How’d They Do That? – Donnie Darko

Welcome back to How’d They Do That? In this series, we check out behind the scenes stills and video from the making of some of cinema’s greatest! Event Cinemas “In The House” cult film program continues this Friday with a personal favourite of mine – Donnie Darko.

The film truly fits the mold of a cult classic – with quirky characters, an almost incomprehensible time travel plot, and a creepy fellow in a bunny suit. Donnie Darko is a film that is watchable again and again – with each additional viewing providing more insight into the ‘Philosophy of Time Travel’, and Donnie’s role within the Tangent universe.


Be thankful folks, because its amazing that this film even got made. Donnie Darko was made for an insane $4.5 million dollars and was shot in 28 days (eerily reminiscent of the time frame in which the film is set). Writer/Director Richard Kelly was only 26 when he made the film. You know who else was instrumental in getting the film made (and a theatrical release!)? – producer Drew Barrymore. Her involvement in the film allowed Kelly to raise his budget and cast other well known actors like Noah Wyle and Patrick Swayze. The below photo is of Kelly on set – fitting right in with his high school set.


While he’s fantastic in the film, Jake Gyllenhaal was one of many actors considered for the role. Initially Vince Vaughn was approached but turned it down due to his age (smart move). Jason Schwartzman was eventually cast, but ended up dropping out due to scheduling conflicts. Maggie Gyllenhaal was cast not only based on her performance in Cecil B. DeMented, but also for the natural sibling rivalry she would be able to bring to the role, working along her real brother.

darko3I love the Smurf conversation Donnie and his friends have. Its kind of one of those scenes that conveys real teenager conversations – in this case,  a deeply irrelevant dive into Smurf sexuality. To ensure this scene ended up in the film, Kelly contacted Smurf’s creator Peyo for his permission. Peyo surprisingly granted permission, because even though the conversation was profanity ridden, Donnie’s understand of Smurf sexuality was evidently correct.

After an incredibly short production schedule, Donnie Darko finally hit theatres, timed unfortunately for a few weeks after 9/11. This had two major impacts:

  • The original poster for the film featured the films title in a font that was described as ‘too arabic’. Subsequent posters had a much plainer font – but the film keeps its title card in the same font as the original poster
  • Unfortunately audiences weren’t too thrilled to see a dark movie with a jet engine disaster at it’s core so close to 9/11. The film made only $515,000 in its initial release.

Due to its frosty reception in the US, the film wasn’t release in international markets for almost a year. While timing wasn’t on the film’s side, the mystery and complexity of the plot sucked audiences in subsequent video release. Millions discussed the truth behind the film on the Internet. Word of mouth helped the film in international markets, and a theatre in NYC played the film at midnight for 28 months straight! This was the beginning of the cult of Darko.

Unfortunately, there is limited behind the scenes footage/stills from the making of Donnie Darko, but check out this B-Roll footage from the production of the film.

Whilst there are plenty of websites that hold all the answers to the puzzle that is Donnie Darko, for those first timers I stress that you dive straight into the film again and again, until you can understand and comprehend whats going on. Donnie Darko is one of those films that I can watch over and over and every time get something new out of it. Its a true testament to Richard Kelly direction and his ability to tell this hauntingly amazing story.

Don’t forget, you too have the chance to jump back into the Tangent universe and experience Donnie Darko they way that many of us have never experienced it – on the big screen – at Event Cinema’s George St on Friday 5th August. Get your tickets below!

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