Chris Columbus said he had to shoot Mrs. Doubtfire with four cameras just to keep up with Robin Williams' improv, amassing a staggering 972 boxes of footage, most of it never used and never seen.
Chris Columbus never got to make that sequel to Robin Williams' iconic Mrs. Doubtfire, but he might get the chance to do the next best thing. The director says he has two million feet of footage in "roughly 972 boxes" that he'd like to use for a documentary.
According to Columbus, it was never the plan to amass such a ridiculous amount of footage (approximately 103 hours, per The AV Club). It was just something that happened after he agreed to Williams' unorthodox process as a comic actor.
"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 told Business Insider for the film's 30th anniversary.
"By saying that, what he meant was he wanted to improvise," Columbus explained. "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."
He said that every take was vastly different once Williams started improvising, so much so that their script supervisor didn't even bother keeping track. He also said that the actor could keep improvising until they ran out of film.
He laughed that if the film were shot in today's digital era, "we would never end."
The material was so wacky and unpredictable at times, Columbus said that he ultimately made the decision to shoot the whole film with four different cameras pretty much running all the time.
"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 director explained. "For Pierce Brosnan and Sally Field, it was quite difficult for them not to break character."
Columbus said that while Williams rejected the idea of doing a sequel back in the 1990s, he'd started to wrap his head around it in the year before his tragic death. Williams only note was he was hoping he wouldn't have to wear that heavy prosthetic suit as much.
Alas, a sequel will now never happen, which is why Columbus has been thinking about all those boxes and all that footage and all those takes that are so completely unique and nothing like what the audience got in the film's final cut.
He said that the footage includes those outtakes as well as behind-the-scenes moments with the cast. "We would love to hire an editor to go in and look at all of that," Columbus said of those 972 boxes.
"We want to show Robin's process," the director told Insider. "There is something special and magical about how he went about his work and I think it would be fun to delve into it."
That said, despite all that extra material, Columbus has said he's now very against the idea of anyone trying to make a Mrs. Doubtfire sequel without Williams.
"Fox/Disney owns the rights, I think … so the studio can do whatever they want with it. Should they? God no," he said. "I will certainly be very vocal about it if they decide to do it."
But should a documentary, or even a docuseries considering the sheer volume of material, come to light about Williams' unique and relentless filmmaking style, Columbus sounds keenly on board to have all of those feet of film be a part of expanding Williams' comedic legacy.