Robin Williams Improvised So Much on ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ That 2 Million Feet of Film Was Shot; Director Still Has 972 Boxes Full of Outtakes and More

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“Mrs. Doubtfire” director Chris Columbus marked the film’s 30th anniversary this month with a new interview courtesy of Business Insider in which he revealed that 2 million feet of film was shot during the making of the 1993 comedy because Robin Williams improvised so much dialogue. The film is home to one of Williams’ most classic characters. He plays a recently divorced actor who disguises himself as an elderly female housekeeper so that he can continue to see his children.

“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,’” Columbus remembered about working with Williams. “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 poor script supervisor,” Columbus continued. “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. Often, he would literally give us a completely different take than what we did doing the written takes.”

Columbus said on “several occasions” Williams improvised so much dialogue that he used up all the film that was loaded into the camera.

“It got to the point that I had to shoot the entire movie with four cameras to keep up with him,” the director 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…[the studio was] loving what they were seeing. Did they watch everything? I don’t think so. We shot almost 2 million feet of film on that picture.”

Given the enormous amount of film shot during the making of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” it might not be a big shock to hear that Columbus still has over 900 boxes full of footage that includes outtakes and never-before-seen clips from behind the scenes of the comedy. He told Business Insider that he’s hoping to turn all of this footage into a documentary.

“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,” the director 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. I mean, there’s 2 million feet of film in that warehouse so there could be something we can do with all of that.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire” is available to stream on Disney+.

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