Top 5 Most Nightmarish Directors in Film History

December 11, 2014

From extremely dangerous stunts or shooting in warzones and/or environmentally hostile locations, there are more than a few things that can threaten a film crew’s physical wellbeing and sanity.

Worst among them, however, can be the other humans you’re working with. Presenting…

The Top Five Most Difficult Directors to Work With

The following five directors are notorious for their obsessive-compulsive tendencies, hot tempers, or borderline-insane perfectionism. These are the kind of horror stories which keep students at acting school awake at night, and while it’s inarguable that the directors below each have a touch of genius about them, genius is never a stone’s throw away from madness.

5. James Cameron

It’s hard to think of any contemporary director with a greater reputation for egomania than James Cameron. Of course, the director who can beat his own record for highest-grossing movie of all time can probably afford to be a little full of himself, but Cameron’s well-known for pushing people’s buttons. He also has a penchant for picking up mistresses on his movie sets, a habit that has cost him four wives.

During filming for The Abyss, Cameron suggested that his actors could relieve themselves in their wetsuits during water shots to save time; he similarly warned that bathroom breaks during the filming of True Lies could lead to a dismissal. He keeps a nail gun on hand and threatens to nail crew’s cell phones to the wall when they go off inappropriately during filming.

Cameron’s reputation precedes him on every project he touches, which he says is a good thing as it helps keep the crew in line.

4. Stanley Kubrick

Some directors allow their actors to warm up to a role in rehearsals. Stanley Kubrick had a different idea: keep the camera rolling and demand as many takes as necessary to nail a scene. In fact, The Shining holds a world record for number of takes shot to complete a scene: Elderly Hallorann had to explain the shine to young Danny Torrance 148 times before Kubrick was satisfied.

Kubrick also wasn’t opposed to lying to his cast to get the performance he wanted. When Slim Pickens was cast in Dr. Strangelove, he wasn’t told that the film was a comedy and never read the rest of the script. George C. Scott was also tricked into giving a performance outside of his comfort zone when takes done “just for fun” ended up being used in the final cut.

3. Akira Kurosawa

Like all of the directors on this list, Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was a perfectionist. This attention to detail shows in his legendary films like Seven Samurai, but it also means that he would go to absurd lengths to get a shot just right. He would contract enormous sets to be built only to use them for a single scene, like the full-size castle in Ran that was built only to be burned to the ground.

Perhaps Kurosawa’s greatest moment of insanity, though, occurred during the filming of Throne of Blood. When the actor Toshiro Mifune had trouble getting a proper expression of terror during his execution scene, Kurosawa hired a team of professional archers to shoot real arrows at him. The scene was carefully choreographed, but it still led to Mifune having night terrors for a long while after filming.

2. Francis Ford Coppola

It’s hard to think of a movie whose production was plagued with as many horror stories as Apocalypse Now. The film got off to a rocky start as Coppola was literally writing it as he went along, firing staff who got in his way, and much of the crew suffered from various diseases native to the Philippines where the film was shot. Coppola also directed the prop department to use real cadavers in filming to lend some realism to the scenes.

It also didn’t help that a portion of the cast was intoxicated for a good portion of the filming. The production company supplied Dennis Hopper with cocaine to get a better performance out of him, and boozy Martin Sheen had a heart attack. Coppola was so stressed over the production that he had a nervous breakdown and seizure shortly afterward, and reportedly came close to suicide no less than three times while filming.

1. Alfred Hitchcock

Master-of-horror Alfred Hitchcock‘s treatment of his female cast members is so notorious that a 2012 film, The Girl, documents some of the director’s most inappropriate sexual advances toward Tippi Hedren during The Birds and Marnie. Not only did he obsess over Hedren romantically, but he tortured her on-screen by literally throwing live, angry birds at her to create a realistic effect. When she resisted his advances, he tanked her acting career by keeping her under contract for five years with no films.

Hedren wasn’t the only woman whom Hitchcock traumatized during filming. During production for The 39 Steps, he handcuffed leading actors Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll together and pretended to lose the key. He also made sure to film Donat doing plenty of unnecessary torture to Carroll to help “loosen her up” for the role, including dragging her around in handcuffs and pushing her through a stream.

Curiously, all of Hitchcock’s male stars described the director as being quite pleasant to work with.

Do you work in film and have any of your own tales of nightmarish people to work with on set? Feel free to leave names out of it, but we want to hear your story in the comments below…