The characters were based on people Lawrence Kasdan lived with in the Eugene V. Debs co-op in Ann Arbor in Michigan, USA while attending the University of Michigan. "Co-ops" are co-ed housing in which the residents share household duties like cooking. This explains why the characters are so comfortable sharing the house and cooking, and are so attached to the Michigan football game.
Co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wrote the parts of Karen Bowens and Sarah Cooper specifically for JoBeth Williams and Glenn Close respectively. However, both actresses initially wanted to play the role of Meg Jones as they both felt that they better related to that character over the ones chosen by Kasdan.
Before actual shooting was to begin, Lawrence Kasdan wanted the cast to spend some significant time rehearsing together. As they travelled from California to Atlanta, Georgia and ultimately Beaufort, South Carolina, the actors had nearly three weeks of rehearsal time before the cameras rolled--something extremely rare for a film. JoBeth Williams believed it was partly due to the studio not wanting to spend a lot of money on the actual shooting process. More importantly, however, Kasdan wanted to give the cast and crew a chance to work out how they would play their scenes together and get to know each other well enough to achieve the effortless camaraderie that comes with the close long-time friendships depicted in the story. It was a strategy that all of the actors found extremely helpful in making their characters' relationships believable. "It's like playing on a wonderful team," said Kevin Kline at the time, "and it's fun being part of that team. It's a sharing, like sharing a victory when you've won. There's a beautiful exhilaration in team play, which is about as apt a parallel as I can make to this ensemble."
When Glenn Close walked in for the first reading, Tom Berenger did not recognize her. They had co-starred in a stage production of "The Rose Tattoo" in 1977, but, according to Berenger, she had lost 15-20 pounds, had a shorter hairstyle and thinner face, and he initially did not know her.
The main house in the film is in Beaufort in South Carolina, USA. The home is the same antebellum dwelling where The Great Santini (1979) was shot. Director Lawrence Kasdan liked The Great Santini (1979) so much that he decided to shoot this film in the same location.
After filming the college Thanksgiving flashback scene, the cast and crew moved on to the picturesque town of Beaufort, SC and settled in for the remainder of the shoot. It was during the colder fall off-season for Beaufort, so the usual summer vacationers were absent, leaving a somewhat deserted feel to the area. With Hollywood so far away, and it being a time before cell phones or the Internet, contact with the outside world was limited, leaving the cast and crew to spend most of their time together off-camera as well, which helped in creating a tight communal atmosphere. When they weren't filming, the actors spent their time exploring the area, playing parlour games and having dinner together.
At least twice during the movie we can see an octopus on a television screen in the house. Of course an octopus has eight legs, and there are eight intertwined friends in the film, counting their late friend Alex Marshall, who we barely see, but for an opening shot in a coffin.
The first thing actually shot was a key flashback scene in Atlanta that Lawrence Kasdan always intended to be the ending of the film. It was a scene that showed all of the friends, including the deceased Alex, back during their college days making Thanksgiving dinner together. It was intended to depict how all of the friends were back then and finally show Alex as a contrast to everyone's different memories of him.
For scenes in which director Lawrence Kasdan anticipated using music, he would have the actors deliver their lines in voices much louder than normal. This was done so that when the songs were added to the soundtrack later in post-production the lines would be heard clearly above the music and sound natural.
Of the marathon improvisation period during the rehearsals period, director Lawrence Kasdan said: "It happened kind of spontaneously. We were working at the house and everyone was in costume and we decided it might be great if we all cooked a meal. That way they'd have to split up the tasks and approximate a group of close friends putting together a dinner. I chose to leave at that point and all I said was, 'You should do this in character'. I left and for five hours they remained in character without any authority figure, without any director to tell them if they were behaving or reacting in the correct way according to the writer's or director's ideas. They had to live in those characters' skins and instantly deal with input from each other character. It became a very intense experience and they all came out of it exhausted and drained. I'm not sure it would have developed as fully had I been there during that time. A rehearsal period goes through stages like a life cycle and we had already had three and a half weeks of rehearsal. But that happened at a crucial, crystallizing moment and it turned eight individual actors into an ensemble".
When shooting was complete and the film moved into the post-production phase, editor Carol Littleton was faced with some challenges. Littleton, who had previously edited Body Heat (1981) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), found this to be a different kind of film. Not only did the vast majority of the action take place in one location, but the focus was on characters and dialogue rather than traditional story action. "It was really all about nuance and tone," said Littleton in a 2011 interview, "and constantly weighing the dramatic value. Looking for the small moments, the little remarks, that made the story".
Actor Tom Berenger described this film as being " . . . about that period in life when you're beginning to realize you have limitations, that you will never accomplish certain goals and dreams . . . Suddenly, you know you're not a kid anymore".
According to Mary Kay Place, Lawrence Kasdan would often time scenes so that they would move along at a certain clip. It was an effort to keep the scenes from running too long so that Kasdan wouldn't be forced to cut them down later--something he hated having to do.
Lawrence Kasdan says the title, "The Big Chill is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal". Further, "the [movie's] title refers to the cold world of adult reality" as stated in the essay by Torene Svitil included with the Criterion Collection's DVD and also available online. Moreover, '10 Things I Learned: The Big Chill' by Curtis Tsui at the Criterion Collection's website states: "What does the film's title mean? Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan explains that The Big Chill refers to the experience of cold adult reality after leaving the 'warm embrace' of true friendship during college.".
Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan didn't want all of the songs to necessarily be an obvious commentary on every scene but rather something more subtle. He wanted it "in some oblique way to support the feeling of the movie."
Actress Mary Kay Place said of what she thought this film was about: "When you're in college, you think you can do anything, be anything, accomplish anything . . . Then suddenly you reach a point where you're settled into what you're going to be and once you realize it, everything stops. Then the questions begin".
Fans have long clamored to see Kevin Costner's footage for several sequences showing Alex Marshall's life prior to his suicide, but in documentaries and interviews since, Lawrence Kasdan has never shown anything more than still photographs from the location shoot. Kasdan has also refused to do any sort of "director's cut" saying that the version of the film as it has stood since 1983 is his director's cut and will not be augmented.
Actor William Hurt played racy, promiscuous lawyer Ned Racine, who bedded at least three women, in director Lawrence Kasdan's previous film Body Heat (1981). In The Big Chill (1983), the subsequent film Hurt made with Kasdan, Hurt plays a character who is impotent.
Actress Meg Tilly said of the film's 30th Anniversary Reunion gathering: "It's wonderful, I'm so happy they had the idea to bring us all together to do this. It's such a gift, I get to see everybody again and I haven't seen everybody in so long. To see their happy smiling faces, that was such a blessing, I'm really grateful".
To make up for cutting him out of the film, Lawrence Kasdan offered Kevin Costner a leading role in his next film, Silverado (1985) which was the part of Jake. According to Yahoo Movies, "a longtime funny Hollywood story tells of the [then] up-and-coming actor having all shots of his face being cut from the final version of the film".
According to the one hour documentary The Big Chill: A Reunion (1999), a supernatural event apparently occurred during principal photography where a sound technician recorded the sound of a ghost and was allegedly freaked-out by the event. Cast and crew ran to the technicians truck to hear what had been recorded.
Once the cast was assembled, the actors entered into a month long rehearsal period with director Lawrence Kasdan in Los Angeles, Atlanta and in Beaufort, South Carolina, where most of the film was shot. This extended and intense rehearsal period gave each performer the opportunity to develop his or her character in the context of the ensemble, especially important in a story that shows a group of friends with a long history of shifting, complicated dynamics.
Wife Meg Kasdan and sons Jon Kasdan & Jake Kasdan of writer-director Lawrence Kasdan all appear briefly in this movie as they would later do again in Kasdan's next picture Silverado (1985). And like Silverado (1985), Meg Kasdan said that the casting of her and her sons in brief appearances in the film was a way to send a postcard to friends and family to show how they were doing.
Drawing on their own theatrical experience, many of the actors compared the atmosphere on the set during rehearsal and during filming to that of a workshop, allowing them to be comfortable and creative, and to take risks. They all cited one example of that atmosphere: a marathon improvisation prior to the start of production, during which each of them stayed in character for over five hours, merging their identity with that of the characters in the film.
The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1984 including Best Picture, Best Writing - Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Glenn Close, but the film failed to take home an Oscar in any category.
Of the film's acting, script text, rehearsals, performers, and characterizations, director Lawrence Kasdan said: "An actor's work is hard enough. No matter how much preparation, no matter how much background you give them about the text, one way you can really help is by giving them more time to get familiar with the other performers. On a movie about friends you want the actors to have some of the intimacy that long friendships would create. Having a long rehearsal period gave these actors a chance to approximate, in a short, intense time, some of that intimacy".
Co-screenwriter-director Lawrence Kasdan described this movie as follows: "The Big Chill (1983) deals with members of my generation who have discovered that not everything they wanted is possible, that not every ideal they believed in has stayed in the forefront of their intentions. 'The Big Chill' is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal".
The movie was Oscar nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award without its director Lawrence Kasdan being Oscar nominated for Best Director but Kasdan was Oscar nominated for co-writing the film's screenplay with Barbara Benedek in the category of Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
A '60s flashback sequence was shot with the seven friends, and the Alex character played by Kevin Costner as well, but according to the 15th Anniversary DVD documentary, the scene did not fit and was not required and as it did not gel with the film. According to The '80s Movies Rewind website, the scenes were cut "because test audiences laughed at the period hair and clothing styles".
JoBeth Williams wanted to portray the Meg Jones character which was cast with actress Mary Kay Place but later found out that writer-director Lawrence Kasdan had written her character of Karen Bowens with Williams in mind.
Glenn Close had wanted to portray the Meg Jones character which was cast with actress Mary Kay Place but Close reiterated that she was not surprised that she was wanted for the maternal motherly character of Sarah Cooper after having recently portrayed a mother in The World According to Garp (1982).
Two movie posters for Lawrence Kasdan's later picture Grand Canyon (1991), which was made and released about eight years later, boasted two taglines that referenced this film: (1) "From the director of 'The Big Chill'. A story of friendship and other natural wonders" and (2) "In the 1980's, director Lawrence Kasdan brought you 'The Big Chill'. Welcome to the 90's". Both pictures featured actor 'Kevin Kline' and both were Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
The name of the American higher educational institution in the USA that the seven friends had attended during the 1960s was the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. This campus that the characters in the picture attended, Michigan University, was the same tertiary educational institution that director and co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan had studied at.
Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan at times played music from the 1960s to the cast whilst shooting the picture to enhance the retro 60s mood and feelings for the casts' performances and characterizations.
Director Lawrence Kasdan and producer Michael Shamberg cast the eight equally important leading roles with some of the most gifted young actors in films today. With the exception of Meg Tilly, all the actors were approximately the same age, and more or less at a similar point in each of their careers.
The edition of "US" magazine seen twice in the movie featuring Sam Weber (Tom Berenger) on the cover was headlined with the blurb: "SAM WEBER. Cars squeal, hearts throbs, and J.T. Lancer lays down a hot streak".
The white church complex featured during the funeral sequence at the picture's start, and in some of the movie's deleted scenes, is the Sandhill Baptist Church, which is situated at 15480 Pocotaligo Road, west of Varnville, in South Carolina, USA.
According to the film's writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, the American country house setting in South Carolina, where relationships and revelations of the friends are disclosed, was inspired by the French country homestead setting from Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" [The Rules of the Game (1939)].
The real life name of the film's major setting seen in the picture, the gigantic white country house, is the "Tidalholm Mansion". It's actual street address is No. 1 Laurens Street, Beaufort, South Carolina, USA.
In an interview published in the March 1984 of the UK's 'Photoplay' magazine, director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan said of the movie's music: "The 1960s were an incredibly varied explosion of pop music. For a lot of people in my generation, rock 'n' roll hasn't since equaled that period in terms of richness or emotional impact. The songs really spoke to us, spoke to a lot of our concerns. Harold ['Kevin Kline'], in whose home the picture takes place, won't allow any other music in the house. It's not just background to these people. These songs mean something very real and different to each of the characters. It's a strong reference for them - a sense of memory of that time".
In the later movie About Alex (2014), at dinner, Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) mentions that it feels like a big 80s movie around the table. This picture very closely resembles the 1980s movie The Big Chill (1983), where a group of college friends reunite after a funeral of one of their friends, also named Alex. In The Big Chill (1983), the Alex character kills himself prior to the start of the film. In_About Alex (2014)_, the Alex character attempts to commit suicide at the beginning of the movie, but does not die.
The historic "Tidalholm Mansion", the gigantic white antebellum house in Beaufort, South Carolina in the USA, the homely setting centerpiece to the movie, and arguably also virtually also a character in itself in the picture, went up for sale in 2013, this being the 30th Anniversary Year since The Big Chill (1983) was released. The Italianate-style manse house was built in 1853 on the banks of the Beaufort River and is situated on a 1.5 acre block of land, the house itself measuring .38 acres (or 7381 square feet). The manor includes a two-bedroom guest cottage and has a private dock and jetty with access to the Intracoastal Waterway, positioned to take full advantage of the nearby cooling body of water. The dwelling is three stories high with and has seven bedrooms and eight bathrooms. The home was constructed by 19th Century magnate Edgar Fripp as a refuge from the summer heat of his cotton plantation. It was used by Union troops as a hospital during the Civil War. The Fripp family later reacquired the property in a roundabout fashion. It had been sold at auction to a person who donated it back to the family. It was as a guest house for a short time from the 1930s to the 1970s when it "entertained many artists, authors and statesmen" according to the broker-babble.
The academic journal article "The long-term effect of a degree on graduate lives" by A Jenkins, L Jones & A Ward and published in the journal 'Studies in Higher Education', Vol 26, No 2, erroneously states that the film Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979) was remade as 'The Big Chill' (p. 148). The Big Chill (1983) is not a remake of Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979) even though the two movies cover similar thematic territory.
"The Ladd Company, producers of [writer-director Lawrence Kasdan's earlier] Body Heat (1981), passed on the project as did top executives at Paramount, Universal, MGM, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros [and Columbia Pictures]. It was Marcia Nasatir, then president of Carson Films, who finally persuaded Columbia chairman Frank Price and president Guy McElwaine to back the project" according to Torene Svitil's essay with the Criterion Collection's DVD. On the 15th Anniversary DVD documentary, Lawrence Kasdan says how every major studio had turned down the project, including Columbia who ended it making it, they just couldn't see it. It was the belief of Nasatir that catalyzed the film to get made at Columbia, though, according to Kasdan, with much resistance, and toing and froing, until they reluctantly agreed to make it.
Of the film's audio digital restoration, the Criterion Collection DVD liner notes state: "The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. For the alternate 5.1 surround presentation, stereo music masters were used in tandem with elements from the 3-track dialogue, music, and effects stems. The full soundtrack was then remastered and remixed at Chace Audio in Burbank, California, under the supervision of Lawrence Kasdan. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube's integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 3".
Windy City (1984) was the first "friends reunion" type movie that got made and released after the critical and commercial success of Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill (1983) which had come out the previous year. Director Armyan Bernstein ended up directing his second and final cinema movie [to date, February 2016] Cross My Heart (1987) with Kasdan being the producer on it.
Three songs from the movie - "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones, "The Weight" by The Band, and "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival could not be cleared for inclusion in the movie's original soundtrack album "The Big Chill Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". The first track by the Stones could only be cleared for inclusion in the movie and not for audio as the rights owner "wouldn't loan the master for any soundtrack" at all whilst the other two tracks were able to be cleared for the picture's second soundtrack album, "The Big Chill. More Songs from the Original Soundtrack". "The Wait" was no included on the first album as a deal could not be agreed upon whilst for "Bad Moon Rising", which is the first track on the second album, the clearance process simply ran out of time. A third album not featuring any songs from the movie is entitled "More Songs from The Big Chill era".
There were three significant women called "Meg" associated with the movie. Actress Meg Tilly portrayed Chloe; actress Mary Kay Place played a character called Meg Jones; whilst the wife of director Lawrence Kasdan, Meg Kasdan, made a cameo as an airline hostess and was a music consultant for the film.
The name of the television series that Sam Weber (Tom Berenger) starred in was "J.T. Lancer". The wording on his customized Louisiana number plate on his Porsche sports car read "J.T." which were his character's first two initials. In the 1960s, when most of the lead central characters in the movie had been in their youth, there had actually been a TV series called Lancer (1968).
One of the phrases that is uttered by the alley urchin in writer-director Lawrence Kasdan's later film Grand Canyon (1991) is "Beaufort, South Carolina" which was the major setting for The Big Chill (1983).
In 1984, actress Glenn Close became the third actor to receive a Tony, Emmy, and Oscar (Academy Award) nomination all in the same calendar year for The Real Thing, Something About Amelia (1984), and The Big Chill (1983), respectively.
According to Meg Kasdan, the film's music consultant and wife of the movie's director and co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, in an interview published in the 30th November 1983 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety', ". . . the movie is 'indirectly' based on the Kasdan's life together. (They met as students at the U. [University] of Michigan, the alma mater of the picture's subjects.). She said a quasi-autobiographical film containing 'rock songs with emotional impact' was something the Kasdans had 'been talking about for years' . . . the music chosen reflects the couple's tastes in rock oldies. She brusged aside a suggestion that the party-type nature of the music used did not necessarily reflect the once-radical sentiments of the characters brought together in the film".
Director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, actress Glenn Close, and co-screenwriter Barbara Benedek, all later collaborated on Immediate Family (1989) around six years later . Immediate Family (1989), where Kasdan acted only as a producer and neither as a writer or a director, with Close also performing as an actress, and Benedek being this time the sole screenwriter, was the second and final [to date, March 2016] of each of the three's collaborations with one another.
Many movie posters for the film featured a long blurb that read: "How much love, sex, fun and friendship can a person take? The story of eight old friends searching for something they lost, and finding that all they needed was each other. THE BIG CHILL. In a cold world, you need your friends to keep you warm".
Of the movie's visual digital restoration, the Criterion Collection DVD liner notes state: "This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a wetgate Oxberry film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative at Cineric in New York City; the color correction was done at Colorworks in Culver City, California, and the restoration at MTI Film in Los Angeles. The entire process was supervised by director of photography John Bailey, and the final result was approved by director Lawrence Kasdan".
Director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan said of this film in an interview published in the March 1984 of the UK's 'Photoplay' magazine: "I consider myself very lucky. I've been able to make a very personal film . . . an unusual thing in Hollywood".
Director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan wanted to sponsor a solo Barbara Benedek screenplay since they worked together on The Big Chill (1983) script, agreed with Benedek that the concept of a professional couple struggling to have a child had great potential. Screenwriter Barbara Benedek was struck that so many of her friends who had waited until their mid-30s to have children were encountering difficulties. This all ultimately eventuated in the later movie Immediate Family (1989). Kasdan said: "What's most remarkable about Barbara's work is her ability to write comedy that tries to understand everybody's reasons, and has no villains".
Cinematographer John Bailey said of the films cut 60s flashback sequence in an interview with 'The Hollywood Reporter': "It was the first thing we shot. It was about a Thanksgiving dinner that they were preparing together when they were students, and there was discussion over [a grant that Alex was offered]. Carol Littleton [the film's editor and Bailey's wife] and Larry [director Lawrence Kasdan] realized at a certain point, after previewing it both ways, that by the end of the film, everybody had their own notion of what the relationships were when they were students. To be so literal wasn't as satisfying."
Both of the two theatrical feature films that starred actor William Hurt that first debuted in 1983, Gorky Park (1983) and The Big Chill (1983), related to coldness, as the murdered dead bodies in Gorky Park (1983) were found in its icy snow.
Although "The Big Chill" differed in subject matter and style from director Lawrence Kasdan's previous picture Body Heat (1981), both films shared Kasdan's interest in creating dynamic characters which are true to people's lives. In "The Big Chill", the characters are former college house-mates who have drifted apart over the years. Members of the baby-boom generation who entered young adulthood as idealistic non-conformists, they are now, for the most part, members of the establishment. "The Big Chill" emerged as a compassionate testimonial to a confused generation, one that has survived the passions of youth and grown through painful self-awareness into adulthood. In this context, the title "The Big Chill" takes on several resonant metaphorical meanings, from the obvious reference to the group's own mortality, strongly reinforced by the occasion of their reunion at a funeral, to the cooling of idealistic fires in the face of more calculated self-interest.
Michael Gold (Jeff Goldblum) wants to open a night-club in this picture. In Goldblum's earlier movie, Thank God It's Friday (1978), which had been made and released around five years earlier, his Tony Di Marco character was a night-club owner. Both films were made by the Columbia Pictures studio.
The name of the San Francisco talk radio station that Nick Carlton (William Hurt) had worked on as a talk-radio pop-psychologist talk-back show host on was "KSFO". This is a real radio station there which broadcasts on the frequency 560 kHz AM. It is also known as "KSFO-AM" and "KSFO 560". Its current contemporary branding is: "Hot Talk 560 KSFO".
The film The Big Chill (1983), a movie about a friends reunion, has had two major reunions itself. The first, a 15th Anniversary Reunion in 1998, has interview footage recorded from it for the one hour documentary The Big Chill: A Reunion (1999). The second, a 30th Anniversary Reunion, had a Q&A Event recorded at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival where The Big Chill (1983) had originally premiered, with footage from it available as a 45 minute special feature on the film's 2014 Criterion Collection DVD and Blu Ray release, it being entitled the "Thirtieth Anniversary Q&A".