The blood, sweat, and tears that go into creating a film are not often publicized around its release, but for some features we eventually get a peek behind the curtain — or rather, the camera. This week sees the release of one such documentary, My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, which we enjoyed at last year’s Fantastic Fest. Captured by Refn’s wife, Liv Corfixen, during the production of Only God Forgives, it delves into the anxieties and frustrations the director had while making the film in Bangkok.

While there’s great films that cover a career (Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures), the history of the medium (The Story of Film: An Odyssey), or the process of filmmaking (Day For Night) for the occasion, we’re highlighting our favorite documentaries that depict the making of a single film. Ranging from certified classics to films that never saw the light of day, check out our fifteen favorites below, which also includes links to where to watch each feature.

American Movie


American Movie recognizes the filmmaking hustle as Darwinism, observing an underdog whose small-town/big dream efforts humble the writer/director breakout craze of the indie 90s. Focusing its camera on Wisconsin suburbanite Mark Borchardt (a mullet with a movie camera), director Chris Smith’s droll documentary about a guy he met in an editing room captures raw character and earnest motivation as Borchardt slowly creates his dream short film Coven (pronounced COE-ven). American Movie is a celebration of the filmmaker organism in its first stage, with filmic imaginations having their parallel excitement tested by the forces of nature/by how freaking hard it is to make a movie. No less relevant in the digital era, Smith’s loving comedy also pays tribute to the chores of moviemaking that are as nagging as they are overlooked (recording one line over and over again, making sure someone’s head can crash through a cabinet door, etc.). When Borchardt finally finishes his first feature, Scare Me, in the year TBD, it will be a hero’s victory for all of indie filmmaking. – Nick A. [Watch on Amazon]

The Battle Over Citizen Kane


When it comes to one of the most acclaimed films of all-time, with countless writings and interviews, it can feel like there’s little new to discover about the process and struggles which went into crafting it. Michael Epstein and Thomas Lennon’s comprehensive PBS documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane takes a different angle on the creation of Orson Welles‘ masterpiece, exploring the young director’s ambitious undertaking as it coincides with the life of the film’s inspiration, William Randolph Hearst. Detailing both of their back-and-forth battles with the studios and the intentional roadblocks of the film’s distribution, it also goes into more personal matters, such as Hearst’s longtime mistress Marion Davies and the influence she had on him. “It’s about 2% moviemaking and 98% hustling. It’s no way to spend a life,” Welles concludes in the final moments, revealing his life was perhaps more similar to Hearst than his 25-year-old-self would have predicted. – Jordan R. [Watch on YouTube]

Best Worst Movie


Best Worst Movie is less about the making of the infamously bad movie Troll 2 than it is about its rebirth as a cult favorite. Directed by the subject’s lead child actor, Michael Paul Stephenson, who, some 20 years later, decides to embrace his career mistake, the documentary revisits the people behind Troll 2 and its bizarre origins as an unrelated American sequel directed and written by two Italians who barely spoke English. With the help of his movie father, amateur actor/dentist George Hardy, Stephenson also travels to conventions and theaters to examine how the film went from an obscure horror disgrace to an oft-quoted work worshipped by throngs of adoring fans. – Amanda W. [Watch on Hulu]

Burden of Dreams


Being one who holds Fitzcarraldo as the prime example of more-satisfying-to-discuss-than-watch cinema, it’s unsurprising that I’d ultimately prefer a document of the legendary struggles Herzog endured during its production. Along with a lot of the stuff you’ve heard about — Kinski’s eccentricities, a filmmaker’s intense anxiety, the hell of getting that damn boat over the mountain — there are tidbits and insights that will shock the biggest fans of the director,. (There was an initial attempt with Mick Jagger and Jason Robards? And there’s footage of this?!) But these proceedings aren’t all doom and gloom. As its title might suggest, to see the team get through the worst of these challenges makes Les Blank’s film an uplifting piece of cinema, one of the few I’d consider a testament to the strength people are capable of when they work together. – Nick N. [Watch on Amazon]

Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner


When Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner showed up in theaters, it worked same seductive sorcery as its director’s previous film, Alien, displaying a squalid, imposing future world that felt organic and fully-formed. The delightful and enduring quality of watching Blade Runner is that you can see how lovingly it was made at the same time that it doesn’t seem ‘made’ at all. How did human beings contrive, conceive and finally construct such a fever-dream? It helps that Ridley Scott himself seems like the biggest Blade Runner fan of all. Rarely has a director not named George Lucas been so obsessed and bewitched by his own creation. Dangerous Days isn’t a simple behind-the-scenes film or solely a document of a troubled, difficult production. With an unbelievable wealth of production information, interviews, extra-footage and directorial insight, Days is nothing short of the documentation of one director’s love-hate affair with one of his grandest films. – Nathan B. [Watch on Blu-ray]

Full Tilt Boogie


Following their respective break-out features, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed for the pulpy B-movie From Dusk Till Dawn and filmmaker Sarah Kelly was there to capture virtually every facet of the production. Talking with the grips, AD’s, extras, craft service, drivers, personal assistants, and more, it gives us a strong sense of the energy on set, particularly when it comes to a young George Clooney in his break-out role. Things get interesting when tensions rise over the use of a non-union crew, who greatly enjoy partaking in alcohol after a long day’s work. Some of it may seem too self-serving, but it’s worth it just to see Rodriguez with his stylish fanny pack. – Jordan R. [Watch on Netflix]

The Godfather Family: A Look Inside


As we continue to hear troubled production woes on the sets of the latest blockbusters, it’s always fascinating to go behind the scenes of some of cinema’s iconic classics that suffered similar roadblocks. One such example is a young Francis Ford Coppola and the tumultuous crafting of his masterpiece, The GodfatherJeff Werner‘s The Godfather Family: A Look Inside is a 73-minute documentary that was created around the release of The Godfather Part III, which accounts for the candid footage from that production. It also dives into the creation of the first two films, featuring interviews with Coppola, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro, James Caan, editor Walter Murch and more. Along with candid audition tapes (from Martin Sheen and more), they discuss everything from the iconic horse head scene to the first film’s unforgettable ending to the specifics of Pacino’s character arc in the trilogy. – Jordan R. [Watch here or on Blu-ray]

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse


The greatest film about film? It’d be a strong possibility even if the picture around which it centers, Apocalypse Now, weren’t a masterpiece, what with all the mordant amusement that comes with a first-row seat to this horrifying set of circumstances: a director unsure of how to finish his story while everyone waits on him; a lead actor who suffers a heart attack; a supporting actor who fell into terrible physical shape and didn’t learn his material; equipment that was taken away in the middle of a shot so it could be used to kill people; the same director threatening to kill himself. It’s essentially a template for any and all subsequent stories of on-set catastrophes — but for as often as those might seem to happen, you’ve still never seen anything quite like Hearts of Darkness. – Nick N. [Watch on Blu-ray]

Jodorowsky’s Dune


Never before has there been a documentary about lost cinema quite like Jodorowsky‘s Dune. Riding off the success incurred by career-defining films in the early 1970s (El Topo and The Holy Mountain), Alejandro Jodorowsky was primed and charged to make his most ambitious film to date, a grand scale adaptation of Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi masterpiece, Dune. It never happened. From having Pink Floyd agree to the soundtrack, Salvador Dalí in line to play the galactic emperor, and Orson Wells signed on as the villain, Dune’s ensemble of talent was uncanny. But the real inspiration behind Jodorowsky’s Dune is the passion this director has for the love of filmmaking, making it a must-see for aspiring filmmakers and film lovers alike. – Raffi A. [Watch on Amazon]

Lost in La Mancha


Long before he even approached the elusive Moby Dick of his film career, Terry Gilliam was a living embodiment of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Tilting at ultra-expensive windmills the likes of Brazil and Baron Munchausen, Gilliam eventually met a giant he couldn’t topple in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. With Johnny Depp playing a moderner wandering around in Quixote’s Spain, the film was a much awaited dream, that for film fans, one day failed to materialize. The truth behind the production, and the near biblical disasters it faced, was a much more real and viscerally painful affair for the affable for seemingly fated Gilliam. Sure, Gilliam’s still out there occassionally tipping his sword to the sky and promising us a real Quixote film, but Lost in La Mancha may in fact be a far greater movie than the one we would have gotten. With an sad and undeterred look at a whimsical director under fire, Lost in La Mancha shows us a wizard nobly moving forward when he’s been stripped of his enchantment. – Nathan B. [Watch on Netflix]

The Making of Fanny and Alexander


It wasn’t enough for Ingmar Bergman to simply create his 5 hour-plus masterpiece Fanny and Alexander; the Swedish director also helmed a behind-the-scenes documentary on its creation. Taking on a verite approach, Arne Carlsson captured the footage while on set, but it was Bergman who eventually put it all together, interspersing title cards describing the stories behind the specific scenes. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it if you’re not an enthusiast of the director, one can witness the deep connection with his actors he fosters, as well as a glimpse of his long-standing relationship to cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who favored minimal light. All in all, it’s quite remarkable to see how some of the film’s most iconic scenes came to be. – Jordan R. [Watch on Blu-ray]

Making The Shining


For his Stephen King adaptation of The Shining, Stanley Kubrick tasked none other than his 17-year-old daughter Vivian Kubrick to create a making-of documentary for the BBC. While much of today’s behind-the-scenes peeks can feel incredibly overproduced, thanks to the connection between filmmakers we get an intimate look at Kubrick crafting one of his best films. Considering how rare it is to get such a look behind the curtains from the precise director, Making the Shining is an essential viewing for cinephiles, in which you’ll also witness one of the best sections, featuring Jack Nicholson deep in preparation for his iconic “Here’s Johnny!” scene. – Jordan R. [Watch here]



For anyone confused and disgusted by the popularity of the sociopathic Pulp Fiction knock-off, The Boondock Saints, there’s Overnight, a rise and fall story wherein you hope the fall kills the person. Using footage collected over the course of the making-of process, Overnight reveals how Boston bartender-turned-filmmaker Troy Duffy had success fall into his lap, only to squander it, and then step on anyone who ever cared about him to get back on top. Produced and directed by the very people who got stepped on, the documentary serves as the ultimate revenge against Duffy’s trespasses by portraying him as a repugnant egomaniac stupid enough to insult his benefactor, Miramax powerhouse Harvey Weinstein. As Overnight proves, the completion and unlikely success of The Boondock Saints were flukes that, as far as Duffy’s bad reputation is concerned, will never happen again. – Amanda W. [Watch on DVD]

The Shark Is Still Working


The birth of the blockbuster gets documented in this highly entertaining film from Erik Hollander. Structured both as a love letter to Steven Spielberg‘s classic as well as a comprehensive look at both its production and influence, the rapidly-paced documentary is exhaustive in its reach. Featuring interviews with nearly everyone involved, we learn how Spielberg started the trend of not shooting his last shot, the creation of the iconic theme, how limiting the release led to a worldwide phenomenon, and much more. One particularly timely segment discusses how the lack of functionality of the shark caused them to have to conjure more compelling ways of instilling fear. Whereas today visual effects would be applied, the idea of using barrels came about during the production because the shark wasn’t working. While you’ve likely seen Jaws countless times, in between viewings, make sure to give this a watch. – Jordan R. [Watch on Blu-ray]

That Moment


Capturing 128 hours worth of footage during the 80-plus day production of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s earlier works, 1999’s Magnolia, director Mark Rance eventually cut things down to 72-minute documentary. Taking an intimate look at the process of creating a film he now says he’d edit down, we can see the ambitious undertaking unfold. From PTA’s initial nervousness about the material to the final production meeting to candid moments with Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman on set, all the way to the press junket and beyond, it’s a fascinating watch. A section towards the end with his then-girlfriend Fiona Apple is also a must-see for any PTA fan. – Jordan R. [Watch here or on Blu-ray]

What’s your favorite documentary about filmmaking?

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