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He laughs and cries. He jokes and rages. He begs, he cajoles, he screams, he threatens suicide. He eats so much of the background that it has to be replaced between takes, and he'll eat your face too if you try to correct him.

He's also not on stage.

The worst nightmare an actor, especially in the world of fiction, can face is a director of this type. He's hammier than Brian Blessed and has an extremely exacting interpretation of his own artistic vision. He believes himself to be lord of the studio and no one dares to correct him, including those higher up the executive ladder (i.e. his bosses). Often times he can act better (or at least more dramatically) than all of his actors put together, and he expects each and every one of his staff to be up to his standards. He will take sole credit for the production and will shamelessly steal other people's brilliant ideas and pass them off as his own.

One wonders why he hasn't been fired yet, or at least why he isn't the one acting so that someone can fire him already. But sometimes, it's because his methods work. He actually can make his vision real, setting him somewhere near the Bunny Ears Lawyer category. If this guy has a redeeming feature, that's it.

The Prima Donna is what happens when this person is in front of the camera instead. Contrast Wag the Director. Can very easily become the film-making equivalent of the Mad Artist. For a political leader who behaves in this manner, see The Caligula.

Examples of Prima Donna Director include:


Anime


Films -- Animation

  • The director in Bolt, who would was dramatic enough that he could have starred in his own series. He even dared to do a Take That in the production immediately after a Network rep complained, and in her face, no less.


Films -- Live Action

  • The director from Singin in The Rain is pretty much that in most of his scenes -- though to be honest, how else can you react when faced with a real Prima Donna?
  • Peter O'Toole's character in The Stuntman. And he sometimes went around in a helicopter-chair, which made him more unsettling.
  • The late Dom DeLuise as Buddy Bizarre in Blazing Saddles.
  • Marty Wolff in Big Fat Liar.
  • Willem Dafoe as Carson Clay in Mr. Bean's Holiday.
  • Tom Cruise's character in Tropic Thunder is a spot-on example, except that the character is a producer instead of a director.
    • Damien Cockburn also has shades of this ("The chopper is God and I am Jesus Christ His Son") but it isn't clear of whether it's an inherent trait or if it's the result of the pressure of having his feature film debut be a major blockbuster with a bunch of prima donna actors.
  • Played for Drama in Black Swan. In his "visceral and real" production of Swan Lake, Thomas is insistent on casting a Swan Queen who can perform both the innocent and sweet White Swan and the cruel, erotic Black Swan with all of her heart - and if that means sexual harrassment of the lead ballerina, including pushing her into a breakdown and total insanity, so be it.


Live Action TV

 Colin: I believe it was Shakespeare who said, "All the world's a stage, and you are CRAP!"

  • The director of "Queen of the Zombies" in a Joan of Arcadia episode. Perhaps justified in that he turned out to be God.
  • John Barrowman plays one of these in an episode of Hotel Babylon, in which he screams at his female lead for refusing to show her breasts in a sex scene.
  • In Seinfeld, Jerry turns into one when he's forced to make bootleg copies of movies.
  • The Dream On two-parter "The Second Greatest Story Ever Told" has Sir Roland Moorecock, who's also an example of The Mean Brit (and played by David Bowie). In his final scene in the story he's chewing out the lead actors when Martin steps in to chew him out, on behalf of all those present, for his unyielding snobbishness and cruelty...whereupon Sir Roland proves himself the best actor of the lot by successfully pretending to be shamed before gleefully declaring "I DON'T CARE!"
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dick turned into this trope when he directed a School Play of Romeo and Juliet. He got fired eventually.
  • In the Community episode "Documentary Making: Redux", Dean Pelton is tasked with filming a thirty-second commercial advertising the school, and is given $2000 to do so. It ends up costing over $17000, involves green-screen, costumes and strategic placement of oranges, and turns the Dean into a tantrum-throwing maniac who ends up causing the nervous breakdowns of almost every single one of his students. At one point, he films Britta and Troy turning and hugging for twelve hours straight.


Video Games

  • The unnamed Director of the "Meet the Team" series of short films is one of these, apparently laboring under the delusion that he is creating a scathing docu-drama of epic proportions, rather than the series of propaganda films the Administrator has hired him for. Unbeknownst to both him and his subjects, The Administrator is actually using the Director to gather intel on the RED team to blackmail them into playing by her rules. Neither the Team nor Miss Pauling are willing to put up with him for very long...
  • Andy Zhen, the director of Gangstas in Space in Saints Row the Third. While he's a complete kiss-ass to the Boss, he is quick to belittle and insult Jenny, the female lead. This includes never bothering to remember her name, blaming her for anything (even things that he'll praise the Boss for), calling her a bad actress (even though she's far more talented than the Boss is) and just generally insulting her. Unfortunately for him, this leads to Jenny taking her revenge in the final scene and killing him with a spaceship.


Web Original

  • Alex Kralie acted like one of these when directing his student film Marble Hornets, but you'd be pretty high-strung too if you were being stalked by a - ohGodwhatisthat?


Webcomics

  • Litchfield from Instant Classic is a textbook one of these, although he often straddles the line between prima donna and pure madness. Like the time he shot himself. Or the time he burned his own studio down while he was in it.
    • Most of the main characters are filmmakers, and slip into this trope at some point.
  • In Hyperbole and a Half young Allie, after watching a play about the birth of Jesus, decides to remake it and her parents, grandparents, and aunt decide to play along. Allie takes it very seriously, and goes from Method Acting to this, forcing repetitive scenes and beating the doll representing baby Jesus with a cane after too many Kenny Loggins jokes.

Allie’s Mom: Sweetheart, shouldn’t Mary go to the manger now?
Allie: NO.
Allie’s Mom: But I thought Mary only had to go to three inns befo-
Allie: Twenty.
Beat
Allie: NO. A MILLION.

Western Animation

  • Mr. Director, the Jerry Lewis Expy from a few Animaniacs shorts.
  • Llewellyn Sinclair (Jon Lovitz), in the The Simpsons' episode "A Streetcar Named Marge". He actually winds up on stage when he takes over Otto's role right before the performance, having realized Otto wasn't good enough.
  • James Finson in the Code Lyoko episode "End of Take".


Real Life

  • Werner Herzog is a famous real life example. A popular story holds that the equally neurotic actor Klaus Kinski threatened to walk off the set of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, so Herzog pulled out a gun and forced him to finish the scene at gunpoint. Herzog says that story's apocryphal -- really, he didn't have a gun on him, he just swore that he would murder Kinski and then kill himself if he dropped out of the movie.
  • Stanley Kubrick, who was well known for his repeated takes. His reputation ranged from "gifted perfectionist" to this trope to "Jerkass" depending on who you asked and when you asked. For example, during the shooting of The Shining, he verbally abused Shelley Duvall and made her do 127 takes of a single scene in order to get her performance right.
    • On the same movie, Scatman Crothers was once reduced to tears as Kubrick kept insisting the same scene be shot over and over; he collapsed to his knees and shouted "What do you WANT?"
      • Both cases may count as Enforced Method Acting. Kubrick was (in)famous for putting actors under heavy real-life tension if he thought they are not able to show appropriate emotions well enough.
      • Although in the Shelley Duvall case, repeated Steadicam (then a new technology) failure may have also contributed to the need for repeated takes.
  • Fritz Lang. His retakes often included verbal abuse, beatings, and occasionally being set on fire.
    • With maybe the exception of the beatings, the same can be said of Otto Preminger.
    • The actor playing Freder in Metropolis had to go down on his knees so often (the filming of the scene took two days!) that he could barely stand afterwards.
  • We also have Lang's contemporary Cecil B. Demille, who was well known for insisting things be as authentic as possible. This included routinely placing actors in very real physical danger, and verbally assaulting those who refused.
  • James Cameron. Some of his crew took to wearing T-shirts that read "You Can't Scare Me. I work for James Cameron." Several actors on The Abyss had horror stories; Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio both refused to work with him again after that [1], and Harris won't even talk about his experience. During the filming of True Lies, he apparently refused to allow any of the crew to take bathroom breaks until a shot was, ummm, in the can. During the filming of Titanic, a crew member put PCP in the wrap party soup as revenge (this didn't work out so well, as dozens of crew members were hospitalized as a result). That said, plenty of actors and crew work with him time and again, so he can't be that bad all the time... either that or the pay (or the career boost that starring in a James Cameron movie will offer) is just too good to pass up, no matter how much of a Jerkass he may be.
    • It's possible he was at his worst while filming The Abyss, because he was going through a very messy divorce at the time. He's never managed to top that that one, possibly because he's never almost killed any of his other actors, which made Ed Harris so furious that he actually punched Cameron afterwards.
      • On the set of Avatar, Cameron kept a nail gun handy to make an example of cell phones that went off on set. How much use it saw is not known.
  • Alfred Hitchcock had such a reputation for this that he was often quoted as having said "Actors are cattle". This led to a later incident on the set of Mr. and Ms. Smith in which Carole Lombard actually brought heifers onto the set with name tags of the lead actors. Hitchcock responded that he had been misquoted: "I said 'Actors should be treated like cattle.'"
  • The infamous voice director Wally Burr, known for directing a number of cartoons in the '70s and '80s. He would frequently have actors redo their lines several times over until they nailed it perfectly, and is cited by some as the reason for the 8-hour recording maximum being cut down to four hours. Veteran voice actor Michael Bell (whom Burr worked with often) has mentioned that after a session with Burr, the actors' voices would be sore for hours and maybe even a day, and joked that Burr's work with Orson Welles on Transformers: The Movie was the cause of his death a month later. However, Burr himself stated that, despite this hard reputation, he "got the job done successfully and received no complaints about the quality of the voice acting".
  • One particularly bad example from the 30's period of animation was Disney veteran Burt Gillett. According to John Canemaker's book "Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat", Gillett was a manic-depressive egotist with a perfectionist mentality, he was known to cause trouble at Van Beuren Studios for attempting to run the place like he did at Disney's, shifting around or firing personal, installing expensive things like forcing the animators to do pencil tests, which drove up the budgets like crazy. Veteran animator Shamus Culhane claimed that he seemed to suffer from bipolar disorder, and Burt even attacked him with a spindle, after Shamus called him out for lying to Amadee Van Beuren. one day. Otto Messmer, who recommended Burt directing the short lived Felix the Cat cartoons for the studio, later openly regretted choosing him.
  • Friz Freleng, one of the main directors at Looney Tunes, was apparently this. He often made his animators redo scenes over and over again. One of the animators, Manny Perez (who worked for him for over a decade) later said in an interview that he grew to hate the man. Not surprising, since he's known for his bad temper (and was even the inspiration for Yosemite Sam).
  • Prima donna directors wound up being the undoing of the New Hollywood era. After their early works got showered with heaps of praise, they were given Protection From Editors and started to let their egos get the better of them. It culminated in disasters like Heavens Gate and One From the Heart, expensive box office bombs that cost their studios millions and bankrupted United Artists (in the case of the former) and its director (for the latter).
  • John Kricfalusi is widely regarded as a brilliant animator and animation director, but, like Freleng, is so difficult to work with that it might not be worth the trouble. Billy West in particular (who voiced both title characters on The Ren and Stimpy Show) has nothing nice to say about him, and refuses to work with him ever again.
  • Dennis Hopper was this on Easy Rider despite being his first movie as a director. He refused to cut anything from his 220 minute long version, so the producers had to dupe Hopper into travelling so the film could be edited to a decent length in his absence. Bad behavior added to the failure of his following production, The Last Movie, caused him to mostly act in the following years.
  • Michael Bay seems to have a real knack for pissing people off. Bruce Willis and Kate Beckinsale both said they would never work with him again, and Megan Fox infamously compared him to Napoleon and Hitler while saying that he "had no social skills."[2].
  • Troy Duffy, writer and director of The Boondock Saints. The documentary Overnight details his inflation of ego during the making of the film. He kinda went off the rails. While he has tried to apologize for his past behavior, if you watch the doc you'll get a better idea of why the sequel spent ten years in Development Hell.
  • David O Russell has quite the reputation for being batshit insane. During the shooting of Three Kings, he physically abused his cast and crew to the point where he kicked a young extra to the ground while yelling at him (When George Clooney told him to cut it out and he refused, calling Clooney a pussy and daring him to throw a punch, Clooney proceeded to kick his ass). After hearing that Jude Law was thinking of leaving I Heart Huckabees to work on The Prestige, he proceeded to track down Christopher Nolan to a party and headlocked him until Law returned. His I Heart Huckabees-related shenanigans didn't end there. A NYT article on the set reported that he "rolls on the ground, dances, does push-ups," strips down to his boxers and is seen groping and "rubbing his body up against the women and men on the set," finally culminating in his infamous on-set breakdown. Between him and Christian "WHAT DON'T YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND!?!" Bale, it's amazing anybody lived through the production of The Fighter.
    • Leaked clips like this one show what working with him can be like.
  • Richard Williams, animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, was a notorious perfectionist. He wanted to use 24 frames per second (as opposed to the standard 12-15) for all his works. He wanted everything about his animation PERFECT, and this made many see him as notoriously hard to work with. The Thief and the Cobbler (which he worked on for THIRTY YEARS trying to get it just right) was never finished the way he wanted it because the studios didn't agree with his high standards.
    • It was not so much that he was a primadonna, but because the film wasn't seen as hugely commercially viable (animation more often being seen as cheaper family fare) and Williams as such didn't get funding. That meant that he did a lot of the work himself, getting some more animators when he had more money (from different projects) and when things finally started to look up for him, the project was taken away and rushed out as a rip-off of Aladdin.
  • Cracked has a list of things like this.
  • According to rumors, Kunihiko Ikuhara from Utena, Sailor Moon and Mawaru Penguindrum fame.
  • Erich Von Stroheim was possibly the ur-example of this trope. He was known for being demanding of his actors, and just not caring about budgets (his preferred cut of the film Greed -- a film that cost an (in 1924) astronomical $500,000 -- clocked in at ten hours.). These penchants forced him out of directing by 1929, after massive fights over the Gloria Swanson vehicle Queen Kelly over the budget and Stroheim's wanting to include "indecent" material into the film, a decision vetoed by both Swanson and producer Joseph P. Kennedy. After that, no studio with an ounce of sanity let him anywhere near that side of a camera ever again. He did, however, find a second career as an actor, including a famed role as the chauffeur in Sunset Boulevard.
  • Michael Curtiz also was known for this, to the point of Errol Flynn once getting so angry on set that he climbed up the gantry that Curtiz was abusing the actors from and dangled him over the side! On an early film, a filming of the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, Curtiz neglected to tell the extras that the flood would not be shot with models... instead he arranged for many many gallons of water to deluge the set. Nobody died, but there were numerous injuries to cast and crew. Hal Mohr, the cinematographer on the film (who suggested using models to prevent this exact situation from happening) later said: "The murderous bastard never should have permitted a thing like that to happen." This, apparently, was one in a string of incidents that prompted the formation of the Screen Actors' Guild.
  • Claudio Fragrasso, the man whom we can thank for directing Troll 2. When he started filming in America, he insisted on bringing along his Italian production crew, of which only the costume designer knew how to speak fluent English. Despite this, Claudio insisted on writing the script for the movie with his limited grasp of the English language. He also gave his verbal directions in this same pidgin-English. The actors, who were already of limited acting experience having been largely gathered from local towns in a casting call (including one mental patient on a day trip) were understandably confused. Any attempt to correct this caused the director to angrily tell them to deliver their lines verbatim, claiming that he "knew what Americans said better than they did". This perfect storm of incompetence is the primary source for all of that now infamously hammy dialogue. To this day, Claudio insists that the movie was a cinematic masterpiece and has called the actors "liars" and "dogs" for what they have said about it. During one Q&A session in America, a fan asked "Why aren't there any Trolls in the movie?" Claudio responded by screaming "You understand nothing!"
  • William Friedkin has a reputation for this, mainly due to two incidents stemming from The Exorcist. In one, he told Ellen Burstyn the pull on the wires that would yank her off the bed was much lighter than it actually was; she claimed to have received permanent back injury as a result of the scene where Reagan slaps her mother about. Then there was the fact that Rev. William O'Malley (an actual Jesuit priest, playing Father Dyer) wasn't quite nailing the emotional tone of the Last Rites at the end of the movie... so Friedkin, without warning, slapped him in the face and called for another take, using O'Malley's genuine distress to get the right tone.
  • The orchestral conductor Serge Koussevitzky. In the words of a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra:

 "Koussevitzky was about the best-hated conductor we ever had to play under, and there were times when I would have gladly forfeited my career for the pleasure of spitting in his face. But there was something about him which stopped you -- something which made you realise in time that you were proud to belong to such an orchestra as this, although, and even because, it entailed having to play under him."

  • Yoshio Sakamoto was not a particularly good director to work with in Metroid: Other M. He was responsible for the whole story and nearly every aspect of production, with Team Ninja only doing the grunt work. The Wii Remote-only scheme was not only his idea, but actively insisted that this scheme was to be used exclusively, which was frequently questioned by Team Ninja employees who wanted a Nunchuk. He even noticed problems with the control scheme, but kept it anyway. There was also one part where he forced the composer to make a piano piece... in a matter of a day. He was also responsible for the American localization, directing the voice actors despite not being a native English speaker.
  • Apparently, Hideo Kojima was a massive control freak starting with Metal Gear Solid 2, as Agness Kaku had noted that he and Konami repeatedly insisted that absolutely NOTHING in the localized script be altered in any way from the Japanese version, with her even comparing the alterations to a Kafkaesque parody of legal documents and scientific journals, and despite doing everything they requested to the best of her ability, she ultimately got thrown under the bus and blamed for the negative criticisms towards the storyline. He also apparently fired Jeremy Blaustein from ever working with the script again after the latter made clear he did not find his writing to be particularly good. There were also several reports from people such as the music director of Metal Gear Solid V that Kojima often requested pieces of music and other scenes only to remove them on a mere whim, and he replaced David Hayter, the voice for Snake, with Kiefer Sutherland without so much as even telling him beforehand a'la the situation with the Sonic voice actors for Sonic X-Treme.
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg was rather notorious for his micromanaging various films under Disney and Dreamworks. A particularly infamous example of this was his demanding that they rewrite Aladdin and not even bothered to give an extension, leading to the rush job known as "Black Friday", as well as his nearly causing Toy Story to be shut down by his own request that it be more "adult, cynical and edgy" in what was also known as "Black Friday".
  • George Lucas was also shown to be a prima-donna director during the filming of the Prequel Trilogy and possibly Return of the Jedi[3], where he insisted on doing literally everything in the trilogy, resulting in miscast characters, really stilted dialogue, mishandled characters, massive story problems, and overall poor acting from all except for Ian McDiarmid and Ewan MacGregor. Apparently, he might have also been a massive prima donna boss as well for his whole company, since he ran things to such an extent that even a joke he told on the Jon Stewart show about Obi-Wan's home planet was obligated to be listed as canon simply because he said it.

Notes

  1. Mastrantonio because Cameron insisted on shooting retakes of a painful CPR scene until the crew "ran out of film stock (supposedly just as he was becoming satisfied), and Harris because Cameron literally almost drowned him
  2. Which is kind of contradictory, since social skills were pretty much all Hitler had going for him
  3. Gary Kurtz indicated that Lucas forced in the happy ending in the ending of Return of the Jedi, and he apparently insisted on changing the Wookiees to the Ewoks
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