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Prima Donna Director

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Keep in mind that this illustration from Photoplay magazine dates back to 1921!

"The only place where you can be a dictator and still be loved is on the movie set."

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 within a given deadline, 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 is 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 and the Acrimonious Producer are the musical equivalents.

No Real Life Examples, Please! Even if it is Truth in Television (plenty of examples can be found in our Troubled Production and Hostility on the Set pages).

In-Universe Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kimba the White Lion has a nature documentary director who puts a captive orangutan in his documentary of African wildlife and he yells at his workers to go with it despite their cries of Misplaced Wildlife (he defended his claim that there are orangutans in Africa because the captive one he's filming is in Africa); he even went as far as to make his workers start a large fire in the jungle just to film a stampede.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Haruhi herself, when she has the SOS Brigade make a film.
  • Takezou Nogame, the author of The Third Aerial Girls' Squad in Shirobako, ordered a rewrite for the script of the anime adaptation of his manga because he didn't like it... except this is a lie told by Chazawa, the incompetent liaison between the anime studio and the publisher, to save his own ass since he hasn't been doing his job. When the script's writer gets fed up with Chazawa and forces a meeting with Nogame, he's actually very reasonable, even changing his original Downer Ending as a compromise with the anime studio.
  • Sailor Moon had an episode where Rei becomes this when she's in charge of organizing the entertainment for her school's Fall Festival. She's shown being extremely temperamental with her classmates, often decrying "Do I have to do everything myself?!". Her friends note that her narcissism is in full bloom, and suggest that she's using the festival to promote herself, as she bills her singing act as the main attraction. This turns out to be a case of Awesome Ego, as her performance was well received by the audience.

    Fan Works 
  • Miraculous! Rewrite: Thomas Astruc is depicted as one of these in "Animaestro", dismissing legitimate critiques of his Ladybug movie by claiming that the critics in question focused too much on "trivial things" and whining about how they're ignoring his "interesting" story (which appears to be a Cliché Storm judging from the comments) in favor of that.

    Films — Animation 

    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?
  • Eli Cross, Peter O'Toole's character The Stunt Man. And he sometimes went around in a helicopter chair, which made him more unsettling. (O'Toole stated he based Cross on his Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean so take that as you will.)
  • 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 is a case of Prima Donna Producer. The actual director of the Movie within a Movie, Dusty Wong, is actually fairly reasonable and is one of Wolff's many chew toys.
  • Willem Dafoe as Carson Clay in Mr. Bean's Holiday.
  • Tom Cruise's character in Tropic Thunder is a spot-on example, except that Les Grossman 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 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 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.
  • In Irreconcilable Differences, Albert Bronsky goes from being a geeky film scholar to an obnoxious, diva-ish film director who takes up with a much younger actress, who is starring in his film. He's loosely, but obviously based on Peter Bogdanovich.
  • 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 offers, 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 stars really questions his disappearance.
  • Stroker Ace: The man directing Stroker's radio commercial is a subdued variant. He groans about Stroker's performance despite Stroker genuinely following his directions and contemplates putting Lugs in the booth until Lugs suggests he could sing the slogan. This causes him to drop his headphones and split.
  • Hal Weidmann from America's Sweethearts drives the studio executives nuts by holding the final movie starring the titular sweethearts hostage, refusing to let anyone see it until the press junket. He's deeply eccentric but is said to have won several Oscars already so the studio has to play along. We eventually learn why he's refusing to let anyone see the film: he didn't actually make it. Having decided the script was terrible he decided to let the shoot continue but installed hidden cameras throughout the set to capture the bad behavior and raging egos of the cast and crew. By the time the lights go up the studio head is humiliated, the lead actress is threatening to sue and the leading man (who actually ended up looking pretty decent, if a tad intense) is already making plans to work with him again.
  • Louisde Funes when not playing a crooked businessman , a irate policeman or a demanding restaurateur/food critic with high standards for french cuisine. Both his characters Stanislas Lefort (La Grande Vadrouille), an orchestral conductor and Evans Evan (L'Homme orchestre)), a ballet company manager are INCREDIBLY perfectionists and often work their musicians/performers completely nuts.
  • In Repo Jake, porn producer King, played by Robert Axelrod, has this winner:
    Porn Director: Hey, it's in the script.
    King: Fuck the script! These girls can't read. People like to see black guys fucking white, blonde women. Here's your plot: they all just took a love drug, they've all got their clothes off, and they're fucking and sucking the shit out of each other and that's the movie you're gonna make, you got it?
  • The Crypt Keeper in Demon Knight takes on this role, berating John Larroquette ("Where'd they dig this guy up from?") for his performance.
    Crypt Keeper: Cut! Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut! What the hell are you doing? You call that "hack-ting"?
    John: Well, yes, I do call it acting.
    Crypt Keeper: Well, let me tell you something. You're no "Gorey" Cooper. You ain't even a Robert "Deadford". Another take like that and it'll be back to bit parts for you, and I won't say what bits I'm talking about!
  • John Wilson in White Hunter, Black Heart a strong-willed, intelligent man who nevertheless places his own desires above his ideals, who rails at Hollywood's dishonesty and yet is not above keeping an expensive film on hold while he abandons his location to go elephant shooting.
  • The Burt Reynolds movie Hooper has Roger Deal, played by Robert Klein. Roger is absolutely committed to his frequently-changing vision of the Film Within a Film "The Spy Who Laughed at Danger". In particular, he demands more (and more dangerous) stuntwork, and frequently plays people against each other to get what he wants. In the end, Roger semi-apologizes to Hooper, confident that he'll accept. Hooper replies, "As usual,'re wrong," and punches him out.

  • 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 that audiences will actually consider watching.
  • Lost Light: The director of the Void Moon movie is a prima donna who insists on having $2 million in real money to use as a prop—it's a crime drama about the theft of a Briefcase Full of Money—despite the fact that most movies don't use real cash and the full $2 million won't ever get in the shot anyway. This insistence on verisimilitude naturally facilitates an armed robbery on the movie set.
  • 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 an 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 
  • Marshall Townend from Friends. Alternates between Large Ham and Deadpan Snarker. As Joey so eloquently puts it, "He's like a cartoon!"
    Marshall: I am going to take this call. When I continue, I hope that there will appear on stage this magical thing that in the theatre we call, committing to the moment!
  • Parodied with the Whose Line Is It Anyway? game "Hollywood Director".
    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 would make for a great stuffy Brit if he weren't busy with his film work (he's played by David Bowie). At the end, 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.
  • In the 1970s educational series The Electric Company (1971), Rita Moreno played one of these, named Otto (A Shout-Out to Otto Preminger), complete with a riding crop, as a recurring character. The man who held cue cards for her was terrified of her.
  • In Are You Being Served?, Mr. Humphries became this whenever the cast puts on a show.
  • Frasier becomes one of these while directing a radio production for his station's anniversary. During the script reading alone he drives one of the cast to quit by repeatedly criticizing the voices he (a professional Broadway actor), used for the characters (Such as his voice for the dwarf sounding "Too Tall". Things do not get better on the day of the performance.
    Martin: What, you don't think your brother knows how to direct?
    Niles: No, the trouble is he doesn't know how to stop directing.
  • Cheers:
    • Naturally, when Diane is allowed to get behind a camera, she's one of these, scolding the gang for not following her pretentious and overblown direction ("You're ruining the mis-en-scene!") and eventually storming out.
    • Many years later, Cliff is asked to direct a home movie for Woody and his girlfriend Kelly. He insists on doing dozens of takes because he doesn't think either of them are convincing enough. Eventually, Frasier finally takes over... and reduces Kelly to tears because her first take isn't satisfying to him.
  • The titular Garth Marenghi from Garth Marenghis Darkplace, who is an inept, arrogant, and bigoted horror novelist trying to play at being the director of a TV show. Naturally, the resulting series is godawful and the production is a nightmare. Things are only exacerbated by Marenghi's publisher/producer Dean Learner, who is an unhinged loon with a childlike reverence for his employer that only encourages the latter's egoism and unprofessionalism.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Meet the Feebles: Sebastian, the director of the Feebles variety show. He yells at all the cast, dismisses their assorted problems (up to and including death) as mere annoyances, assigns the new kid to the knife-throwing act for questioning his choreography; and, against the producer's explicit orders, uses the last-minute cancellation of several acts as an excuse to go on stage himself and do a song-and-dance number about sodomy.

    Video Games 
  • AI: The Somnium Files - nirvanA Initiative: When recreating a crime scene for their investigation, Tama will roleplay as a hilariously overbearing director that orders Ryuki around and cusses him out like he's a thrid-rate actor.
    Tama: "Now that I'm in the director's chair, I'm not going to tolerate shoddy acting, so keep that in mind."
    Ryuki: "I have no idea what you're talking about..."
    Tama: "Shut you stupid mouth, you third-rate, bit-part actor! Are you too much of a moron to figure this out without the director having to tell you everything!?"
    Ryuki: "But..."
    Tama: "Just zip it and play the culprit! If we're doing this, we're going for the Macademy Award!"

    Tama: "...You're supposed to play the part of the culprit."
    Ryuki: "But what's the point of-?"
    Tama: "Don't talk back to the director!!! Don't make me throw a fuckin' ashtray at you!"
Tama: "Don't talk back to the director!!! Don't make me throw a fuckin' ashtray at you!"

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
  • Sacrimony: Mr. Bokkin runs the most successful theater in the local region, but he's prone to violent mood swings and equally emotional apologies. We're not sure which he was in when he bribed the guards to abuse the protagonist into seeking professional employment.

    Web Videos 
  • 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 – Space 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Mr. Director, the Jerry Lewis parody from a few Animaniacs shorts.
  • Bojack Horseman: In season 5, Bojack and Diane have to deal with one as both are working in his show: Philbert. Flip, the creator, is a man who thinks of himself as the next great genius of television, despite having laughable writing skills, being only able to put out bizarre and inconclusive plotlines under the guise that True Art Is Incomprehensible. He accepts no suggestions from anyone and Diane actually has to push him away from the typewriter to manage to write something for the show, which he afterward takes credit for.
  • 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 accommodate them.
  • Bloo turns into one of these when he is partnered with Mac to produce a film for a contest in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. He constantly orders Mac around and spends their entire assigned budget on a megaphone.
  • Boo Boom! The Long Way Home: Episode 4, Bu-Bum and the animals encounter a zealous director, who is traveling Italy with his crew. He drafts Boo-Boom into his movie without even bothering if the boy is interested or not, changes scenes on a whim whenever he gets a better idea, isn't above applying Enforced Method Acting (like taking away Boo-Boom's Precious Photo since he wants real tears for a scene), and even puts his actors in danger by forcing them to shoot a scene in a partly destroyed building that is about to collapse.
  • Molly Coddle adopts this attitude in the Bump in the Night Christmas Episode "Twas the Night Before Bumpy" when nobody takes her seriously as pageant director. Fortunately, she sees the error of her ways and the other characters forgive her for being bossy and rude.
  • Celebrity Deathmatch did an episode where a major studio had bought the rights to make The Movie version of the show, and referee Mills Lane was picked to be the director, despite having no movie experience whatsoever. The original plan was to have Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone fight to the death for the job, but they ended up accidentally killing each other, forcing Nick and Johnny to beg Mills to save the movie. However, he quickly turns into a prima donna director over the course of about 20 minutes, to the point where he starts referring to himself in the third person by the end.
  • DuckTales (2017) stars Alistair Boorswan. Vain, overly verbose, and obsessed with making a Darker and Edgier film reboot of a family-friendly TV series (Darkwing Duck) that he knows nothing about, and distraught at having an actual child hired to edit his "psychological masterpiece". He also serves as a mash-up of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder. The only person with an even bigger ego than him is Jim Starling, the original Darkwing Duck actor, and he's not even supposed to be in the reboot!
  • Tiny Toon Adventures:
    • In "Who Bopped Bugs Bunny?" Sappy Stanley was once a famous American cartoon star, but after one of his shorts nominated for a Shloskar award lost to Bugs Bunny's cartoon, Knighty Knight Bugs, Stanley scorned the American film industry, moved to Paris, and spent decades planning his revenge on Bugs. On the day following the bopping incident, Stanley goes off to film one of his shorts and acts like a donkey's butt to his entire crew, getting mad at one guy for simply sitting on a couch drinking coffee. It's implied that his attitude is coming from the stress of keeping his cover.
    • In "Kon Ducki", Plucky is shown to be this in the "Making of" segment when he oversees production of the titular film. He verbally and physically abuses the staff, gives outlandish demands, and only starts acting nice when he realizes he’s on camera.


Video Example(s):


James Gunn

James Gunn plays himself but he is portrayed as an abusive director who yells and swears.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / PrimaDonnaDirector

Media sources: