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David Poland

By David Poland

The Joy Of Directing

From Sharon Waxman’s NYT piece…
July 31, 2003: Candid Camera
The production has moved from the dried-up swamp to the set of the detectives’ office. It is hot and cramped, and the hour is getting late. To pass the time while a shot is set up, Mr. Russell treats the crew to a description of a baby passing through the birth canal.
And then Ms. Tomlin is berating Mr. Russell again.
This time, the director turns on her angrily, calling her the crudest word imaginable, in front of the actors and crew. He shrieks: ”I wrote this role for you! I fought for you!” Mr. Russell ends his tirade by sweeping his arm across a nearby table cluttered with production paraphernalia. He storms off the set and back on again, continually shouting. Then he locks himself in his office, refusing to return. After an uncomfortable, set-wide pause, Ms. Tomlin goes in to apologize, and Mr. Russell returns to the shoot.
Unbeknownst to both of them, a member of the crew has videotaped his tirade. The recording makes its way around the Hollywood talent agencies. Asked about the incident later, Mr. Russell says: ”Sure, I wish I hadn’t done that. But Lily and I are fine.” For her part, Ms. Tomlin admits that both she and Mr. Russell lost control. ”It’s not a practice on his part or my part,” she says. ”I’d rather have someone human and available and raw and open. Don’t give me someone cold, or cut off, or someone who considers themselves dignified.”
This must be the Zen part.

And now… the video
And the preview of that lovely moment…
July 24, 2003: The Car Trip
So far, the actors have been remarkably tolerant of Mr. Russell’s mischief. As Ms. Huppert later observed in a phone interview, the actors knew Mr. Russell was intentionally trying to destabilize them for the sake of their performances. ”He is fascinating, completely brilliant, intelligent and very annoying sometimes, too,” she said. They also know he has created superb films from chaotic-seeming sets before. Besides, he’s the director and the writer; now that they’ve cast their lot with him, they really don’t have a choice.
But on what is meant to be the last take of the day, Ms. Tomlin, who recently ended an exhausting run of her one-woman play, collapses into Mr. Hoffman’s arms crying and doesn’t stop. As he embraces her, the wails grow louder and louder, and finally it becomes clear that she is not in character. After long moments, Ms. Tomlin breaks the tension by shouting at Mr. Hoffman: ”You’re driving a hairpin into my head!” Everyone collapses in laughter and the take is trashed.
But the drama is not over. The car scene takes several more hours to shoot, and as the sun fades, the accumulated tension erupts. Ms. Tomlin begins shouting at Mr. Russell: she is unhappy with the way she looks. She wants to try the scene a different way. She taunts him with a few expletives and curses at the other actors too. Their patience worn, the other actors laugh at her outburst.
Later, unfolding himself from the back seat of the Chevrolet, Mark Wahlberg jokes that his next project will be a nice, easy action film.

Tuesday Update: New URL for clip

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12 Responses to “The Joy Of Directing”

  1. Jeremy Smith says:

    This one’s kinda talked out by now. I’d be much more interested in getting into David Ehrenstein’s speciously (or perhaps just “murkily”) reasoned essay about Barack Obama fitting into the “Magic Negro” stereotype despite the fact that he’s a real, live, breathing human being whose past *is* a part of his image. When he conflates the real-life con artist David Hampton with John Guare’s version of him in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (a superb play about people beset by a lack of self-knowledge that transcends race), the dearth of thinking Ehrenstein has done on the subject becomes kind of amusing. Well, amusing until you realize that Matt Drudge and his ilk will use it as more noise to frustrate the American public’s seemingly genuine attempt to truly know their “magic negro” savior.
    But, yeah, O. Russell sure can be a psycho.

  2. The Carpetmuncher says:

    I still think Three Kings is the best action film a HW Studio’s made in 10 years.

  3. jeffmcm says:

    Three Kings is very good until it completely cops out and turns into predictable Hollywood stuff in its last fifteen minutes.

  4. a1amoeba says:

    I’ve never understood the point of pissing off your actors – sure they get more emotional, but the line between productive and destructive results is a very fine one. Get actors that can give you the performance you need without external agitation.
    That said, Lily was acting kinda like a c*nt…

  5. jeffmcm says:

    Obviously none of us were there on set, but it seems likely that Lily’s behavior is based on strain for director-induced agitation.

  6. Well, I Heart Huckabees is great so it all turned out fine in my eyes.
    The clips have been put up, taken down, put up again by someone else and taken down again. Ugh.

  7. prideray says:

    Both videos have been removed by “the user.”

  8. Dunderchief says:

    I’m sorry, but when he comes back in through the door… that’s a funnier beat than anything he could have directed. Fucking gold.

  9. Aladdin Sane says:

    Dunderchief, gotta agree that it was gold. That being said, the movie did turn out great. Still one of my favourite comedies of the last few years.

  10. PetalumaFilms says:

    I’m with Dunder….that was so perfectly, comically timed, I thought it had to be fake.

  11. 555 says:

    didn’t Clooney get physical with DOR on the set of Three Kings? I love the man’s work from the beginning, but he seems to be developing a history of assholishness.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon