When Tony's dad hit him in the back of the head the third time during dinner, his retort of "Just watch the hair!" and then his complaint about being hit on the hair after he had worked on it for so long was John Travolta's own reaction and not scripted, but since it was so in character for Tony Manero to say, it was left in.
When they shot the first bridge scene, director John Badham kept secret from Donna Pescow the fact that when the guys "fell off" the bridge, they actually landed on a platform a few feet below. Badham and the other actors did not tell her about the platform because they wanted a genuine look of horror and anger on Annette's face when Tony, Double J. and Joey appeared to fall off. Therefore, Donna's reaction to them falling, and her facial expressions turning from horror and shock to outright anger, were real, and her next line, "You fuckers!", was not scripted.
Production had to be briefly halted so that John Travolta could attend the funeral of his girlfriend Diana Hyland. The couple had earlier appeared in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), their only ever joint venture. It was Hyland who encouraged Travolta to take the role of Tony Manero.
The white polyester suit worn by John Travolta sold at auction for $145,000 and purchased by movie critic Gene Siskel. Siskel often said that this was his favorite film and that he had watched it 17 times.
Originally, director John Badham filmed the dance rehearsal sequence with Tony and Annette's characters playing music in the background at the same time with the action and dialogue; a form of production conduct not usually done. The song was "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs. However, after filming the scene, John Badham got word from Scaggs' people they did not want the song in the picture, and so the sequence was dubbed, with John Travolta and Donna Pescow recording their lines in a vocal booth, and in the end composer David Shire orchestrated an instrumental piece for the sequence; ultimately the song (the title still unknown to this day) was picked up by the National Football Leagues, and used to open and close the Monday Night Football program for over 20 years.
In the episode of VH1's Behind the Music (1997) about the movie, John Travolta addressed the rumors that the below-the-waist shots of Tony in the opening title sequence were done by a body double. Travolta said that it was all him during the sequence except for the one shot where Tony stops and lifts up his shoe to compare it to the shoe in the corner window of the shoe store. That one shot upset him quite a little because the body double was unsteady on his feet, and Travolta was anything but unsteady on his feet.
The movie was originally called "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night", the title of the New York Magazine article that inspired it. The film's title was ultimately shortened to "Saturday Night", as a direct reference to the fact that Tony (John Travolta) and his friends inhabited 2001 Odyssey on Saturday nights. However, when The Bee Gees submitted the soundtrack, one of the songs, "Night Fever", was thought to embody the film's spirit better than the original. Director John Badham added the word "Saturday" and it replaced the original title.
According to the DVD commentary, John Travolta used two suits in the climax of the film, he had to switch suits between takes because one would become heavily soaked with sweat and had to be dried while he was wearing the other one for subsequent takes.
The film was rated R when it was released in late 1977. The studio was so eager to attract more young people to the film because they were buying the soundtrack album, that the film was cut by a few minutes and the shorter version was given a PG rating. The PG version was released in 1978. Both versions were released on VHS but only the R rated version was released on DVD.
Norman Wexler's screenplay was adapted from the "non-fiction" magazine article written by Nik Cohn. Years later, Cohn admitted that the story, supposedly a fact-based account detailing the lives of Brooklyn teenagers in the early days of the disco craze, was a complete fabrication.
When John Travolta first saw the rushes, he was greatly upset that his solo dance was cut in close-up. He called Robert Stigwood and vocalized his concerns. It didn't seem right he explained, that he had worked so hard to get in shape and learn a complex dance just to see the sequence cut down in the editing room. It was important to Travolta for audiences to see his work and to know without a doubt that he was doing his own dancing. Stigwood agreed and told Travolta to go back and sit with the editors and personally supervise a new cut of the solo sequence.
Bobby's car is a 1964 Chevy Impala hardtop. While director John Badham insisted on the Impala as Bobby's car, he was later told by Brooklynites that they would only drive an old Cadillac - and never an Impala. Each Impala (there were two used) was purchased by the film company for $1200. The Impala hardtop (with no post) is difficult to find today and will cost quite a bit more than the $1200 it did in 1977.
One piece of music from the soundtrack, "Manhattan Skyline" by David Shire became very popular as background instrumental music. It has been played in movie trailers, promotional films and commercials. It's the piece that Stephanie is dancing to when Tony invites her to coffee.
The lighted wall and lighted floor at Odyssey 2001 were not actually at the disco, but added in for the film. The "blinking light" effect on the wall was created by covering the wall in tin foil and reflecting blinking Christmas tree lights off of it.
In Tony (John Travolta)'s bedroom, there's a poster for Rocky (1976), a film directed by John G. Avildsen. The sequel to this film, Staying Alive (1983), was written and directed by the star of Rocky, Sylvester Stallone. In fact, Avildsen was the original director of this film but was fired by producer Robert Stigwood shortly before principal photography began due to "creative differences". John Badham was approached to fill in at the last minute. Tony also has a poster for Serpico (1973) on his wall. Avildsen was originally considered to direct that film as well, but left the project due to "creative differences".
The scene where Fran Drescher puts her hand on John Travolta's butt was not in the original script. Travolta and director John Badham thought that it would be something that a woman like Connie (Drescher's character) would do, however, so it was kept in.
Director John Badham claims in the DVD commentary that for performing product placement of a Trojan condom in one scene of the movie, he was given a lifetime supply - and that he "donated" them all to someone else.
Donna Pescow was almost considered "too pretty" for the role of Annette. She corrected this by putting on 40 pounds (18 kilograms) and training herself back to her native Brooklyn accent, which she trained herself away from while she was studying drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After production ended, she immediately lost the weight she gained for the role and dropped the accent.
While filming on location in some of the rougher Brooklyn neighborhoods, some trouble briefly arose with some of the locals. According to Kevin Mccormick, at one point someone threw a firebomb at the 2001 disco. Fortunately, no one was injured and there was no serious damage to the club. When McCormick asked the production manager, John Nicolella, why he thought it had happened, Nicolella said, "Well, you know, it's a neighborhood thing. They want us to hire some of the kids." The trouble didn't end there. "Then these two guys appeared on the set, pulled me off to the side," recounted McCormick. "'You know, you're being disruptive to the neighborhood. You might need some security. And if you want to put lights on the bowling alley across, Black Stan really wants seven grand.'" To McCormick's astonishment, the tough guys were paid what they wanted, and the trouble stopped.
To try and throw off John Travolta's fans, John Badham and his team took to shooting any exterior scenes as early in the morning as possible before people caught on - often at the crack of dawn. They would also generate fake call sheets. The tactics worked well enough that Badham was usually able to get the scenes done before significant crowds had time to gather.
Filming was frequently halted on the streets of New York City because teenage girl fans of John Travolta would scream when they saw him due to his popularity from the ABC sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter (1975).
There were no special effects in the film, except for the smoke rising from the dance floor. Bill Ward, the film's sole gaffer, explains that it wasn't from dry ice or a smoke machine-it was "a toxic mix of burning tar and automobile tires, pinched from a Bay Ridge alley." It created such heat and smoke that at one point they had to wheel in oxygen for John Travolta. The filmmakers also went to great trouble and expense-$15,000-to put lights in the dance floor, designed to pulsate to the music. The walls were covered with aluminium foil and Christmas lights. When the club's owner saw the dailies for the first time, he said, "Holy shit, you guys made my place look great!"
Letting off steam at the end of the shoot, John Travolta and members of the crew filmed a mock wedding at the disco-for laughs-with John dressed as the bride and one of the grips appearing as the groom.
There was some early grumbling about Karen Lynn Gorney when filming began. Certain crew members felt she was too old for the part, and that her dancing wasn't up to par. (She had sustained serious injuries in a motorcycle accident a few years earlier.)
Donna Pescow auditioned for the role of Annette six times, three for John G. Avildsen and three for 'John Badham' (qV). When she got the part, at 22, she said it was the first Christmas in years she wouldn't have to work at Bloomingdale's selling ornaments.
Five additional instrumental cues by David Shire were recorded for the film: "Barracuda Hangout", "Tony and Stephanie", "Near the Brooklyn Bridge", "Death on the Bridge" and "All Night Train". However, only one was credited, and all remained unreleased.
To research his character, John Travolta would sneak into 2001 Odyssey with Norman Wexler. So great was his popularity from _Welcome Back Kotter' he had to disguise himself in dark glasses and a hat. Before he was spotted, he watched the Faces-the cool, aggressive dancers the article was based on-concentrating on every detail of their behaviour. When he was recognized-"Hey, man! Hey, it's fuckin' Travolta!"-the actor noticed how the disco's alpha males kept their girls in line. Their girlfriends would come up, and they'd say, 'Hey, stay away from him, don't bug Travolta,' and they'd actually push the girls away. Tony Manero's whole male-chauvinist thing I got from watching those guys in the discos."
Two additional songs for the film ended up not being used. One was The Bee Gees singing their self-penned version of "If I Can't Have You", and Samantha Sang's "Emotion". The latter was recorded by Destiny's Child in 2001 - the song was played on radio playlists after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
After being shortened from "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" (the title of the New York Magazine article that inspired it), the working title of the film was "Saturday Night". When The Bee Gees added a song to the soundtrack called "Night Fever", the word "Fever" was added to the film title. This is the second time a John Travolta project had the title altered due to a song (see trivia for Welcome Back, Kotter (1975)).
After Tony's solo dance he goes to the doorman of the disco to ask if Stephanie has shown up. Behind him, you can see a poster for cover of the New York magazine which featured the story "Tribal Rights for the New Saturday Night" - the story Saturday Night Fever was based on.
Actress Nina Hagen, who played the grandmother in the film,improvised all her lines in the dinner table scene. Originally not given any speaking parts,this didn't sit well with her and according to director John Badham,she decided to utter "Basta! Manga! Manga! ,which translates to English as "Enough! Eat!Eat!" He decided to leave it in the final cut.
In one scene Stephanie ask's Tony if he's ever heard of the actor Laurence Olivier which he doesn't, two year's later Laurence Olivier would star in Dracula (1979) which was also directed by John Barham.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Just to settle a few arguments: In the board game Trivial Pursuit, the bridge that Bobby C. (Barry Miller) falls from is incorrectly identified as the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge was of course the Verrazano Narrows which connects Brooklyn with Staten Island.