10 Things I Learned Listening to the DVD Commentary from "As Good As It Gets"
Here are ten interesting tidbits I learned from the DVD commentary by director (And co-writer) James L. Brooks, actors Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, editor Richard Marks, producer Laurence Mark and composer Hans Zimmer.
1. Melvin's Work In Progress
In the opening scene, author Melvin Udall is at his desk working, searching for words to describe Love. This foreshadows the arc of the film, for this is exactly what Melvin learns through his relationships with Carol, the waitress at his favorite eatery, and Simon, his neighbor.
2. Couldn't Cut Cuba
During the editing process, the filmmakers tried to remove an early scene in which Frank Sachs, Simon's overprotective art dealer (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), confronts Melvin. They ultimately put the scene back in, deciding that it was important for the audience to see someone give the ornery Melvin his comeuppance.
"They needed to see that it was okay to respond to him in that way."
-Richard Marks, Editor
Frank confronts Melvin:
3. More Skeet, Please...
In early versions of the film, there was more screen time devoted to the relationship between Simon and Vincent (Skeet Ulrich), the young model who poses for him in his apartment studio and who ultimately robs him with the help of friends.
Initial cuts of the movie were running long, so they decided to cut most of the scenes out.
4. 'Old Friends'?
The film's original title was 'Old Friends'.
At some point, Hans Zimmer suggested, "How about that thing he says in the psychiatrist's office?" 'As Good As It Gets' became the new title.
5. Melvin's 'Eureka' Moment
Nearly an hour into the picture, there's a scene where Melvin is gazing out of his window and suddenly figures out how he can help Carol with her son, thereby allowing her to return to work at the cafe where she can continue to wait on him.
The scene was actually shot as a piece of a different subplot that was subsequently cut from the film. Melvin was actually wondering how he could track Carol down after she stopped going to work. The scene worked anyway, so they left it in.
6. Breaking the Law
After Melvin has Dr. Bettes (a cameo by Harold Ramis) visit Spencer, Carol's sickly son, at home, Carol impulsively travels by train to Melvin's apartment to issue her "No-Sex Oath".
While filming part of the travel montage, Co-producer and Production Manager John Scofield was in a helicopter flying alongside a train planning to get an exterior of Carol sitting inside. They discovered that they had the wrong camera lens, so were forced to fly closer than New York City law allowed to get the shot.
7. 18 Pages!
In the scene in the restaurant when Frank (Cuba Gooding Jr.) asks Melvin to drive Simon to see his parents, Carol tries to give Melvin a long thank you letter she wrote for him. He refuses to accept it, so she feels it necessary to read portions of the letter to him right there at the table.
In one take of this scene, Helen Hunt actually read all 18 pages of the letter to Jack!
8. Last Tango in Maryland?
When Melvin busts into the suite the morning after his disastrous date with Carol, she and Simon are wearing matching robes from the hotel.
The robes they wore were the same ones used in the Marlon Brando film 'Last Tango in Paris'. Director James L. Brooks did it as an homage to the film.
Helen Hunt and father:
9. Rained Out
There was a plan to shoot a scene where Simon does, in fact, meet with his parents. Helen Hunt's father, Gordon, was supposed to play the role of Simon's father.
The shoot was cancelled due to rain and the scene was never re-scheduled.
James L. Brooks: "We didn't need it anyway. We felt we didn't want to leave the story of the three main characters together and neither would the audience."
Change is hard but worth it!
10. The Big Idea
Brooks struggled mightily to determine what the "Big Idea" of the film was, even through much of the filming.
"About a third or a half of the way in, it came to me. 'That which makes us safe can also imprison us.' "
After the film was completed another idea hit him. "How hard it is to change just a minute amount and what you can get from life if you can do it."