor. When you watch his arc in the movie and the character at the end says we all need people like Billy because those are the soldiers that take us over the mountain. That’s who Billy was–he would do anything for Hannaford. He went and pitched and then he came out and he was hurt because he revealed to Otterlake they were broke. He was that disciple of Hannaford’s, but his arc ends with him starting to drink again and then you see him go off the deep end. What an amazing arc that he was brilliant in! Norman wasn’t really an actor in trade, he was a director too, but Orson loved him. Orson adored all of those actors, but Norman Foster in particular gives this incredible performance.
Rymsza: Absolutely. It’s that blind loyalty. It’s an incredibly harrowing performance because he’s the hero in support of a despicable guy in Hannaford. It’s densely bittersweet. My favorite character is the baron, one of the strange character that circle and support Hannaford, who they call the Hannaford Mafia. All of us in the edit had a different favorite secondary character. We would always talk about what their purpose is terms of the story. You really want to stay with Hannaford and Otterlake, but when you cut away to something else at the party it has to be very meaningful to support the rest of it.
Murawski: Norman Foster’s great because he was a non-actor. One of the coolest things about editing the movie was hearing Orson direct. He would shoot many takes, especially when he was dealing with non-actors. He would shoot a couple lines with Norman and he would say, “Okay, Norman, let’s try it again. Less movement in the face.” Orson really worked with him, he was super patient. The story of Billy and his alcoholism is really moving. Ironically, that was the part of the movie that none of us had ever seen. It wasn’t in the script that much. It was something he developed as he was shooting and he had never really edited any of that material. That’s some of my favorite stuff in the movie.
Bob, did F for Fake inform your editing?
Murawski: I had seen parts of F for Fake from my friend Gary Graver, who was a cinematographer I knew and originally told me about The Other Side of the Wind in the early 2000s. Gary showed me that 10-minute trailer they cut for F for Fake. It was so choppy and off-putting that I put off seeing the movie but then when I finally saw it I loved it. I like what he was trying to compensate for fancy camera moves with editing. It made sense of this movie for me. But even if you go back to The Trial and Othello, he was developing a style that was more about editing than fancy, fluid camera movement. It’s a style that’s cool and very cinematic. It was a new grammar he was exploring to create movement through editing.
Why do you think we never hear Oja Kodar’s nameless character and John Dale (Robert Random) speak in the film?
Marshall: It made it easier for us because we didn’t have to find the sound! [Laughs.] No, it’s Orson’s send up of those kind of European art films from those days and what they were all doing. Why there’s no dialogue I really can’t tell you. I think Orson thought the European filmmakers were pretentious to think they could tell the whole movie visually, maybe. I don’t know.
Rymsza: There’s no dialogue in the treatment. Antonioni movies have long period with no dialogue. Orson said Antonioni was an architect of empty boxes, which I totally disagree with. I love his films. I think there’s a depth and a wealth of meaning behind the ennui of actors just walking around a landscape. I think Orson was trying to tell a movie that was purely visual and Hannaford was trying to do something very arty, very different. If that character’s based on a John Ford or Howard Hawkes, talk about a crazy departure to do something that hypersexualized. Both the sexual politics and the politics of what were going on in the 1970s, for the film within a film to have this form, having no dialogue, makes a lot of sense. It also breathes because you have this non-stop chattering at the party. The Hannaford story is constant dialogue. People overlapping, talking over each other. To contrast with this documentary-type film with a lot of cuts with the long shots of Hannaford’s film.
What do you think Orson is saying about his relationship with Hollywood in the film?
Rymsza: I can’t really speak to New Hollywood and what Orson’s relationship was with Hollywood. But I think him coming back and being celebrated after he was away for ten years; when he saw these indie filmmakers doing things the way he was doing them, to do things yourself. I’m sure the way that Peter talks about Orson being influenced by The Last Picture Show, he was reinvigorated.
Orson was shooting the film within a film anywhere that was available to him. He wanted to have the production value so they shot on the MGM lot. He hid in the back of a car because he was shooting under the guise of a student film. Gary Graver (the film’s cinematographer) was the one on the slate in all those stolen shots, it wasn’t Orson Welles. It was Gary Graver Productions anytime the film the printed. Orson hid from it because he didn’t want to be exposed. If all of a sudden you find Orson Welles stealing shots on the MGM lot, you know it’s going to send up red flags. What is Orson Welles doing out here? But if it’s just some student filmmakers with Orson hiding in the back of a car, you don’t draw as much attention to yourself.
What percentage of the film had Orson actually completed?
Marshall: In the finished product, I’d say there’s 35-40% of the movie he cut, which is pretty good. And they were in different parts of the movie so it’s not like he cut a party scene and we didn’t know what happened at the drive-in. The other sequences in the film had strung together setups. So he had chosen the order but he didn’t choose which take to use. We had a pretty good guideline of what he was looking for; we had his notes and scripts and him on camera before a take, telling the actors what to do. But we didn’t have scene numbers on the slates so he would just call a scene something like “wagon master” and you’d go, why did he name it that? And then eventually Bob would find a poster for the movie Wagon Master in the background of a scene. It was a real treasure hunt in how we put things together because he also re-shot a lot of lines with other characters saying them. We went with the last character to say the line, thinking that must be what he wants. In the making-of documentaries you’ll see that Orson replaced Rich Little with Bogdanovich, so that was a treasure hunt too. There were a couple of scenes that Peter didn’t actually do. We left Little in as a partygoer, sort of for sentimental reasons. Both that and keeping Orson doing the interview with Lilli Palmer. That was a tip of the hat to what was there. And how about those scenes with Henry Jaglom? I’m telling you, Joshua, I still see something new every time I see the movie.
Rymsza: Our first assembly was based on the script. Purely an A to Z production. We knew where the film within a film was, because it was actually noted and Orson had already cut some of that stuff together. We had a feeling of where these things would go. The L.A. pages we weren’t quite sure about. We knew what the narrative was; stylistically we had some ideas based on what Orson had already cut, but there was still a great deal of discovery in the way he shot certain scenes and how those things were going to come together because in some cases they were shot over a period of four years. We would need to find a way into a scene and in some cases Orson wouldn’t reshoot something, we would only have Rich Little footage when we would need Peter, but he had attempted to cut around Rich in those scenes. It looked like he hadn’t figured it out so we needed to step back into it and we felt that was narratively very important for these things. They were in the script, and without it, you wouldn’t carry a throughline. We were trying to come up with creative solutions, trying some of the stuff he was trying, to cut around things he hadn’t shot.
Murawski: A lot of it was shot by multiple cameras, people at the party all shooting in their own formats and styles. There were multiple takes of trying to get it right, like any director would do. It wasn’t like there were 100 hours of story. Once we put it all together there were probably less than two and a half hours of movie. From there we cut it down to what we thought would be a good length, slightly under two hours, plus credits. We had 45 years of credits, so we had a long credit sequence he wouldn’t have had back in the day. Orson basically had a plan. He deviated from it quite a bit, but it was still a pretty self-contained plan. We had a lot of versions of the script, we knew what the story was supposed to be. Every draft of the script were pretty much the same. The treatments I wrote were pretty much reflected in the script. We knew the order the story was supposed to be in. It was about putting it together and making it work dramatically.
It sounds like Filip and Frank were very involved in the edit.
Rymsza: Extremely. Bob and I would be there every day going through all the material and then we would ready something and have a few choices. Then Frank and Peter would come in and we would watch everything that we’d been working on and the four of us in the room would make the editorial decisions.
Is there some cool stuff that didn’t make it into the movie?
Murawski: There’s so much stuff! As I was editing, I was always pulling out the stuff of Orson directing or any shots where you could see him. The documentary guys were working concurrently with us so I felt it was my duty to find stuff for them as well and they found stuff that wound up in the movie. There was a lot of great footage of the film within a film we couldn’t use, but it’s not like Orson had shot the entire film Jake Hannaford was making, but there was a wealth of riches we couldn’t use. I hope at some point we do a Criterion edition.
Do you plan on releasing the film for non-Netflix home viewing?
Rymsza: I’ve had those conversations with Netflix. I have an obligation to my crowdfunders and Netflix said I can do a fairly limited run of a Blu-ray with the two documentaries and some other assets. We have this incredible Q&A from the New York Film Festival that we shot with Martin Scorsese. There’s also some hope that later on we can do a larger volume run for the completionists.
The Other Side of the Wind is now streaming on Netflix and in select theaters.