Sometimes, great filmmakers, in order to fulfill their genius, tend to treat their collegues in the worst way possible. Some others can’t hold their peculiar or even mentally disturbed personalities out of the set.
Actresses scarred for life, crew members risk their life and even making John Wayne cry (!) are just some of the results some great directors’ bad idiosyncrancies provide.
1. Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa was one of the best filmmakers ever lived. He directed 30 films in a career spanning 57 years. His work is considered, even for today, innovative and it is a fact that he has inspired many important directors.
However, except from making masterpieces, he was also known to be demanding, and sometimes cruel, to his cast. He had one technique where he would choose one actor in particular from the cast and berate and insult him especially.
The idea was that seeing him abuse one cast member would motivate the other actors and actresses to give their best performances. An example was Yoshio Inaba who played Gorobei in Seven Samurai (1954). Although his methods were extreme, they did result in some of the finest films ever made.
2. Orson Welles
For many people, Welles may have been the most talented person the industry has ever met. Beyond doubt, Welles’ acting, writing and directing were remarkable. In addition Citizen Kane (1941) is one of the most important films in cinematic history.
Nevertheless, his talent was accompanied by his notorious reputation for being difficult to work with. Apart from demanding total control in his projects, he also had a nasty habit of being unreliable, frequently missing his own engagements and showing up late for important events.
In his later years, he would have to rely on starring in commercials to support himself and his film career. Even then, he was famous for being impossible to control and work with. His famous “Frozen Peas” commercial is a perfect example for a taste of his ego. Bombastic, and narcissistic, Welles established a legacy of being one of the world’s greatest and most intriguing artists.
3. Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick is considered to may be the director with the most masterpieces under his belt. Paths of Glory (1957), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and The Shining (1980) are just a few examples of his great piece of work.
A workaholic, Kubrick rarely took a vacation or left England during the forty years before he died. He has also gone down in history as being one of the biggest obsessive-compulsive perfectionists of the industry. He was known as inconsiderate and rude to the people that he worked with. He was disrespectful to his actors and never complimented any of his co-workers, fearing that it would make them “complacent”.
Kirk Douglas was quoted as saying: “Stanley Kubrick is a talented shit”. Of course he liked Kubrick, but he had stated that he was unwilling to compromise with anyone, had an out-of-control ego, and considered his personal vision of a film to be more important than the collaboration of fellow artists.
Kubrick was also infamous for doing countless takes of every single shot. During the shooting of The Shining, he supposedly made Shelley Duvall redo a single shot 127 times and elderly cast member Scatman Crothers redo a scene 148 times, which is a world record. The stress was so great for Duvall during shooting that her hair began to fall out. Kubrick was notorious for engaging himself with every step in the making of his films, including writing, directing, sound track work, and editing.
As a result it is said that he wouldn’t give any artistic freedom to his co-workers. He would often visit random theaters to confirm that his films were being shown with the proper lighting. In addition, when his films were released in foreign countries, he would have control over the dubbing casts and the translation of the script into other languages. Since his death, no new voice translations have been authorized for his films.
4. Alejandro González Iñárritu
All of director’s six feature films, Amores perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Babel (2006) (comprising the “Death Trilogy”), Biutiful (2010), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) and The Revenant (2015), have garnered critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations and wins.
Specifically, in 2015, Iñárritu won the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture for Birdman. The following year, he won the Academy Award for Best Director for The Revenant, making him the third director to win back to back Academy Awards, and the first since 1950.
However, Iñárritu’s massive egoism has often appeared on and off set. During shooting The Revenant, the director admitted to making “bad” and “irresponsible” decisions.
The shoot was described as a “living hell” by whistleblowers, with actors being subjected to extended delays and multiple crew members quitting under brutal conditions. Iñárritu also said it was important to ignore logic on occasion, or one might as well take more run-of-the-mill employment.
But most importantly, it is the infamous “divorce” with his co-worker, writer of the “Death Trilogy” Guillermo Arriaga, that actually reveales the “dark” side of the Mexican director. Initially friends, the two began “falling out” after Iñárritu felt Arriaga was taking too much credit. Arriaga was banned from the sets and told to stay away from Cannes during the shooting of Babel. He was also banned during Babel’s debut due to Iñárritu’s insecurity.
Just before the Oscars, Iñárritu published an open letter in a Mexican magazine and wrote that Arriaga had an “unjustified obsession with claiming the sole authorship of a film”. On the other hand, when Arriaga was asked about his relationship with the director, he said: “we made three beautiful films we both are very proud of.”
5. Cecil B. DeMille
Between 1913 and 1956, he made a total of 70 features, both silent and sound films. He is acknowledged as a founding father of the cinema of the United States and the most commercially successful producer-director in film history. His films were distinguished by their epic scale and by his cinematic showmanship. He made silent films of every genre: social dramas, comedies, Westerns, farces, morality plays, and historical pageants.
Like many of the directors on this list, De Mille has been essentially characterised as a tyrant on the set. He demanded absolute commitment from everybody involved in his films. For example, in order to preserve the “spiritual nature” of the film King of Kings (1927), he made his stars enter into contracts that prohibited them from doing anything “unbiblical” for five years, including going to ball games, night clubs, and even riding in convertibles.
DeMille also demanded that his actors and actresses take physically dangerous risks on film. If they refused, DeMille would despise them. In one scene in Samson and Delilah (1949), actor Victor Mature gained his hatred when he refused to wrestle a live lion (even though it happened to be tame and toothless).
During his production of The Crusades (1935), several stuntmen were hurt and several horses were killed in one particular scene. DeMille was so cavalier about their safety that one of his expert archers opened fire at him.
There is also one story about DeMille which says that during the filming of a huge battle sequence he joked that he would use live bullets as a way to cut down on the cost of extras. It seems that he was apparently aware of his reputation as a tyrant on set as he would frequently wear big leather boots and carry a whip.