On the production of The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980): Principal photography
Filming began in July 1979, with the film’s budget still not settled. For the first month, things ran smoothly on and off the set. When Weiss saw the supposedly final $17.5 million budget, he reportedly joked “I think we’ve spent that much already.”
In the next month, the production began falling behind schedule. Much of the delay was due to Belushi’s partying and carousing. When not on the set he went out to familiar Chicago haunts of his such as Wrigley Field. People often recognized him and slipped him cocaine, a drug he was already using heavily on his own, hoping to use it with him. “Every blue-collar Joe wants his John Belushi story,” said Smokey Wendell, who was eventually hired to keep it away from the star. As a result of his late nights and drug and alcohol use, Belushi would often miss unit calls (the beginning of a production day) or go to his trailer after them and sleep, wasting hours of production time. One night, Aykroyd found him crashing on the sofa of a nearby house, where Belushi had already helped himself to food in the refrigerator.
Cocaine was already so prevalent on the set (like many other film productions of that era) that Aykroyd, who used far less than his partner, claims there was actually a section of the budget set aside for purchases of the drug during night shooting. The stars had a private bar, the Blues Club, built on the set, for themselves, crew and friends. Carrie Fisher, Aykroyd’s girlfriend at the time, says most of the bar’s staff doubled as dealers, procuring any drug patrons desired.
The original budget was quickly surpassed, and back in Los Angeles Wasserman grew increasingly frustrated. He was regularly confronting Ned Tanen, the executive in charge of production for Universal, in person over the costs. Sean Daniel, another studio executive, was not reassured when he came to Chicago and saw that the production had set up a special facility for the 70 cars used in the chase sequences. Filming there, which was supposed to have concluded in the middle of September, continued into late October.
On the set, Belushi’s drug use worsened. Fisher, who herself later struggled with cocaine addiction, says Landis told her to keep Belushi away from the drug. Wendell was hired to clear any from the places Belushi visited off-camera. Nevertheless, at one point Landis found him with what he described as a “mountain” of cocaine on a table in his trailer, which led to a tearful confrontation between them where Belushi admitted his addiction and feared it could eventually kill him.
After Aykroyd and Belushi’s wife Judy had a talk with him about his antics, the production returned to Los Angeles. Filming there again ran smoothly, until it came time to shoot the final sequence at the Hollywood Palladium. Just beforehand, Belushi fell off a borrowed skateboard and seriously injured his knee, making it unlikely he could go through with the scene, which required him to sing, dance and do cartwheels. Wasserman persuaded the city’s top orthopedic surgeon to postpone his weekend plans long enough to stop by and sufficiently anesthetize Belushi’s knee, and the scene was filmed as intended.
"We just took all the best scenes we had ever written, and we packed them up, and we went to Amsterdam. Quentin rented this apartment, and we laid them out on the floor and basically just started moving them around… Our one requirement was that every scene should be able to stand on its own and be able to be performed in an acting class. A couple of actors should be able to do it together and it should be contained that way. No establishing shots… No wasted space, no traveling here and there, just no fat. It had to be the best material we had written to that point.
We laid it out and we started changing names and piecing it together… It underwent a number of passes and pretty soon it was what you see. When we finished that script it was taken to… TriStar and a producer named Mike Medavoy. We turned it in and they said ‘this is the worst screenplay that this film company has ever been handed. This is awful. It’s not funny. It makes no sense. This guy’s dead, he’s alive. What’s going on?’ They put it into immediate turnaround…
You have to remember, Reservoir Dogs, in the United States, made less money than Leprechaun. I didn’t have huge expectations for this. I wasn’t thinking we were going to change film history with this movie. I just thought we put our hearts and souls into this thing, and it is what it is…
Thank god for Harvey and Bob Weinstein who immediately picked it up out of turnaround and gave Quentin the power to make the script as it was. Not a single thing was really changed. Some things were removed, there were a couple of scenes that were taken out in editing, but truth be told, Quentin was given complete and total command to make that movie exactly as he sees it in his head. That’s a gift to be given that. I’m really grateful to Harvey and Bob for that.
Since then, I’ve bumped into those executives who were in that room (at TriStar) and each one tells me ‘I was the one fighting for you. I was the one guy in the room fighting for you, fighting for that brilliant script.’ The only guy who was really honest about it was Mike Medavoy who was running TriStar at the time. I met with him later on and he actually said, ‘I made a mistake. I got to tell you, it was a weird time in my life, I didn’t really understand it. It just read very violent… And I was wrong.’ And that’s rare. I so deeply respect Mike Medavoy… It’s a real testament to him that someone in Hollywood would say ‘I was wrong’ because that never happens.”