A LETTER FROM GEORGE CLOONEY

I just read an article about the insanity of David O. Russell humiliating people on set.  Included was a letter from George Clooney that I want to repost for the day.  Those of you watched my docs THE WAMEGO TRILOGY (available for free at that link) saw the clips of him freaking out on Lily Tomlin.  That he does this all the time is just absurd.  I can’t understand why, with all the talented directors out there who are professional and polite, like me for instance, one would continue to hire people who abuse their coworkers.

In 1999, George Clooney got into a fistfight with David O. Russell on set of THREE KINGS.  Here’s what George Clooney writes:

He’d throw off his headset and scream, “Today the sound department fucked me!” For me, it came to a head a couple of times. Once, he went after a camera-car driver who I knew from high school. I had nothing to do with his getting his job, but David began yelling and screaming at him and embarrassing him in front of everybody. I told him, “You can yell and scream and even fire him, but what you can’t do is humiliate him in front of people. Not on my set, if I have any say about it”.

Another time, he screamed at the script supervisor and made her cry. I wrote him a letter and said, “Look, I don’t know why you do this. You’ve written a brilliant script, and I think you’re a good director. Let’s not have a set like this. I don’t like it and I don’t work well like this”. I’m not one of those actors who likes things in disarray. He read the letter and we started all over again. But later, we were three weeks behind schedule, which puts some pressure on you, and he was in a bad mood. These army kids, who were working as extras, were supposed to tackle us. There were three helicopters in the air and 300 extras on the set. It was a tense time, and a little dangerous, too. David wanted one of the extras to grab me and throw me down. This kid was a little nervous about it, and David walked up to him and grabbed him. He pushed him onto the ground. He kicked him and screamed, “Do you want to be in this fucking movie? Then throw him to the fucking ground!” The second assistant director came up and said, “You don’t do that, David. You want them to do something, you tell me”. David grabbed his walkie-talkie and threw it on the ground. He screamed, “Shut the fuck up! Fuck you”, and the AD goes, “Fuck you! I quit”.

He walked off. It was a dangerous time. I’d sent him this letter. I was trying to make things work, so I went over and put my arm around him. I said, “David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves”. He turned on me and said, “Why don’t you just worry about your fucked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me”. I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then, he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, “Hit me, you pussy. Hit me”. Then, he got me by the throat and I went nuts. Waldo, my buddy, one of the boys, grabbed me by the waist to get me to let go of him. I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologized, but I walked away. By then, the Warner Bros. guys were freaking out. David sort of pouted through the rest of the shoot and we finished the movie, but it was truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life.

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Perhaps this is the standard experience on a Hollywood movie set.  Thankfully no one who works with me will ever experience such a horrific situation.  If you want to catch the WAMEGO TRILOGY each is available for free at that link.

YOU DON’T NEED TO YELL

I was on a film shoot recently where I wasn’t producing or directing, so I was able to be a fly on the wall.  It was really a great experience to observe the daily dynamics of a film set that wasn’t my own.  I highly encourage everyone who is interested in making movies to visit someone else’s set.  Whether you are an actor, director, DP, Make-up artist, costumer, writer, etc.  It’s an incredibly educational experience.  No matter if you’re a Pro or a total Newbie.  And it doesn’t matter what kind of a movie it is.

The first film set I visited which wasn’t my own was Sean Penn’s THE CROSSING GUARD starring Jack Nicholson.  The second film set I visited was an amateurish indie shoot.  Each was on the farthest end on either side of the filmmaking spectrum.  One had over 100 crew people, endless trucks lining the street, a buffet of craft service that rivaled the best restaurants, while the other had none of that and just a handful of aspiring Production Assistants.  It didn’t matter though, because both had interesting dynamics to study and learn from.  So I suggest getting on any film set, anywhere, and just take it all in.  Compare how different directors work and how different types of actors work.  And do it as many times as you can.  It’ll help you better define how you’d like to operate your own film set.

Throughout all the differences, there was one thing I remembered that I’d totally forgotten about.  I forgot because I haven’t used one in years.  The traditional AD (either a First or Second Assistant Director).

Because I schedule everything ahead of time and manage all the administrative aspects of my shoots, I haven’t needed one.  But, I do realize that not everyone is as OCD as me, so you might need an AD or two.  And when you interview them, my advice is to keep an eye/ear open to how they communicate.

I’ve never been in a “How To Be An AD” class, but something about how most of them behave suggests they have learned to be stern, mean, loud, and generally irritable or irritating.  But it’s so totally counterproductive to behave that way in a job like that.

I understand it’s important to stay on schedule.  But there’s no reason to yell about it and to push people like a drill sergeant.  All that does is make people disrespect you.  Getting what you want is the goal, right?  There are two ways to accomplish that: the nice way and the mean way.

Try this exercise.  If you ask someone in a softer voice, “could you pass the ketchup,” the other person is likely to not think twice, and pass it.  Now, try it on another person and use a firm drill sergeant voice demand, “Give that to me.  Come on!”  You might end up getting the ketchup but that person won’t like the act of passing it to you.  And afterwards, they will likely hold some resentment for being treated like an inferior person.  And if they are continued to be treated that way, those tiny resentments will build up until they become so big that person will leave the set each night and never want to work with you again.

ADs who have been programmed to behave like Nazis will disagree with me, of course.  But never mind them.  The easiest way to get what you want is to figure out how to avoid conflicts from the beginning.  If you schedule correctly BEFORE you start shooting, you won’t need to worry about staying on schedule.  If you communicate with your make-up artist clearly, you’ll already know how much time each person will take, and you can plan for it.

If you use archaic ways of scheduling a shoot, just because everybody else does, or “that’s the way it’s always been done” you’ll have an outcome just like everyone else: over budget, behind schedule, etc.

But if you really take everything into consideration from the get-go, you can plan for it all.  Then, I suppose, you won’t need a professional AD.  You could just use an intern who knows how to communicate with people in a clear and respectful way.