‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ Director Says They Shot '2 Million Feet of Film' Because Robin Williams Improvised So Much

Director Chris Columbus says that he hopes to utilize all the unused footage for a documentary.

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To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mrs. Doubtfire, director Chris Columbus shared his experiences working with the late Robin Williams and revealed just how much he improvised during the movie's production.

In an interview with Business Insider, Columbus said that Williams told him early on that he was eager to improvise on the film, which ultimately became one of his most successful and beloved roles. "Early on in the process, he went to me, 'Hey boss, the way I like to work, if you're up for it, is I'll give you three or four scripted takes, and then let's play,'" said Columbus. "By saying that, what he meant was he wanted to improvise. And that's exactly how we shot every scene. We would have exactly what was scripted, and then Robin would go off and it was something to behold."

The director, who also wrote Gremlins and The Goonies, shared that he felt for the script supervisor of the movie because of how much improvisation went on. "The poor script supervisor," he said. "Remember, this is the early 1990s, she wasn’t typing what he was saying. She was handwriting it and Robin would change every take. So Robin would go to a place where he couldn’t remember much of what he said. We would go to the script supervisor and ask her and sometimes she didn’t even get it all."

The improvised takes would often be "completely different" than what was in the script, and there were even several occasions they ran out of film loaded in the camera. "It got to the point that I had to shoot the entire movie with four cameras to keep up with him," he recalled. "None of us knew what he was going to say when he got going and so I wanted a camera on the other actors to get their reactions."

Williams' talent for improvisation proved "quite difficult" for his co-stars Pierce Brosnan and Sally Field, who struggled to stay in character. "We shot almost 2 million feet of film on that picture," he said. Columbus was asked if there's ever been talk about doing a documentary utilizing all the unused footage for the movie, and he confirmed that there have been plans to do something with it.

"There are roughly 972 boxes of footage from Doubtfire—footage we used in the movie, outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage—in a warehouse somewhere and we would like to hire an editor to go in and look at all of that footage," he said. "We want to show Robin's process. There is something special and magical about how he went about his work and I think it would be fun to delve into it."

As for whether he would ever want to see a sequel, Columbus was adamant that he would never want to see anything be done with the property. "Fox/Disney owns the rights, I think. I don't think the Williams family owns it, so the studio can do whatever they want with it," he said. "Should they? God no. I will certainly be very vocal about it if they decide to do it."

Mrs. Doubtfire hit theaters back in 1993 and proved to be a huge commercial hit, grossing over $440 million on a $25 million budget. It arrived at the height of Williams' popularity, following appearances in The Fisher King, Hook, and Aladdin. The actor and comedian sadly took his life in August 2014 at the age of 63. His widow later revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and had been struggling with depression.

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