Prima Donna Director

"Say the fucking words. Your salary is your motivation."
Roman Polanski, when asked about a character's "motivation" in Chinatown

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, if they are so temperamental. But sometimes, it's because his methods work. He actually can make his vision real, with an amazing high quality standard, setting him somewhere near the Bunny-Ears Lawyer and Insufferable Genius category. If this guy has a redeeming feature, that's it. In Real Life, there are a multitude of reasons why people may be difficult to be around, and especially when it comes to a creative endeavor some just don't play well with others. And often it may be that they have a good relationship with the producers or crew but fight with the actors, or any combination thereof. Thus explaining why they keep their job.

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. He can often be found making Le Film Artistique — or, at the very least, he'll claim that he'll be trying to make this to get away with throwing petulant tantrums a six-year-old would be called out over.

The Record Producer from Hell is often the musical equivalent.


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    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 The Stunt Man. And he sometimes went around in a helicopter-chair, which made him more unsettling.
  • The late Dom De Luise as Buddy Bizarre in Blazing Saddles. (Though, given that a massive Western brawl had just burst through the wall into his musical number, he's hardly overreacting.)
  • 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 harassment of the lead ballerina, including pushing her into a breakdown and total insanity, so be it.
  • Luke (who is seemingly based on real-life example Nick Palumbo) from Bleading Lady/Star Vehicle.
  • Seanna Birmingham from The Remake, for another producer example.
  • Liam Neeson as egotistical horror film director Peter Swan in The Dead Pool.
  • Steven, when he begins to go insane, in Skeleton Crew.
    "Fucking cut! Cut! Cut! Fucking cut! You bunch of incompetent fucks! What the fuck is wrong with you? Huh? Do any of you have any fucking vision? Do you know how to make a fucking motion picture? Mike! Darius! Where did you leave your skills? L.A.? Bruce, you're a fucking professional actor! You're acting like a wet pile of shit! Sort it out! Fuck! This script I wrote last night, this is the new fucking film! This is what I'm gonna be remembered for! This is the fucking masterpiece! Wrap your heads around that, the lot of you! And will you fucking Finnish film school fucks from whatever fucking unpronounceable town you came from go back there and learn your fucking skills!? Fuck! Fucking fucks!"
  • At the end of Free Enterprise, Mark becomes one of these, while filming, well, the film you're currently watching. When he yells at an assistant to go find William Shatner, who's supposed to be playing himself, his wife complains that he's a jerk.
  • Return to Cabin by the Lake: The movie-within-a-movie Cabin by the Lake's director Mike Helton is a complete tool and sleaze who sleeps with his female leads in exchange for future job ofers, constantly hurls abuse at his co-workers, demands to micromanage every aspect of the production, and falsely claims to be an expert on the (not actually) deceased serial killer the film is about. After Stanley gets rid of him, no one except the two female starts really question his disappearance.

  • In Bride of the Rat God, Miklos Hraldy obsesses about symbolism, and complains about the studio cutting his earlier six-hour epic of human drama down to a length audiences will actually consider watching.
  • The Tim Dorsey novel The Big Bamboo is centered around the production of a movie being made by a third-rate studio, who hired a once-great director who had gone senile. Included in the film at the director's insistence are recreations of the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Death Star, despite the fact that the movie is about a oil scam in Alabama. American viewers rightly rejected it as awful, but artsy film critics in Europe thought it was brilliant, and successfully got the director a posthumous Oscar.

    Live Action TV 

     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 docudrama 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. Not to mention that his attitude towards extras is to use live ammunition, obviously resulting in their deaths.

     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?
  • The Director Lady from the IR-Relevant Astronomy edutainment videos made about the Spitzer Space Telescope is like this. She does not take kindly to having factual errors pointed out in her script, even when it contains EXTENSIVE Artistic License Astronomy and Artistic License Physics in what are supposed to be educational materials. The high (or low) point came when she saw an actor getting killed on-set and then haunting her as an opportunity to include a real ghost in her video.

  • 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. In fact, since most of the main characters are filmmakers, they all slip into this trope at some point.

    Western Animation 
  • Mr. Director, the Jerry Lewis Expy from a few Animaniacs shorts. See Real Life.
  • 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".
  • The Transformers: The director from "Hoist Goes Hollywood." He adds the Autobots to his film on a whim, even changing the entire script to accomodate them.

    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, had a background in photography. Thus, he focused entirely on the visual aspect of film, and the actors were just props. 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 the same scene over and over in order to get her performance right (some say over 100 takes, but it's been denied). On the same movie, Scatman Crothers was once reduced to tears as Kubrick lead to 148 takes of a single scene (namely, the one in which Halloran is axed from behind by Jack Torrance); he collapsed to his knees and shouted "What do you WANT?"note 
  • 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." Some of his friends refer to his bad temper as his Evil Twin "Mij". Several actors on The Abyss had horror stories; Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio both refused to work with him again after that note , 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. Author Orson Scott Card, who worked with him on the film's novelization, described the experience as "hell on wheels."
    • On the set of Avatar, Cameron kept a nail gun handy to make an example of cell phones that went off on set. According to the actors of that film, though, he's mellowed over the past decade.
  • 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.'" Some of his frequent collaborators have said that he was never really happy when actually directing a movie, because he had already done the fun part, i.e. completing the film in his head during pre-production. To elaborate:
    • While shooting The Birds, Hitchcock had the birds fed whiskey to make them drunk and aggressive, and for a particular scene had birds repeatedly thrown directly at lead actress Tippi Hedren while he yelled abuse at her in order to get the desired reaction. She was so traumatized by the experience that she had to be hospitalized for a week.
  • 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 personnel, 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 Heaven's 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).
  • 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 is infamous for a very aggressive film shoot, demanding a lot from his cast and crew than most directors and sometimes throwing tantrums when anyone doesn't match up to what he wants. This has earned him some enemies; Bruce Willis, Scarlett Johansson and Kate Beckinsale all said they would never work with him again. On the other hand, John Malkovich said that he was warned to not work with him, but he enjoyed the shoot for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, commenting that Bay felt like an enthusiastic child. Other cast and crew members have said that Bay is like a General on the front lines, hard to deal with but he gets the job done.
  • 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. However, it seems that he mellowed with age; no such incidents were reported during the production of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle and Clooney said he made up with him.
    • Leaked clips like this one show what working with him can be like.
    • He is supposedly known as "David O. Asshole" by crew who've worked with him.
  • 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 prima donna, 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.
    • Though the situation really wasn't helped by his attitude, especially near the end. He demanded elaborate scenes be repainted because minor objects were the wrong color, hired and fired people at will, and made his crew work nearly impossible hours (He refused to give time off for an animator to visit his sick wife in the hospital, and another animator ended up quitting/being fired after Williams likewise refused him time off to spend with his wife and newborn baby)
  • Cracked has a list of things like this.
  • According to rumors, Kunihiko Ikuhara from Revolutionary Girl 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. Three extras drowned, and several others were injured. 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. Like James Cameron, Friedkin is said to have mellowed out in later years, and has also made good with many of the cast and crew of The Exorcist.
  • 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."
  • Charlie Chaplin was a notorious perfectionist as a director, although, since he starred in his own films, it could fairly be said that he didn't push anyone harder than he pushed himself (for example, one scene in The Circus, in which Chaplin's character walks a tightrope, took 600 takes before Chaplin was satisfied).
  • According to Roger Ebert, the French director Robert Bresson despised actors for attempting to insert their own interpretation of their characters into their performances, which might conflict his interpretation. His solution was to make them do as many takes of a given scene as was required to break their spirits and drain them of the will to do anything except precisely what he told them to do. Then he started hiring non-professional actors, who weren't as motivated as professional actors to impose their own interpretations on the script. Having said that, some actors loved working with him; Anne Wiazemsky, who played the horribly abused main girl in Au hazard Balthazar, went on to work with Jean-Luc Godard, among others.
  • Similarly, David Fincher isn't too fond of improvisations, and the errant actor who tries to overact will be punished. "I hate earnestness in performance. Usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone." Many actors who have worked with him, however, are okay with his unorthodox style of directing. One of the few exceptions is Jake Gyllenhaal from Zodiac, who expressed admiration for Fincher's precision and patience while also conveying frustration at the lack of collaboration that one feels when submitting to him.
  • Jerry Lewis. This may have been a contributing factor to his split with Dean Martin. He was a perfectionist and notoriously difficult to work with. In many of his films, he had complete control over the writing, directing, and acting and served as the producer.
  • Part of why "Manos" The Hands of Fate was such a Movie-Making Mess was the fact that Hal Warren was full of himself despite a lack of knowledge on filmmaking.
  • Paul Jackson, director of The Young Ones and executive producer of Red Dwarf. Notorious for his short temper — to the point where cast and crew were always especially wary around him even in later years when he wasn't screaming at people so often, purely because of his reputation.
  • According to The Disaster Artist, Tommy Wiseau, director of the infamous So Bad, It's Good movie The Room.
  • Andrew Stanton may or may not have fallen into this on the set of John Carter. By his own admission, as a first time director of a live action film, that he was given too much of a Auteur License and too large of a budget. With that said, Stanton's most vocal critics were other Disney Execs also looking to past the blame. The marketing itself was notoriously focus tested to death, leading to a confusing marketing campaign.