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Made on $36 million dollars, Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi masterpiece Gattaca didn’t even end up earning its budget back at the box office in 1997. But even with some money to play with ahead of release, it wasn’t enough for the film to do anything extravagant. In fact, for one pivotal scene, Gattaca ridiculously used a forklift to try and save money.
I bet you’re thinking, “I don’t remember a forklift in Gattaca.” Well, that’s because the forklift was actually supposed to be used to simulate waves in an Olympic-sized pool so that the movie could film closeups of Ethan Hawke and Loren Dean. The creative team rented a forklift for the scene because they couldn’t afford to rent a wave machine or something that would work better. The only problem? In a recent interview, Gattaca producer Stacey Sher also revealed the trick didn’t exactly work.
I always think about this when people talk about the glamor of producing. We couldn’t afford a wave maker or a tank when we were shooting that final swim; the movie wasn’t made for very much money for a studio film. So, somebody told us that if we put a forklift in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, it would make waves that would match the stuff that we shot outside. We needed the close-work for Ethan (Hawke) and Loren’s (Dean) conversation before Loren swam off in the ‘I didn’t save anything for the way back’ scene. So, we put the forklift in; we’re in the Olympic-sized pool, and it just totally does not work. And at a certain point, me and every other person on set were lying on our stomachs with kickboards, making waves. [Laughs] So, that’s the sort of ‘no job too big or too small’ philosophy of producing.
Although the $36 million that is often bandied about as Gattaca’s reported budget isn’t exactly shoestring, it’s not particularly large either, particularly when you factor in the story, which was an ambitious tale of what would happen if eugenics came into play in society. It certainly wasn’t large enough for the movie to be able to film one of its most pivotal scenes with the technology it would have needed to look its best. According to Stacey Sher, ultimately, the team ended up using kickboards to create waves, as she revealed to THR.
The scene in question is the big confrontation between Ethan Hawke’s character Vincent and his brother Anton, played by Loren Dean. The two ultimately go to the ocean where they decide to mimic a swimming race they had accomplished during childhood. Vincent once again beats his genetically superior brother Anton and must save him from drowning after admitting to he brother that he had “never held anything for the swim back.”
It’s a great scene and it plays out really well onscreen, to the point I would never have known the closeups were shot in a pool with what is perhaps one of the most outrageous sounding practical effects I’ve ever heard of. That’s movie magic.
Gattaca came out in 1997 and proved to be a big vehicle for the likes of Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke and Jude Law, as well as featuring an excellent extended cast including Gore Vidal, Maya Rudolph (in an early appearance!), Alan Arkin, Dean Norris, Ken Marino and also Loren Dean. It may not have made a ton of money at the box office, but it is one of those movies that has lived on in the cultural consciousness in a way few movies have.
It’s also a movie with a debate that still feels fresh and relevant. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the film, you can take a look at Gattaca on Amazon now.