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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 
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Haruhi herself, when she has the SOS Brigade make a film. She throws tantrums and even goes as far as to drug Mikuru for the purpose of filming a "love scene".
  • Kimba the White Lion has a nature documentary director who puts a captive orangutan in his documentary of African wildlife and yells at his workers to use it despite their cries of Misplaced Wildlife (he defended his claim that there are orangutans in Africa on the basis that the captive one he's filming is in Africa). He goes so far as to make them start a large fire in the jungle just to film a stampede.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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 as a cinema verite piece. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Liam Neeson as egotistical horror film director Peter Swan in The Dead Pool.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Seanna Birmingham from The Remake, for another producer example.
  • 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.
  • 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 an actual Prima Donna?
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • In the INTER Active Secret Agent File: Orbit Of Fear game book, the Big Bad is Mr Mogul, an absolute Mad Artist of a director/producer. He's so obsessed with being in control of every aspect of production that he's moved his studios into outer space and replaced all his actors and crew with robots, but even that doesn't stop him from flying into narcissistic rage at the slightest delay. For good measure, when he catches the reader infiltrating his space station, he has you funnelled into a deadly game show and put on trial in a televised Kangaroo Court for daring to defy the rules of his Rich Recluse's Realm... and when the ratings turn against him, he sets out to barbecue the world with satellite weapons and make his magnum opus in filming the apocalypse.
  • 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 Serge Storms novel The Big Bamboo is centered around the production of a movie being made by a third-rate studio, that 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 
  • 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 Are You Being Served?, Mr. Humphries became this whenever the cast puts on a show.
  • 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 mise-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.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Marshall Townend from Friends. Alternates between Large Ham and Deadpan Snarker. As Joey so eloquently puts it, "He's like a cartoon!". When the play finally debuts the critics tear it to pieces leaving the director looking even more ridiculous.
    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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The director of "Queen of the Zombies" in a Joan of Arcadia episode. Perhaps justified in that he turned out to be God.
  • Midsomer Murders:In "Death of a Hollow Man", Harold Winstanley is a notoriously strict theatrical director and not above taking out his frustrations on his subordinates. He's also easily the most egotistical of the entire theatre company, hogging as much of the audience's attention as possible before the show begins and during the interval.
  • In Seinfeld, Jerry turns into one when he's forced to make bootleg copies of movies.
  • 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!"

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Shin Seungyeon in Buried Stars was the new director for the titular show's fourth season (basically a Korean equivalent of American Idol), and amplified the show's forcing scripted behavior upon the contestants. She was also more than slightly manipulative, stringing Hyesung along in a one-sided relationship (his was the genuine side), forcing Seil to perform illegal investigations, and basically manipulating many other contestants—Do-Yoon, Inha, and Gyu-hyuk among them—to do her bidding, both in terms of joining the show and acting to her specifications.

    Web Animation 

  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Wormwood Institute: In "90s TV News Outtakes", the male host goes ballistic on his female co-host for messing up on her script, to the point where she is on the verge of tears by the end of the tape. He fires her shortly after this.

    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.
  • 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.
  • James Finson in the Code Lyoko episode "End of Take".
  • 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 (and is voiced by a real-life director as well). 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!
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Bloo turns into one of these when he is partnered with Mac to produce a film for a contest in "One False Movie". He constantly orders Mac around and spends their entire assigned budget on a megaphone.
  • The Owl House: Adrian Graye Verneworth, head witch of the Illusion Coven, behaves like one, often berating his underlings and offering useless “notes” on their performances.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • In Tiny Toons Looniversity, Babs gradually becomes such a director in "The Show Must Hop On" when she's assigned to direct the Acme Looniversity production of Rabbit Season. Much of the cast is unhappy with the roles they've been assigned, but she doesn't want to hear their complaints, and keeps insisting Plucky say nothing and do nothing in his role as a cactus. It even gets to the point where Babs starts feuding with her own brother Buster for not letting him play Bugs, all the while claiming the cast's complaints are interfering with "her vision". It isn't until the first act of the performance goes horribly wrong that Babs realizes what she's done and refused to listen to the cast members. Once she directly talks to them about why she made those casting choices, the rest of the play goes smoothly.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


James Gunn

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

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Example of:

Main / PrimaDonnaDirector

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