What makes a great director? I think it’s the ability to be really really calm even though underneath there is tremendous pressure. I was once fortunate enough to watch a world-class director in action and he was like the Buddha. People were running up to him every few seconds between takes asking him for decisions and he said exactly what he wanted, calmly and precisely. He was reassuring with the actors. He smiled at them and nodded. Took time for a little joke. He was a big Daddy.
On the flip side, I also witnessed a famous actor who was mind bogglingly ill suited to it, try his hand at directing. This guy exudes mega amps of nervous tension on screen and it works for him. Unfortunately, he has the same vibe in life. The air around him literally vibrates with tension. My first encounter was when he walked into wardrobe and started talking about me two feet away from me while looking at me in horror. He thought my hair was too short to be put up (it was a period film). The hair person had a picture in her hand of me in said hairdo. He left with an angry look on his face. Why why why? I pegged him as a nervous twit and vowed to stay cool no matter what.
The film had a lot well-known actors who were taking pay cuts to work on his foray into the independent film world.
Everyday, to break up the long hours, the most famous of them all would collect one dollar and have you write your name on it. Then sometime in the afternoon she would come onto the set smiling and laughing and say, “Hey everybody! Its time for the drawing!” Applause and laughter. A big hug from famous actress to the winner. The entire time, nervous director looks like he wants to kill her and practically has smoke coming out of his ears. It wasn’t pretty. This was repeated every day. I looked forward to him being tortured, actually.
Then there was the big star who didn’t learn lines. He said he was more spontaneous if he didn’t know what he was going to say. (A likely story!) So the director had to say the line while the camera was rolling, and the big star would repeat it. Then a pause, and the director would say a line and the big star would repeat it. They did whole scenes this way. They would have to cut the director’s part in the editing room. As a side note, after a twenty minute break, this same actor returned to set with a massive black grease stain on the pants of his period costume and he looked kind of surprised that it was there.
Staying in another mental dimension seemed like a good strategy for dealing with the atmosphere on the set and this actor was obviously way way away.
The funniest thing I witnessed, was watching him work with a veteran actor. The director kept trying to get him to set the blocking for the scene so he could choreograph the cameras and the veteran actor kept stumbling around and saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know. But when we actually do it, it all might change. I might change everything. Depends how I feel at that moment.” Director was grinding his teeth. The veteran actor appeared totally unaware that the director was flipping out. It was beauteous.
One afternoon, an actress was doing a scene and the director wasn’t happy with it. His reaction was to pace back and forth and bark, “Do it again.” On and on he went, “Do it again. Do it again. Do it again.” Barely a breath between takes. No direction, no input. “Do it again. Do it again. Do it again.” The actress deconstructing more and more on every take. He had also written the film, which makes it twice as hard, as writers often hear the way they think a line should be delivered in their head. The scene never improved, it got worse. He was yelling at the crew to reset faster. Faster, faster, faster. The word faster is like a death knoll to an actor. The poor actress was his wife.
Eh, the film didn’t look so good when it was done. It didn’t do too good either.