More scenes were scheduled to be filmed during the band's 1975 American tour. But, when Robert Plant and his family were seriously injured when their hired Austin Mini crashed during a holiday vacation on Rhodes, the rest of the tour was cancelled and the footage was never shot.
On the morning of July 20, 1973, Jimmy Page and manager Peter Grant made contact with Joe Massot, who had previously directed Wonderwall (1968). Massot was already known to Grant as he and his wife had moved into a house in Berkshire in 1970, where they made friends with their neighbor Page and his girlfriend Charlotte. Grant had previously turned down offers by Massot to make a film of the band, but with the huge success of Led Zeppelin's 1973 concert tour of the United States, Grant changed his mind and offered him the job of director.
The money stolen from the safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel was never recovered and no one has ever been charged. Suspicion remains on a former employee of Drake, who fled to Jamaica soon after the robbery took place.
In a scene, manager Peter Grant uses the words 'fuck' and 'cunt' eighteen times combined. Warner Bros. approved the film on the proviso that these words be 'bleeped' out. Peter Clifton took the optical print and bleeped the words. However, on every other print the words were retained and were fully audible.
Peter Clifton, recognizing that there were crucial holes in the concert footage, suggested that the entire show be recreated at Shepperton Studios in August 1974, on a mock-up of the Madison Square Garden stage. Close-ups and distance footage of the band members could then be slipped into the live sequences, which made up part of the concert footage seen in the film. When it was agreed that the band would meet at Shepperton Studios for filming, John Paul Jones had recently had his hair cut short, so he had to wear a wig. Robert Plant's teeth had also been fixed between the 1973 and 1974 filming's.
For their three New York performances, the band members wore exactly the same clothes to facilitate seamless editing of the film, except for John Paul Jones who wore three different sets of attire on each of these nights, which created continuity problems.
Unhappy with the progress of the film, manager Peter Grant had Joe Massot removed from the project and Australian director Peter Clifton was hired in his place in early 1974. Massot was offered a few thousand pounds in compensation. Peter Grant later sent Richard Cole with a court order to Massot's house to collect the film. However, Massot had hidden the film elsewhere and so instead a KEM editing machine owned by Massot was taken as collateral. Massot served a writ, leading to a period of stalemate which was finally broken when Grant and Led Zeppelin's lawyer Steve Weiss agreed to pay Massot the money he was owed, after which he delivered the film to the band. Massot was not invited to attend the premiere of the film at New York but he attended anyway, buying a ticket from a scalper outside the theatre.
Following the film's completion, the band experienced a major falling out with Peter Clifton. Suspecting that he had 'stolen' negatives of the film, Peter Grant ordered that his house be searched. They did find some footage, but this turned out to be a collection of the best 'home movie' footage which Clifton had intended to give to the band members as a gift. Clifton was also annoyed at the decision to remove from the film's credits the names of all the people who had worked on editing, make up and effects. Unlike Joe Massot, however, Clifton was invited to both the New York and London premieres of the film.
Since late 1969, Led Zeppelin had been planning on filming one of their live performances for a projected movie documentary of the band. The group's manager, Peter Grant, believed that they would be better served by the big screen than by television, because he regarded the sound quality of the latter as inadequate. The first attempt was the filming (by Peter Whitehead and Stanley Dorfman) of Led Zeppelin's Royal Albert Hall performance on January 9, 1970, but the lighting was judged to be mediocre, and the film was shelved (this footage was later remastered and featured on the 2003 release 'Led Zeppelin DVD'). Another attempt was organized for the outdoor Bath Festival on June 28, 1970, but only limited footage was filmed, and was similarly deemed unsatisfactory.
Some of the footage that was shot but never used was eventually released on the 'Led Zeppelin DVD'. This includes performances of "Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Ocean" (later also to appear on the 2007 re-issue of this film) and alternate takes of "Black Dog" and "Since I've Been Loving You".
At the three concerts filmed for this movie, the band also played "Celebration Day", "Over The Hills and Far Away", "The Ocean" and "Misty Mountain Hop". The performances of "The Ocean" and "Misty Mountain Hop" were later included on Led Zeppelin's self-titled DVD in 2003. Additionally, they were included as extras in the 2007 DVD re-issue of "The Song Remains The Same", which also featured the previously unseen "Celebration Day" and "Over The Hills and Far Away".
The plans to film the shows at Madison Square Garden were threatened when the local trades union tried to block the British film crew from working. The band's attorneys negotiated with the union and the crew was eventually allowed to film the concerts.
The concert footage is based upon Led Zeppelin's Madison Square Garden Concerts. However, the opening of the film, in what is supposed to be the limousine ride into New York City, is actually the Parkway West in Pittsburgh and ultimately goes through the Pittsburgh Liberty Tunnels before cutting back again to New York City.
When the band convened in 1974 to view an early rough cut of the film, they were less than pleased. John Bonham laughed out loud at Jimmy Page's pretentious fantasy sequence, and the rest of the band expressed their disapproval of the concert footage to Joe Massot. He was soon removed from the project. His famous parting comment was "They even thought it's my fault that Robert Plant has a huge cock."