President Ronald Reagan, who had famously called the Soviet Union an "evil empire", invited Warren Beatty for a private screening of the film in the White House (Reagan was acquainted with Beatty from his career in Hollywood).
At one point, director of photography Vittorio Storaro nearly quit the project when he and Warren Beatty clashed over the use of the camera. Storaro wanted a dynamic fluid movement while Beatty wanted static shots. Finally, a compromise was made between the two men: the film would open with static shots and as it progresses, more camera moves are added. This style had similarly been applied to another film that being Sidney Lumet's _Network_. Yet by 2011, Beatty described the process with Storaro this way: "There's no greater cinematographer . . . we were in total agreement and [had] continual conversation".
While filming on location in Finland, Warren Beatty encountered several problems with the local authorities. It turned out that Finnish authorities had been asked by the Soviet Union to make shooting this film as difficult as possible, which, in order to keep good relations with their much larger neighbor, they agreed to do.
With this film, Warren Beatty became the third person to be nominated for Academy Awards in the three categories of Best Actor, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay in a film which was also nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Earlier personnel to do this had been Woody Allen for Annie Hall (1977) and Orson Welles for Citizen Kane (1941).
According to a 2006 interview with Warren Beatty, Reds (1981) was the final Hollywood production to be released with an "intermission". However, the last Hollywood production to be released with an intermission is Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet", clocking in at just over four-hours in length.
Over one hundred and thirty hours of footage were shot, about forty times more than the final cut of the film. It takes two days for everyday shooting dailies (shot in Europe except for London scenes) to reach editors Dede Allen and Craig McKay. This was accomplished by having a courier on standby round the clock. The courier would take the dailies to the Technicolor Lab in Rome for the special processing and would reach Los Angeles (where post-production is done) at the end of next day.
To prepare for her lead role as Faith in her next film Shoot the Moon (1982), actress Diane Keaton used her emotion for character motivation and understanding from her then recent real-life break-up with actor Warren Beatty who she had co-starred with in this movie.
According to editor and executive producer Dede Allen, Warren Beatty first conceived making a movie about the life of John Reed around 1966, sixteen years before this film was first released. Reportedly, Beatty was vacationing in Russia during the 1960s when he met a woman who had been a lover of John Reed and who told Beatty of Reed's story. Later, it was around 1969-1970 that Beatty started learning the Russian language, allegedly so he could court the then married forty-four year old Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, whom reportedly he had become completely obsessed with.
The number of people interviewed and featured in interviews interspersed within the film's narrative was thirty-two. A number of the interviewees seen in the film, some shot during the 1970s, had passed-away by the time the film eventually completed filming, went through six-months of post and then finally released.
Director Warren Beatty demanded that he use an Italian film crew even though British Film industry union reviews decreed that a British crew must be used. Reportedly, as such, a British crew was standing around doing nothing being paid full pay.
This movie was the second consecutive picture where Warren Beatty was Oscar nominated in four Academy Award categories for the one film. In Heaven Can Wait (1978), Beatty had been nominated for Best Actor, Best Director (co-director with Buck Henry), Best Adapted Screenplay (with Elaine May) and Best Picture (Producer). For Reds (1981), Beatty was nominated for Best Actor, Best Director (sole director), Best Original Screenplay (with Trevor Griffiths) and Best Picture (Producer). Of these eight nominations, Beatty only won just the one Oscar statuette, which was for directing Reds (1981).
Soviet director Sergey Bondarchuk wanted to make a film about John Reed just after he had made his 1966 Russian epic War and Peace (1966). Reportedly, Bondarchuk asked Warren Beatty to star in it, but Beatty turned down the offer, as he apparently didn't like the screenplay.
The picture utilized two and a half million feet (762,000 meters) of film. Some estimates put it at three million feet (914,400 meters). This equates to about two-and-a-half weeks of screen time. One million feet are said to have been printed. The weight of the film stock shipped from England to the USA is believed to have weighed about four and a half tonnes.
In 2011, Warren Beatty still recalled the practical jokes that his friend Jerzy Kosinski played during the production. On one occasion, eating at a restaurant the night before a big shoot, Beatty realized his feet were 'sweating profusely'. He soon realized Kozinski had been sneaking under the table to pour small amounts of hot tea into Beatty's shoes.
This is the film that was showing on British National TV the night Princess Diana was killed in Paris. As the final credits rolled, an announcement was broadcast that she had been seriously injured in a car crash.
Actor John Lithgow was considered by Warren Beatty for the lead role of John Reed for a short time. This was because Lithgow physically resembled Reed in facial and physical appearance. Beatty eventually decided that he would play the part of Reed himself. Beatty originally wasn't going to even appear in the picture and not even direct it either.
Sixty five people worked on the film's editing and post-production which itself ran for around six months. This was completed in November 1981 it at this time being more than two years since the start of principal photography.
Gene Hackman agreed to appear in the film in a small role, and appearing in just two scenes, as a favor to friend Warren Beatty, for his gratitude to him helping Hackman with his career, when Beatty got him cast during the 1960s in both Lilith (1964) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967).
Maureen Stapleton had a morbid fear of flying and frequently turned down roles that required her to fly. As no passenger ships sail to Britain in the winter, she had to take a freighter to get to London for the filming of "Reds."
Warren Beatty lost thirty pounds and suffered laryngitis after completion of the movie. This partially explains why he did not make any press interviews for the film. At that time, he was recovering at his friend Jerzy Kosinski's house - which he was sharing.
The release schedule of actress Diane Keaton's next picture, Shoot the Moon (1982) co-starring Albert Finney, was changed in order not to hamper her campaign for a Best Actress Academy Award for this movie.
The production shoot for this epic picture ran across two years running for approximately two hundred and forty days taking about a year to film. Principal photography was originally estimated to run for just 15-16 weeks in a six month time-frame.
Warren Beatty spent ten days in the USSR during development only to find out that he would be declined filming in Leningrad. Finland ended up doubling for Russia in the movie with Beatty benefiting from spending this time in the Soviet heartland when coming to later on shoot the picture.
Reportedly, director Warren Beatty re-shot some scenes up to thirty-five times. Actor Paul Sorvino said he did as many as seventy takes for one scene whilst actress Maureen Stapleton said she did as many as eighty takes for another. Reportedly, of this, she reportedly famously once said to Warren Beatty, "Are you out of your fucking mind?".
During principal photography, reportedly, actress Diane Keaton and actor-writer-director Warren Beatty were in a personal relationship which witnesses to the production said disintegrated throughout the course of the production. By the time Keaton went to work on her next film, Alan Parker's Shoot the Moon (1982), the personal relationship between the director and his leading lady had ended.
The then American President when the film first launched late 1981, Ronald Reagan, and wife Nancy Reagan, arranged to view the film at a special screening at the White House in Washington D.C. During his period in office, Reagan described the Soviet Union as the "evil empire".
Identifiable veteran American Hollywood character actors were cast in bit and supporting parts so as to assist the film going American public to identify with the movie which was using English locations to double for American settings, a concern of director Warren Beatty. These American acting vets included R.G. Armstrong, Jack Kehoe', M. Emmet Walsh and Ian Wolfe.
Joke movie titles that the crew labeled the picture during the high stress of the production included "The Longest Day" (ref: The Longest Day (1962)) and "The 39 Takes" (ref: The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978)).
After this film, Warren Beatty did not act in another motion picture for about another six years, until 1987's Ishtar (1987) with Dustin Hoffman, a critical and commercial failure. Moreover, Beatty did not direct another picture for around another nine years, until 1990's Dick Tracy (1990), which coincidentally ended up winning the same number of Academy Awards as Reds (1981) did, that being three.
Whilst filming a crowd scene in Spain where John Reed's makes a speech to the Revolutionary Congress of the Peoples of the East in Spain, Warren Beatty explained to the Spanish extras John Reed's philosophy of the rights of workers to assist them with their character motivations. Ironically, then during the lunch break, having educated them, a spokesperson representing the background artists, protested to Beatty saying that they felt they were being exploited! Re-negotiations had to be conducted for the rest of the lunch hour in order for filming to be able to re-commence with the worker extras achieving a $20 per day pay settlement.