Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Napoleon" Production Notes


Production Notes

November 22, 1968



180 minutes.


1.3 minutes average per day.


150 days, allowing 10 days lost to travel.


July 1 - September 1, 1969



30 Battles and marches - Yugoslavia
40 Location exteriors - Yugoslavia
40 Location interiors - Italy
30 Front projection - Yugoslavia
10 Lost to travel


Fifteen sequences which will approximately average 12 minutes per sequence, giving 180 minutes finished length.


The four principle categories of cost which represent the largest proportion of any spectacle film are:

1. Large numbers of extras.
2. Large numbers of military uniforms.
3. Large numbers of expensive sets.
4. Over-priced movie stars.

I intend that, for 'Napoleon', these four categories be handled in a financially advantageous manner, which will result in substantial savings to the budget, allowing the film to be produced for a much lower cost than I had first envisaged, without any loss of quality, size or substance.


The daily cost of a costumed extra in England is $19.20, in Spain $14.28, in Italy $24 and France $24.30.

We have received bids from Romania to provide up to a maximum of 30,000 troops at $2 per man, though it is unlikely that we will ever exceed 15,000 men on the largest days.

We have also received a bid from Yugoslavia to provide up to the same numbers at $5 per man. Both prices also apply to lesser numbers.

I have personally met with representatives of both countries and they are all extremely anxious to have an important film made largely in their country.

They are also very, very interested in getting dollars, and can give us very generous deals for their services and man-power that they can pay for with their own currency, and which have little relationship to the dollar equivalent they receive. They have almost the same freedom to trade, in this respect, as they would if they were swapping monopoly money for dollars.

Effective guarantees of their performance on this, or any other deal made with a Socialist country, can be obtained through the Cyrus Eaton Organization, who have worked with us in arranging the Romanian contact. They guaranteed performance on the "Fixer," filmed in Hungary, and regularly preform this function for important business deals of every type between East and West.


Both countries have offered to make military uniforms and costumes for us at a very reasonable rate, about $40 for a first-line military uniform, compared with about $200 for a normal European costumier.

But, in this area, the most significant break-through has come through a New York firm, who can produce a printed uniform on a Dupont, fireproof, drip-dry, paper fabric, which has a 300-pound breaking strength, even when wet, for $1-$4 depending on the detailing.

We have done film tests on the $4 uniform and, from a distance of 30 yards or further away, it looks marvelous. Naturally, in a large crowd scene, these cheap uniforms will be seen from a much further distance than 30 yards.

I should point out that renting uniforms for this film is not a viable proposition, because the numbers available are totally inadequate, and for a long, rough usage, it is cheaper to make them.


Building and decorating a large number of Palatial sets for Emperors and Kings would be a formidable expense indeed, somewhere, I should say, between $3 - $6 million.

Fortunately, this will not be necessary to do. A number of authentic Palaces and Villas of the period are available for shooting in France and Italy. There is even one in Sweden, built and decorated by Bernadotte and Desiree. These locations can be rented for a daily fee of between $350 - $750, and in most cases are completely furnished, requiring only the most minor work on our part before shooting.

In addition to this, I intend to exploit, to the fullest, the Front Projection techniques I developed during the production of '2001.' I have several new ideas for enhancing its usefulness and making operations even more economical.


I think sufficient proof must now exist that over-priced movie stars do little besides leaving an insufficient amount of money to make the film properly, or cause an unnecessarily high picture cost. A recent 'Variety' study, published during the past year, showed the domestic grosses of the last four films by a group of top stars were not sufficient to return even the star's salary, computed at a recoupment rate of 2.5 to 1.

On the other hand, films like 'Dr. Zhivago', '2001', 'The Graduate' and many others show that people go to see good films that they enjoy, and that the main impetus of going to the movies is word-of-mouth recommendations from friends.

As was discussed in our first meetings about 'Napoleon', my intention is to use great actors and new faces, and more sensibly put emphasis on the power of the story, the spectacle of the film, and my own ability to make a film of more than routine interest.

I have not completed my casting survey, but I expect to have this done shortly. I will then send you a list of actors' names, broken down by parts.

I would like to give you some idea, however, of my general thinking about some of the more important characters in the story.

Napoleon was 27 when he took command of the Army of Italy, and 30 when he became First Consul. He was 35 when he was proclaimed Emperor, 45 at Waterloo, and 51 when he died.

I want an actor between 30-35 who has the good looks of the younger Napoleon and who can be aged and made-up for the middle-aged Napoleon.

He should be able to convey the restless energy, the ruthlessness, and the inflexible will of Bonaparte, but, at the same time, the tremendous charm which every contemporary memorist attributes to him.

Josephine should be five to six years older than Napoleon, beautiful and elegant.

The most important supporting characters will probably be Talleyrand and Fouche, and there are untold numbers of actors who can play parts like these.

There are excellent younger parts for Napoleon's aides, staff officers, and Marshals: Junot, Marmont, Ney, Berthier, Murat, Eugene, Caulaincourt. These parts should be played with virile, fit, military types; again, there is considerable choice.

Important younger women will be Maria Walewska, Hortense Beauharnais, Marie-Louise and Napoleon's sister, Pauline. All of these women will be attractive and should lend luster to the cast.

Napoleon's mother is very important, and again a great deal of choice exists.

Czar Alexander, Francis Joseph of Austria, Kutusov, Wellington, Blucher, all of these represent important supporting roles.


A great deal of preliminary preparation has already taken place and I would like to briefly outline what this has been.

1. A picture file of approximately 15,000 Napoleonic subjects has been collected, cataloged and indexed, on IBM aperture cards. The retrieval system is based on subject classification, but a special visual signaling method allows cross indexing to any degree of complexity.

2. David Walker, who is a leading costume designer in England, has been preparing research and making sketches. Because of the very provocative, see-through dresses and bare bosoms of the Directoire period, the film will have some very notable costumes.

3. Military uniform prototypes of the different nations involved have been manufactured and these will serve as quality control comparisons in the subsequent mass production of uniforms of all grades.

4. Extensive location research photography has taken place in France and Italy, covering the possible interior locations in which we might wish to work. A team is now in Yugoslavia doing the same thing, and another team is about to leave for Romania.

5. The services of Professor Felix Markham have been engaged as principal historical advisor, and the rights to his biography of Napoleon have been purchased.

Professor Markham has devoted some 30 years of work to the period, and is one of the outstanding living Napoleonic scholars writing in English.

The rights to his book also establish a known work on which to legally base the screenplay, and should help to avoid the usual claims from the endless number of people who have written Napoleonic books.

6. A master biographical file on the principal 50 characters in the story has been prepared by graduate history students of Oxford University. They have taken the highlights of each person's life, putting a single event and its date on a single 3 x 5 index card. These cards have all been integrated in a date order file with special signals indicating the names of the characters. The system allows you to instantly determine what any of the 50 people were doing on any given date.

7. A library of approximately 500 Napoleonic books has been set up, cataloged and indexed and is available for my own use and anyone else on the production. These books contain the key memoirs and the principal biographies available in English.

8. A Production Designer and Art Director have been engaged, as well as the necessary Production staff and Location research staff.

9. Research has been done in locating an extremely fast lens, which will cover a 70 mm format. This will allow shooting to continue on exterior locations beyond the normal hour where the light becomes photographically inadequate.

Fast lenses are also vital in shooting interior locations with only the natural daylight coming from the windows.

We have found an F.95 50 mm lens, made by the Perkin Elmer Co. who specialize in making lenses for the Aero Space Industry. This lens is two full stops faster than the fastest lens presently available for 65 mm cameras and should even allow interiors to be shot by candlelight. Despite the extremely high speed of this lens, the resolution is very good.

Research has also been carried out to find means of increasing the speed of color film by special laboratory techniques.

A small laboratory which can be installed at the studio in Borehamwood, can accomplish this. I believe that a feasibility study on this subject is being done by the MGM studio in Borehamwood. Personally, I am convinced it is not only economically feasible for the studio to invest in this, but there will also be very significant advantages that go beyond the profit and loss statement of the lab, because it will be capable of doing many other things, particularly in the area of special effects, which are not currently possible by using the conventional laboratory facilities available in England.

S. Kubrick


GameArs said...

Wow. It's amazing to see a breakdown like that.

And hey, why are the French extras the most expensive for a Napoleon film. That's ironic.

I could browse over that info for an hour. It's a vicarious thrill for me. Thanks, MM!

GimmeABreak said...

Interesting stuff there.

Mim said...

My favorite part is about the uniforms made out of the stuff we probably call Tyvek today.


Nowadays Stanley would have access to less expensive ways to fill his screen with battles and more sophisticated special effects. But nothing will ever really compare to his method of shooting a scene lit with nothing but natural candle-light. Amazing.

Mystery Man said...

Carl - Stanley's intensity to detail is pretty interesting, although it can be voluminous.

Pat - We're almost done. I know how you feel about Kubrick.

Mim - I'm always wearing Tyvek. Hehehe...

thepopeofpop said...

Marvellous stuff. I'm a long time fan of Kubrick. I've always been fascinated by his never made Napoleon film, and it's great to finally read something substantial. Thanks!

Mystery Man said...

Thanks so much! To this day, I still cherish the experience of thoroughly studying this script and writing about it. You may be on of only 10 other people or so out there who love it as much as I do, so your comments are so very sincerely appreciated.