According to IMDb, Producer Mel Brooks needed to obtain permission to film The Elephant Man in black and white.

This film was executive produced by Mel Brooks, who was responsible for hiring director David Lynch and obtaining permission to film in black and white.

Why did Mel Brooks need to get permission to film in black and white? Who did he need to get permission from?

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    Congratulations, this question is the winner of the corresponding topic challenge.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 2:08
  • As I understand it, had he filmed in color, it would not have come. The permission is not from some government agency, simply that it was part of negotiations. My belief is that using black and white to film movies about the past is sort of a deceptive way to make the movie look more "realistic"; but of course color existed in the past. To make things look bleak, as Lynch did in other movies, is maybe why it was chosen for this bleak indeed subject.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


Why did Mel Brooks need to get permission to film in black and white?

Because it would, in most studio executive's minds, make the movie less commercially viable.

Who did he need to get permission from?

Essentially, the studio..the company/people paying to make it.

Financing is generally arranged through studios and production companies. The executives of those companies want to make sure they are investing in a 'product' that will be commercially sucessful and will ask for changes if they feel the 'product' is threatened.

In some cases, depending on the contracts, studios have been known to take pictures away from directors (see Blade Runner). Getting permission beforehand is essential.

With The Elephant Man, Brooks defied studio convention by hiring an avant-garde director to helm a major production, shooting the film in black and white, and refusing to allow studio brass to tamper with Lynch's vision. When shown a cut of the film, Paramount executives recommended that the surreal opening and closing sequences be removed from the film. According to Cornfeld, Brooks tersely responded, "We are involved in a business venture. We screened the film for you to bring you up to date as to the status of that venture. Do not misconstrue this as our soliciting the input of raging primitives." Brooks's stubbornness was rewarded, as the film garnered eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director and Actor.

Source - TCM.com

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    " Do not misconstrue this as our soliciting the input of raging primitives. "... That's Brutal. Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 15:50
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    Am I the only one who can't understand how a production company can pay Mel Brooks to make a film and then question what Mel Brooks does?-- Is that not like hiring Stephen Hawking to write about astrophysics and then questioning its accuracy? Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 10:30
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    @errantlinguist It's definitely similar, but there are differences as well. A commercial film should cater to as many people as possible; and quality of artwork is subjective. There isn't an objectively correct movie to make. That means that the opinions of the executives do actually hold some merit; since they also represent a part of the community the film is developed for. In astrophysics it's not quite the same. You aren't trying to sell the public on an equation, you're trying to put up a rigorous argument that can be objectively supported. The objective of a movie is money though.
    – JMac
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 12:33
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    @Gusdor "Ever met a consumer who know what they want without seeing it first?". I am a software developer - the customer never knows what they want – beyond “just like FaceBook, only better”
    – Mawg
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 13:02
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    @errantlinguist But I'm sure those movie exec's see that they make more money from colour movies on average. You could even argue that the movie executives weren't stupid. If they were, they would have forced colour anyways. Instead, they pushed Mel as if they would force it. This would serve the purpose of gauging how important he thought the black and white was. He didn't budge on that, so they could interpret it as necessary and continue with the project as is. Maybe I'm giving them too much credit; but letting the producer go unquestioned seems like bad practice as well.
    – JMac
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 13:09

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