February 3rd, 2009
11:57 AM ET

Do you have to be a jerk to be a director?

Recently a friend and I were having a philosophical discussion about movie directors: Is it necessary to be mean and nasty to be a good director?

I’d like to think the answer is no. As long as you’re firm and focused, there’s no need to demean your cast and crew and shout at everyone like a crazy person. That said, there are plenty of people who would disagree with me - and Hollywood has had its share of on-set tyrants.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m on the red carpet at the Directors Guild Awards. It was a great opportunity to go right to the source. So, after asking a number of directors about the event and their nominations, I couldn’t resist getting their take on the big question, “Is it necessary to be an S.O.B. to be a good director?” Here are some of their responses:

Veteran TV director Paris Barclay: "You know, actually, it's not and you'll see that from the directorial nominees this year. It's probably going out of favor. Now people really want directors who are calm, patient, understanding and deeply manipulative,” he said with a chuckle. “I mean that's basically the new kind of director that's happening. People who have a certain suaveness like Christopher Nolan, but at the same time you know he gets exactly what he wants. You just don't know that he's squeezing it out of you. I think that's what happening now: That old yelling, screaming, throwing things down is becoming rarer and rarer. In the age of Spielberg it's sort of fallen out of favor."

“John Adams” director Tom Hopper: "I had breakfast this morning with Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle and David Fincher and I was thinking, 'God, these guys are all so charming and lovely and such friendly guys,' but I think we've all become good actors because I think we're all pretty tough underneath. But we wouldn't get our jobs if we revealed that too much on our first meeting, so we're also able to be very charming - but charming with steel underneath."

“Milk” actor Josh Brolin, who’s been directed by the Coen brothers and Gus Van Sant, among others: "No, absolutely not - and I've experienced that and I don't respond to it well. And actors, also, the same way. Actors who are throwing tantrums that don't need to. It doesn't belong on the set. It's not a part of the creative process. That's my experience and I've seen amazing performances come out of these guys, and amazing directors create incredible movies, so we're all pretty calm. There's a lot of humor, there's a lot of humor."

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle (who won the DGA’s top prize): “You always try and be encouraging to everybody that you're working with because … it's selfish in the end, because they just work harder. You know, they do. They turn up earlier, they do a bit more for you, they stay later. So actually in a funny kind of way it's basically like your mom always tells you, you should treat people how you want to be treated yourself, you know?”

“Frost/Nixon” director Ron Howard (who, in my view, is the poster boy for the nice director): “You need to have a point of view and be willing to enforce that point of view. I think you have to be prepared to have unpleasant conversations and say 'no' to people when they want to hear 'yes' and all of those things, but if you've hired people because you respect them … and you sustain that respect and offer it, it doesn't mean you have to say 'yes.' It means, 'We're working on a problem.’ …

“I've earned particularly the trust of actors over the years and that means a lot to me. I love that collaboration. But sure, once in a while you're gonna annoy the hell out of them,” he added.

– Douglas Hyde, CNN Entertainment Producer


Filed under: movies
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