Freddie Francis Dune Interview
by: Faisal A. Qureshi ©
I had met Freddie Francis sometime in September 1996 when he was a guest at the Manchester Fantastic Film Festival. As a long time fan of Dune, I wanted to ask him questions about the film which he agreed to answer in a later phone interview that took place during 4th October 1996.
This interview took place well before cellphones became affordable, I was running around Leeds University campus trying to find a phone box to call him from at the agreed time and every one was busy. He wasn’t happy that I had called him later than planned but still consented to do the interview. At my end, I had the local drug dealer tapping on the window in irritation as I had inadvertently taken over his “business line”.
So I kick myself now for losing the opportunity to ask Francis for more details about his Lightflex system and the approach he took for the visual look of the film. As far as I’m aware, this and the Sanctuary DVD interview are the only times Francis has discussed Dune.
Faisal A. Qureshi: How did you first get involved on Dune?
Freddie Francis: Well I already done a picture with David and we were good friends, he asked me to do the next one.
FAQ: How long did you work on the film?
FF: Oh, you asked me a very difficult question now... I honestly can't remember with all the live shooting and the special effects. I guess it must have been six or seven months.
FAQ: How long was the film intended to be when you first started work on it?
FF: It wasn't intended to be any length at all, but as we were going on it seemed to have got longer and longer. I don't think they ever expected anything longer. Do you happen to know off hand what the finished film was?
FAQ: Around a 130 minutes.
FF: I think we started the film without David having any real idea what it would be, but intending it too be about two hours, but it worked out to be much longer, as you probably know. A long time after the film was shown they put out a television version which lasted for god knows how long, and which David disapproved off, as you know, and his name was not on the TV the version, although it was his film, but it wasn't his cut.
FAQ: Could you confirm that the ending of Dune was changed during production, and was the original ending ever shot?
FF: No; as far as I knew; the actual shooting was never changed, there was no different ending ever, These stories, every film I work on there seems is be a story that seems to leak out that nobody knows anything about. All these stories seem to be invented by people who have no knowledge of the actual shooting. There was no different ending, There are lots of things cut out of the film, to cut it down to the size it finally got to, but there were no changes.
FAQ: Why was the Water of Life scene re-shot? Originally, it was supposed to have taken place in a steitch, but now it takes place in a desert.
FF: Nothing was re-shot, I can assure you. I honestly don't remember it, but there were no sequences re-shot.
NOTE: This was incorrect as the Water of Life scene was re-shot with all references to drowning the sandworm removed from the theatrical cut.
FAQ: Did Lynch ever complete a rough assembly of the film he wanted?
FF: As a matter a matter of fact, just before I left the actual live shooting, I came back to England for a while and left my camera operator to carry on. Then they asked me to go back again, which I did. But just before I came away, after the live shooting, David had got a rough cut of what he wanted.
NOTE: At the time, Francis returned to the UK to shoot another cult fantasy film, Return to Oz, the directing debut of Editor/Sound Designer Walter Murch. Francis left the film four weeks into production to briefly return to Dune.
FAQ: The reason I ask is that there's a story going around that Lynch wasn't allowed to do a four hour cut.
FF: That's not true, David was never stopped doing anything for the whole of the movie and I suppose had he wanted to, he could have got back to the, whatever, the TV movie was, but he didn't want to know about it. The cut that was shown, the cinema version, was David's cut.
He was never interfered with on that at all, When I say never interfered with, he was never interfered with anymore than any other director is interfered with by their producer. I don't know, since I wasn't there for the whole of editing, but I gather that the final cut was roughly what David wanted.
FAQ: So you would say Lynch was satisfied with that version?
FF: I think so, yes. I'm almost sure he was happy with that version; I don't know and I shouldn't say this, but he may have been a bit wishful that he hadn't had so much footage when we finished;
FAQ: Did he ever indicate before or afterwards that he would get involved in a re-cut, given that there was so much footage?
FF: No. As far as he'd concerned, once the cinema film was shown that was it.
FAQ: What was your reaction to the film, when it was released?
FF: I thought it was too long, and David knew this. I thought it was too long, all the while we were shooting it. But, you know, it was David's baby and obviously I thought that maybe, you know, that David does very unorthodox films, and I thought that maybe David knew better than I did.
FAQ: If there was a chance to redo Dune; what would you change or correct? For example I did hear that you were very dissatisfied with the special effects.
FF: That's not true. These stories do get told, and their always very untrue, I honestly can't remember what I could have changed. As a matter of fact, I must be honest, had David not been doing the film, I probably wouldn't have done it! I hate getting involved in films with lots of special effects. So if they were to do it again, I wouldn't do it. That's not quite true, I think probably if David asked me to do it again, I might do it. There's lots of things I wouldn't do for a lot of directors, but for people like, you know, one or two directors, I would do anything for. I mean David Lynch, I would do anything for and Robert Mulligan and Scorcese. But no. It's a sort of hypothetical question, in the view of the non-success of Dune really, no one's going to make it again.
FAQ: Have you seen the extended TV version?
FF: No, I haven't.
FAQ: There has been talk at MCA/Universal that they want to do a re-edit of Dune, what's your opinion on it?
FF: I think, using a English expression, it's flogging a dead horse. The film is dead though, I'm sure David would agree. Apart from David being a very close friend, I think he's an excellent director, I don't know whether he wishes he never done Dune.
NOTE: Freddie Francis would later reunite with David Lynch to shoot The Straight Story. It would be his last film as Cinematographer, he passed away in 2007.