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Boy, D’ya Miss Me Like a Nail in the Head?

Posted 24th March 2019

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The story of the film Nailed is a complicated one.

Not the story we see on-screen, mind you, which is straightforward if quirky: Alice, a waitress (Jessica Biel) gets a nail lodged in her head during a marriage proposal, goes a bit weird, and ends up fighting for better health insurance. No, the complicated part is the story of how the film got made. Or more specifically, one particular scene.

First, a bit of background. Nailed was shot by David O. Russell in 2008, and had endless financial problems at the hands of production company Capitol Films.1 Shooting was halted numerous times due to people not being paid, and eventually production ended with the film incomplete. In 2010, Russell finally walked from the project for good; the film was eventually sold on to a new company, finished without Russell’s involvement, and was released as Accidental Love in 2015 to piss-poor reviews. (With Russell’s name removed from the credits – the director was now the pseudonymous Stephen Greene.)

And here comes the bit I’m really interested in. Let’s take a look at the following Entertainment Weekly article: “The David O. Russell Film You Were Never Supposed to See” from February 2015, which details the original production of the film back in 2008:

“In the push and pull for control, producers held the film negatives hostage and postponed a crucial nail-gun scene – when the nail gets planted in Biel’s head – until the last day of shooting in an effort to maintain some leverage against Capitol’s perceived resolve to release an unpolished film. When one of the unions pulled the plug for good, the sequence had still not been shot. The film was left incomplete.”

This tale is backed up by producer Doug Wick, who is quoted as saying the following in this article in Collider, back in August 2012 – before the film was even finished and released:

“…oddly enough the last scene that we had scheduled – partly because we thought this way [the financier will] have to finish the movie – is the scene where Jessica Biel gets a nail in her head. That’s why it’s called Nailed, she doesn’t have insurance and she can’t get the nail out. So the last two days were getting the nail in her head, and we shut down so we didn’t have the final scene that was the scene that was the premise of the movie. There was no way to cut the movie together without that scene, so I don’t know what he was thinking by shutting us down then. At that point everybody was like, ‘We can’t cut the movie together, there isn’t a movie.’ And then he never came through with the rest of the money.”

All very interesting. So, you may be wondering, how did they actually manage to release the film without that crucial scene?

Answer: they didn’t. The scene is present in the film. It’s a tad dark and confusing, but it gets across the vital information needed to kick the plot of the film into gear:

So, the film stopped shooting before the scene was in the can… and yet the final film, released seven years later, includes the scene. How do we explain this?

First, let’s get back to that Entertainment Weekly piece:

“In late 2014, indie distributor Alchemy, formerly known as Millennium, acquired a version of the film for an undisclosed sum. Now retitled, it had been pieced together by producer Kia Jam, a former Capitol exec. “People are expecting to see a broken film, and it’s not,” says Jam, who relied on some digital magic to create the pivotal missing scene.”

Which already brings up questions. The way I interpreted all the above quotes is that the entire proposal scene, culminating in the nail-in-the-head sequence, wasn’t shot. After all, it surely doesn’t take two days to shoot the injury itself; the heavy implication is that the whole scene never made it before the cameras. But clearly the entire scene isn’t some CGI fudge. Already, we’re chipping away at the idea that the scene was never shot at all during the original production.

Whether it was completed or not, however, is a different matter. Note that while we get plenty of close-ups of of James Marsden, there are very few shots of Jessica Biel, which is ludicrous considering she’s our main character. Moreover, the two shots that we do get are very odd indeed. There’s this frightening digital monstrosity:

A digital Jessica Biel

Which looks very different to the shot as she gets nailed in the head:

A different Jessica Biel

Maybe we can get some clarity by doing some reading elsewhere. Let’s take a look at The Telegraph‘s review:

“Russell reportedly never shot the crucial injury scene as an ultimate bargaining chip in the ongoing battle with the film’s financiers. The version of it we see here is a deliberate blur, shot with a Biel body double on a lookalike set at a later date. It looks dreadful, but you have to admire the chutzpah.”

Again, are we talking about the entire scene here, or just some shots which weren’t completed? It’s far from clear.

OK, let’s try the IndieWire review:

“Sure, it’s rushed, hurried, feels stitched together in many parts, and yes, the infamous “nailed” scene was never shot and has been recreated thanks to the use of cheap CGI.”

“cheap CGI” is even less specific. Right, let’s try /Film:

“Biel was one of the players contractually obligated to return for reshoots when producers planned to finish the movie back in 2010, as the big missing scene was the one in which her character is injured.”

Hang on, we’re now saying Biel returned for reshoots? How does this fit into any existing story we’ve gleaned up to this point, and how does that explain the terrible shots of her above?

Right, I know, The Guardian will sort it all out:

“Notoriously, a key scene – of Jessica Biel getting a nail in her head – was poorly lit and a reshoot was expected; from the brief glimpse on the trailer (at 0’25” in), I’d speculate no new footage has been added.”

So we’re now saying the whole scene was shot originally, just… badly. Which doesn’t match anything we’ve been told yet.

Finally, let’s try DVD Dizzy:

“The pivotal scene of Alice getting struck by the nail is achieved by two very clumsy face-replacing shots, obviously the awkward product of those rumored 2013 reshoots.”

Argh. We’re now in the realm of reshoots without Jessica Biel, despite her apparently being contracted to return.

Just to be clear, then: the film’s key scene wasn’t shot, except it was shot, except it was actually reshot using body doubles and digital effects work, except it was actually reshot with the main cast, depending on who you believe.

To bring some sanity to proceedings, let’s go right back to March 2011. Here’s a report from IndieWire on a showing of “a very raw, rough & early cut of unfinished David O. Russell’s Nailed”:

“What was shown seems to be the same very-rough assembly cut that was put together months ago with some minor tweakage. The crucial “missing scene,” or unfinished one, in the picture — when Jessica Biel first gets a nailgun accidentally drilled into her head — was not exactly missing per se, it just sounds incomplete. The scene was there with a title on the bottom that read, “to be reshot.” It was, we’re told, a confusing moment and poorly lit, so this is likely why they’d want to reshoot it. Apparently it made the film feel very jarring since it’s basically the first plot point that puts the story into motion.”

And “poorly lit” certainly squares with what we see of the scene in the final movie. Indeed, it seems that this review from Variety on the film’s release in 2015 comes the closest to the truth:

“But fate intervenes when a worker doing repairs at the tony Fancy Gondola restaurant tumbles from a ladder and right onto Alice’s noggin — a scene reportedly left unfinished at the time of the production’s shutdown, and conspicuously cobbled together from inadequate footage here.”

Here’s what I find interesting. The story behind this film is notorious, and reported by countless outlets; and yet the actual details behind the shooting and completion of the film’s crucial scene remain as murky as its lighting. What seems obvious is that the oft-repeated tale that the scene was entirely missing originally is incorrect; not completed seems nearer to the mark. Not that this has stopped every man, woman, and their respective dogs from reporting different versions of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Despite the endless coverage given to the story, we don’t really know exactly what happened in this situation at all. Which seems something of a failure by all concerned.

And forgive me for indulging in conspiracy theories, but here’s one final thought. The scene being shot so darkly that in an ideal world it would have been reshot entirely: a product of a chaotic production… or something more deliberate? At the very least, the circumstances behind the scene’s botched shooting seems to be a story here, rather than the talk of the scene never having been shot in the first place.

But nobody ever asked about it.

  1. Capitol Films was owned by David Bergstein, who as of 2019 is serving an eight year jail sentence for fraud on an unrelated matter. 

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