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How “Little Shop of Horrors” got its ending back

little shop of horrors

Photo: "Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut," courtesy Warner Bros.

Restoration specialist Kurt Galvao explains how he gave "Little Shop" the apocalyptic finale it deserved.

“Little Shop Of Horrors: The Director’s Cut” hits shelves today, and for those involved with assembling this version of the 1986 big-screen musical, the task amounted to more than just cutting and pasting a few archived scenes and adding the original, 20-minute ending that was scrapped after test audiences found it too dark and depressing. In many ways, the process of restoring the initial ending for the film — in which an army of monstrous alien plants destroys the nation’s largest cities — was an archeological quest of cinematic proportions, complete with missing frames scattered around the world, some creative editing of existing material, and the chance to right a few wrongs that left key figures in the film’s development out of the picture until now.

Leading the charge to give “Little Shop Of Horrors” the director’s cut it deserved was Kurt Galvao, Warner Bros. Pictures’ Vice President of Assets & Technology/Post Production, whose work on 2007′s “Final Cut” edition of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” earned high praise from fans and stands out as one of the most highly praised (both for its content and quality) versions of the sic-fi classic to date.

During a recent press junket for the Blu-ray release of the “Little Shop” director’s cut, IFC spoke with Galvao and director Frank Oz about the painstaking process of giving the world the ending the film should’ve had from the start.

“The most important thing was not to draw people away from the story because of the new ending,” Galvao told IFC. “Going into this, I knew it had to have the same amount of grain and the same warmth, color-wise. And I wanted to make sure, sound-wise, that it sounded the same [as the rest of the movie] and just… flowed. To achieve that, first we had to find the parts of each of the original pieces.”

And this was no small task, according to Galvao, whose team found themselves digging through piles of reels in Los Angeles, London, and Kansas in order to locate the missing film. With much of the film initially shot in London, the masters stored in L.A., and a massive vault of reels archived in Kansas (in order to protect the material from earthquakes), pulling everything together quickly became a globe-hopping endeavor.

Finally, on top of any logistical concerns, the rushed re-shoot of the film’s ending more than two decades ago left elements like the music, sound, and portions of the footage that would’ve been tweaked before release painfully incomplete.

“I started searching at Warner Bros., obviously, and from there to the deep mines of Kansas where there were some films, and followed the paperwork trail to London,” laughed Galvao.

“It was difficult finding all the pieces,” he said. “They weren’t where the boxes said they were, but we went through every piece, and I had guys on boxes for weeks looking at every frame. It took about a year and a half to pull it all together. And then on the sound side, we had to locate the original track of singing, get the original tracks in there, and find the dialogue tracks from the dailies. Some of them had damage, so we had to filter out the damage in some cases.”

Along with filtering out some of the negative effects of time, Galvao and his team were also called upon to add upon the existing material — a task that was actually made easier by the 26 years that had elapsed since the film’s premiere.

“We’re lucky to be in a digital world where we can scan the original negatives and have that as our base, then find all of the other elements of the other parts and recreate what they were originally trying to finish,” explained Galvao. “That included a lot of the optical effects, but back then the visual effects were all optically based. They didn’t have digital effects. So what I tried to do with our team was to stick with using all those frames of optical effects at whatever extent they were finished at, and then finish them digitally. But we always had to keep that look from the optical effects. We didn’t want it to be squeaky clean, so we actually had to add some grain here and there.”

Restoring the ending for “Little Shop Of Horrors” also gave Galvao and Oz the opportunity to see some of their favorite elements from the original finale returned to their proper place in the film. Oz told IFC he was particularly happy to give model designer Richard Conway a call to let him know that the massive amount of miniatures he had created — and subsequently destroyed — for the final montage of plants conquering the world would finally get its time in the spotlight.

For Galvao, one of the highlights of the restoration process was putting actor Paul Dooley back into the film. In the original ending for “Little Shop,” Dooley appears as a businessman who tells Seymour (Rick Moranis) that, thanks to some cuttings he took from the plant, his company has plans to mass-market “Audrey II” seedlings and make it the next big thing to fly off the shelves. This is followed by scenes of shoppers buying up the plants all around the country, which then leads into the destruction they cause around the world.

When the call came down for re-shoots, Dooley wasn’t available to film new scenes, and James Belushi was swapped in for Dooley’s role. Dooley was later given a “Special Thanks” in the credits, but never appeared in the theatrical version of the film.

“One thing that was really, really great was finding the piece with Paul Dooley and putting it back in there,” said Galvao.

For Galvao, when it comes to these restoration projects, the task of piecing everything back together is more than just a job — it’s personal.

“It becomes my baby, too,” he laughed. “I know Frank is the genius and the one who created it, but when I take one of these on, it’s my child. It’s a labor of love doing one of these, just like it is originally creating it. I just can’t stand seeings something that was slapped together put out there, so I like getting it down to the exact way it was meant to be and then making it as pretty as possible.”

“Little Shop Of Horrors: The Director’s Cut” is available now on Blu-ray. Make sure to checkout our extended interview with director Frank Oz and star Ellen Greene here on IFC.com.

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