Raffella De Laurentiis Dune Interview

by: Faisal A. Qureshi ©

Raffaella De Laurentiis interview took place via email sometime in Autumn, 1997. Thanks to Erik Jessen for arranging Raffella to answer my questions at the time.

Faisal A. Qureshi: Is it true that when Dune was being produced, a three to four film was being intended for release? What prevented this occurring?

Raffaella De Laurentiis: No, the film was never intended to be a three hour film.

FAQ: How did you convince Universal to finance the film?

RDL: The book was a very big best seller and David Lynch was hot from Elephant Man. Many studios had tried to get the project going for a long time.

FAQ: How closely involved was Frank Herbert with the production?

RDL: Frank was involved at the script level. He was very supportive of David's script and vision. He came to visit in Mexico a couple of times during production.

FAQ: Were there two cuts of the theatrical film, a 141min and a 137min version? If so, why was this?

RDL: I don't remember 2 versions unless there was a U.S. version different from the foreign one. I remember that happened on Conan, but I don’t not remember that on Dune.

NOTE: At the time, there were two running times for Dune being thrown up so I was trying to clarify if there was another cut in existence. Dune was slightly censored in the UK to get a lower PG rating.

FAQ: The scene of Paul taking the water of life was originally shot in a steitch. Why was this scene re-shot in the desert, and were there any other scenes that were also re-shot.

RDL: When we viewed the assembly of the film, still in Mexico, we had completed principal photography but we were still shooting models. The assembly was about 4 hours long and we had to rewrite some scenes in order to cut others. One of the scenes that was rewritten was of Paul taking the water of life and we decided it would be more spectacular to have the scene outside in the desert and bring the worms in the scene. We also shot a few new scenes among which was a love scene.

FAQ: Why was the original ending of Dune changed (it closed with blood covering a map of the Universe)?

RDL: I have no memory of a map of the universe being covered in blood. We never shot it.

NOTE: I can’t recall exactly but I believe this alternate ending came from correspondence with Ron Miller. None of the scripts have this scene but given the amount of changes that were taking place during production, it could have ended up in one of the production drafts that have yet to find its way on-line.

FAQ: What was Universal's reaction to the film during production?

RDL: Universal was very happy and high on the film during the production. We did though have several changes in the corporate regime during the production. Ned Tanen who had green lit the film left the studio and was replaced by Bob Rehme who was also a supporter of the project. He was eventually replaced by Frank Price and was released under Price's regime, and Price was never a fan of the project.

FAQ: It seems unusual that the rock group Toto was asked to compose the soundtrack, how did you decide to choose them?

RDL: The studio wanted an album on the film and Toto was a fan of the project and wanted to do it. David liked them. To this day I wish we had used a "real" film composer.

FAQ: Did you ever discuss with David Lynch, a chace for a re-edit? What has been his reaction?

RDL: Universal asked David and myself to work on a "long" version of Dune to be prepared for television. They wanted 3 hours so it could be shown over two nights on TV. (2 hours per night with commercials) At the time David was busy and was not prepared to go back to work on Dune with out further compensation . He and Universal could not reach a financial arrangement so Universal went ahead without him and David's name is not on the long version. I don't think Frank Herbert lived to see that long version. DDLC was not involved as they had sold the TV rights to Universal I worked closely with Universal to help them with the long version and I thought the final version was pretty good. I always wanted David involved, but unfortunately it never worked out with him. I think a re-release could be possible only with David's involvement, and I don't see that happening. Universal is considering releasing the long version on video. The extra footage and VSFX are incorporated in the long version and all the footage shot on the film is preserved.

FAQ: Could you shed some light into the apparent legal difficulties Universal is having over Dune?

RDL: What legal difficulties is Universal having over dune?

NOTE: Before I had interviewed Rafella, I had briefly corresponded with a UK Video distributor who had been advertising their release of the extended MCA TV cut of the film to video shops. I can’t recall the distributor’s name but they were giving out a brochure with the “Director’s cut” of Dune listed as a future release. The resulting phone conversation with a staff member there revealed:

  • They were not aware that the MCA TV cut only existed as a pan & scan copy. They had marketed it as a letterbox ‘director’s cut’.
  • Release had been delayed due to legal issues concerning UK home video rights. At the time, the VHS release of the film was credited to Warner Brothers who had licenced it from Weintraub Entertainment.

FAQ: And finally, how would you sum up your experience on producing Dune?

RDL: I loved working on Dune. It was 4 years of my life, but a great learning experience.