The crew walked out on me. One of my first experiences as a director, and all five techs for my show staged a walk out. In the midst of trying to get everything ready for the first (and only) showing of the play I wrote and directed and worked over for months and months my senior year of high school, I acted like a monster to the crew. I didn’t really know what I wanted in terms of lighting, so I yelled at them to figure it out for me.
I eventually apologized and they returned to the rafters but I never quite forgot the experience. Since then, working on sets as a PA, and seeing the stage from the other side of the curtain, I know this behavior isn’t unique to me. It may best be exemplified in this outrageous tirade from David O. Russell on the set of I Heart Huckabees:
Russell couldn’t get a satisfactory line reading from Lily Tomlin so instead of working with her, he resorts to yelling “I’m tryna help you!” To be fair, Lily was giving him attitude. The way he handled it speaks to the frustrating dilemma directors are in—if they don’t get a line reading right on set, they’re never going to get the movie they want in the end. It’s a frustrating, drag out, time crunch, filled with long days, long nights, and little time to get something right. It’s justified he would feel this way.
But good directors don’t give into that pressure. Filmmaking is a collaborative process; good films take many people to get right. While the director is ultimately responsible for the finished product, she or he is at the cast and crew’s mercy.
The best directors understand this, and quickly get them on their side. Clint Eastwood works with the same crew every picture not only because they’re the best, but because they know his style and they follow his method. There’s a quiet persistence in knowing what you want and going out and getting it—not immaturely, but through leading by example.
I get David O. Russell’s motivation to yell at Lily Tomlin. You have to be authoritative. But you also have to know how to work with a group. And you don’t have to be such a baby about it either.
Would love to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments.