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10 Times Directors Went Too Far On Set

by D.J. Rivera
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Making movies is an art form that takes a ruthless and creative mind to oversee. To make sure it all comes together correctly for an enjoyable experience for the audience is left up to one position on set. The director controls all the film’s artistic and dramatic aspects. This is the person who visualizes the script while leading the crew and talent in the fulfillment of that vision. But while most of them keep things under control, for the most part, certain individuals have been known to have gone too far on set.

Working under a difficult boss is a misfortune most of us have endured at some point in our lives. Difficult directors are a dime a dozen, and the things they do to get their artistic visions across can be mind-boggling. Sometimes, these moviemakers believe it is necessary to put the picture’s stars way outside their comfort zone, in more ways than one, in the pursuit of realism. Risking actors’ lives, harassing performers, and even a few deaths have been the result of a filmmaker’s insane ambition. Out of Hollywood’s long history, here is a list of ten times filmmakers definitely crossed the line.

10 Josh Trank
Fantastic Four (2015)

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Fans were very excited to see the highly anticipated Fantastic Four reboot. The initial teaser looked like a Chris Nolan film, which had people thinking it could be as good as 2005’s Batman Begins and start an epic new take on the franchise. The film’s director, Josh Trank, coming off the hit movie Chronicle, was poised for a sophomore success with a solid cast and big studio behind him. Unfortunately, the world would soon find out that there was really nothing fantastic about Trank being in the director’s chair for this one.[1]

When the film’s start date began approaching, Trank began to make many changes to the movie that started to worry the studio. After these creative difference, Trank upped the ante on his odd behavior by having one of cinematic history’s greatest temper tantrums on the production. This was followed up with the filmmaker exhibiting abusive behavior toward the cast and crew. He was even reported to have clashed with actor Miles Teller on set, which almost resulted in a fistfight. The director then took his anger off set and did $100,000 worth of damage to the residence he was staying at during filming.

While most of the filmmakers on this list went on to make a successful movie after their troubles, that is not the case for Trank. Fantastic Four was both a critical and financial failure that pretty much killed the franchise for now.

9 Francis Ford Coppola
Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Photo credit: Gerald Geronimo

Francis Ford Coppola is notorious for being a ruthless filmmaker. Some would say he is difficult to work with; others just say he doesn’t let people push him around. One thing is for sure: The guy knows what he is doing behind the camera. This is the person who made The Godfather, a project from which he was nearly fired. So it is safe to say that if you are an actor, you know what you are getting into if you sign up for one of his pictures. He will go to whatever lengths necessary to get realism from his actors. And while this does translate to a great film with amazing performances, some of the tactics taken to achieve this are not pretty.

Winona Ryder, who starred in Coppola’s Dracula film, claimed she was subject to some serious verbal abuse in order to make her cry and have a nervous breakdown during a scene. Ryder recounted the grim tale to E! News about how actor Keanu Reeves and Coppola shouted terrible things to her, including calling the actress a whore.[2] After more than a dozen takes, Ryder was understandably drained and could not do it anymore. But by then, Coppola’s over-the-top tactics had worked, and he had gotten what he wanted, leaving poor Ryder wrecked over the whole thing. Surely, there has to be a better way to get a performance out of an actor that doesn’t lead to extreme emotional distress.

8 David O. Russell
American Hustle

Photo credit: David Shankbone

Being a director means you need to take charge and make sure everyone knows who is the boss. Some filmmakers are more demanding than others because, let’s face it, a lot of money is often involved, and many complex things have to get done. So there is always a fine line to walk when determining how to manage the workflow on set. But certain individuals become so tyrannical during production that it begins to wear on the people around them, some more so than others, case in point being director David O. Russell on the film American Hustle with an incident involving actress Amy Adams.

Before American Hustle, Adams had previously collaborated with Russell on his 2010 film The Fighter, for which she would earn her third Oscar nomination. Her next encounter with Russell would be later described as horrendous. The actress did a spread in GQ in 2016, in which she revealed that the infamous director made her cry on set.[3] There were days where the actress felt so devastated that it came home with her and did not sit well. It was also revealed in a hacked Sony e-mail that Adams was so abused one day that co-star Christian Bale had to step in and intervene. The actress claimed that she does not think Russell’s methods are worth the box office and awards buzz. I think we all agree that as much as we love movies, life is more important, so no one’s life should suffer for the final cut.

7 David O. Russell
Three Kings

Photo credit: /Film

Unfortunately, David O. Russell’s madness on set did not start with American Hustle but actually spawned back in the 1990s on the set of Three Kings. His bad reputation would continue to spiral with the film about American soldiers attempting to steal Saddam’s gold. The director completely lost his composure and proceeded to take out his frustrations on pretty much everyone on the set. This led to several members of the production being humiliated and a now-infamous altercation with actor George Clooney.

Claims from the set of Three Kings are not good and further illustrate the director’s poor behavior when at the helm of a film. Russell made a script supervisor cry and physically pushed an extra. He then went on to scream at a cameraman, leaving him extremely embarrassed in front of the entire production. When Clooney attempted to stop the director from these actions, it immediately resulted in the two having a physical altercation on set.[4] Clooney vowed never to work with Russell again, and the director continued making movies, including American Hustle, where he did his best impression of the guy who directed Three Kings. It’s sad when the real villain of the movie is the guy calling, “Action!”

6 Rupert Sanders
Snow White And The Huntsman

Photo credit: The Okalhoman

Most times when a director pushes the limits of his position, he can hurt many people on set. But by giving in to reckless temptation, he can end up doing damage to those he loves. A director hooking up with an actress is nothing new in Hollywood. But if the actress is dating a popular actor, and the director has a wife and kids, things can get pretty messy. While most of the naughty stuff happened off set, it’s pretty obvious where the sparks started to fly on this one. The incident in question is, of course, 41-year-old director Rupert Sanders and his little fling in 2012 with 22-year-old actress Kristen Stewart during the production of Snow White and The Huntsman.[5]

The actress was known to show up early every day on set, and a slew of photos of the two having a makeup marathon began to spread once they surfaced online. This prompted a large distraction for the film as well for both parties involved. Stewart’s boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, was devastated by the actress’s actions. The couple had a large following due to their Twilight fame, and some serious fan backlash began over this situation. The director’s wife has since divorced him, and Sanders will always have this looming over his career. All this unnecessary stress for a few moments of impulse. This is a perfect example of why filmmakers should keep things professional on set and never go too far with anybody in any way.

5 Vincent Gallo
The Brown Bunny

Photo credit: Vice

Everyone loves when a director makes a film, and it feels unbelievably real, staying with the viewer long after the credits roll. You can easily escape into the world they have built and become infatuated with the story being told. When you have a great project, actors and actresses will sometimes do their own stunts or even do a nude scene if it means getting the feeling of authenticity to the audiences. Director Vincent Gallo attempted to take his indie film The Brown Bunny to the next level in terms of realism, and the critics at the film’s premiere were astonished that the director would go that far, allegedly in the name of art.

Actress Chloe Sevigny starred alongside Gallo in The Brown Bunny, and one point in the film has the two being very intimate. Gallo wanted to extract as much realism as he could for the scene so that the audience could really resonate with this intimate moment. So the director had Sevigny actually perform fellatio on him during the shot. This had the critics at Cannes in an uproar, and the film received a very negative response. Actress Cheryl Tiegs wishes Gallo did not include the scene. Her co-star, Sevigny, believes the scene is beautiful and not gratuitous.[6] The Brown Bunny star has bounced back from the infamous scene and has gone on to win a Golden Globe for her work on HBO’s Big love. Gallo, however, has not directed a feature-length film since 2010, according to his Internet Movie Database page.

4 Alfred Hitchcock
The Birds, Marnie

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The 1960s were a very different time in Hollywood. People got away with things they’d be strung out to dry for in today’s society. During that time, there were many great names of cinema, but none could really touch the majesty that was Alfred Hitchcock. The iconic filmmaker is seen as a legend with his classic hits Psycho, Strangers on a Train, and Dial M For Murder. But just like his pictures, there was a dark side to the story of Hitchcock. Marnie and The Birds were supposed to be dark tales on screen, but one sinister plot was unraveling behind the scenes with Hitchcock and actress Tippi Hedren.

Hedren has stated that Hitchcock was very inappropriate, giving uncomfortable hugs to the actress and incessantly groping her.[7] He even sent her a bag of bread with a card that read “Eat me.” She stated that she went to Alma Reville, the filmmaker’s wife, to get him to stop. Hedren claims Reville just walked away. Hitchcock would also tell her about silly dreams of the two running away together. This sounds like the lunacy of one of Hitch’s psychotic characters and is easily a prime example of when a director crosses the line. Men could get away with all kinds of harassment back in those days, especially on a film set, something that has recently been brought into the spotlight and will hopefully begin to cease.

3 Bernardo Bertolucci
Last Tango In Paris

Last Tango in Paris is known for having one of the most infamous rape scenes in film history. The film starred Marlon Brando, who was 48 years old at the time, and Maria Schnieder, who was only 19. The scene entailed Brando’s character using a stick of butter as a lubricant before forcing himself on Schneider’s character. The director, Bernardo Bertolucci, stated in a 2013 interview that he wanted her to act humiliated and wanted her reaction to look authentic. He then dropped the bomb that he never told Schneider about the scene, which means she never consented to the sexual act. So what this boils down to is that the rape scene in Last Tango in Paris is an actual rape.

This backed up claims from Schnieder when she sat down for an interview in 2007, during which she said she felt raped after the scene by both Brando and Bertolucci, who both went on receive award nominations and prestige for their roles in the film.[8] She then went on to reveal that the scene led her on a path of self-destruction involving drug abuse and suicide attempts. Poor Schnieder was unwillingly subjected to what can only be described as a horrific act that left the actress traumatized, all for a few minutes of realism on screen. There is no question that Bertolucci went way too far on this one.

2 Quentin Tarantino
Kill Bill: Volume 2

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy, and his films have always been a bit too extreme for the average moviegoer. The director has a massive following, and fans have spent years enjoying his titles with a cult-like obsession. To get that type of following, Tarantino is very demanding of his actors, pushing them to their limits to bring his unique characters to life. But these expectations led to the infamous director making a very bad call that could have cost actress Uma Thurman her life while filming a scene in Kill Bill: Volume 2. It was revealed by the film’s stunt coordinator that Thurman was not informed of any stunt happening that day, and the setup was not up to protocol, resulting in an almost fatal car crash.

It is crazy to think that Tarantino would put one of his most valuable players as well as his muse in such danger, but it really went down, and it inevitably led to a malicious cover-up. Thurman does believe that Tarantino is remorseful about the whole thing but firmly stands by her statement that the negligence was to the point of criminality.[9] The fact that several safety parameters were not met wasn’t the malicious act; the cover-up that followed was and left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone involved in the incident. The accident had the actress feeling broken, leaving her with a concussion and serious damage to her knees. If Uma hadn’t been so lucky, there could have been another death by decapitation within the Kill Bill saga.

1 John Landis
Twilight Zone: The Movie

Photo credit: Wikia

Twilight Zone: The Movie was released in the summer of 1983. The film, based on the hit TV series, had four directors, including John Landis, who helmed classics such as Animal House, Trading Places, and Blues Brothers. His venture into the infamous zone ended in tragedy on the last day of production, as the set of the sci-fi horror film suffered a helicopter crash that ended the lives of two children and the chapter’s lead actor. The scene took place during the Vietnam War, where a helicopter chased the two Vietnamese children. The pilot ended up losing control as a result of an explosion going off, leading to the three deaths. Landis and three other crew members were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

This was the first time in history that events during the making of a movie resulted in a director receiving a criminal charge.[10] Landis had cut corners by not attaining the proper permits for the child actors to work, as well as paying them under the table, and did not get the special waiver for the children to work in a scene with explosives. He also committed several labor violations connected with several others involved in the incident. This all lead to a preventable tragedy.

After a lengthy trial, Landis and the others were acquitted and eventually settled civil disputes with the victim’s families for undisclosed amounts. Landis was at the helm, so the responsibility lay with him in making sure his actors and crew are safe at all times. His reckless actions resulted in two children not going home to their parents and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh losing her father Vic Morrow, all for, of all things, a lousy Twilight Zone movie. This is one moment in the franchise’s history with an ending that is more heart-wrenching than bizarre. I think we can all agree that no movie is worth losing life over.

If you know of any other times filmmakers crossed the line and went too far behind the scenes, please let us know in the comments below.

D.J. Rivera is an award-winning writer, director, and producer with several of his titles available on Amazon Prime Video. When he’s not making movies, this go-getter lends his talents to several popular outlets, writing about everything that matters in the entertainment industry and producing solid content for his distinguished client base.
Instagram: @ProducedbYDJR
Twitter: @ProducedByDJR
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Read about more instances of questionable conduct by prominent directors on 10 Brilliant Directors Who Were Notoriously Cruel and 10 Crazy Sides Of Famous Directors.

fact checked by Jamie Frater