So far, we’ve concluded that directors are control freaks who like to play God—both on the set and in real life.
They are also ruthlessly manipulative, willing to do whatever must be done to get what they want.
They tend to be a bit obsessive.
In reality, it’s a requirement for the job.
A director must live, eat, breathe nothing but the film he’s working on.
Totally immerse himself or herself in the project to the exclusion of everything else.
Lamont Johnson used to tell a story that casts some light upon directorial obsession.
Lamont himself was no slouch in the obsession department—his films took absolute possession of him during the making of them.
But his monomania was dwarfed by that of David Lean.
Here’s his story.
Lamont was making a wonderful film about an attempted escape from a German prisoner of war camp in Scotland. It was called The McKenzie Break, and he decided to shoot it on location with Ireland standing in for Scotland.
As he led his convoy of actors and crew up the coast of Ireland to shoot his movie, he passed David Lean’s company shooting the storm scene for Ryan’s Daughter.
Months later, after completing his own film, he led his people back down the coast, past David Lean and company, still shooting the storm scene for Ryan’s Daughter!
Think of it!
Lamont managed to make an entire movie in less than the time it took Lean to shoot a single sequence.
Was it worth it?
If you’re a Lean fan (and I definitely fall into that catergory), the answer is an easy and immediate YES!
It resulted in one of the greatest sequences in film history.
If, however, you’re a studio executive—say, the head of MGM, which was financing the film—your answer would be a resounding NO!
The film almost bankrupted studio and was a significant factor in the subsequent sale of its legendary lot.
…directors are, almost by definition, obsessed.
But they can’t be too obsessed, or they run the risk of playing Ahab, going down with their ship and taking every one around them with them.
Think of D.W. Griffith and his grand folly, Intolerance.
Erich von Stroheim and Greed.
Francis Ford Coppola and Apocalypse Now!—which ultimately paid off but just about broke him financially and emotionally.
Or to choose a recent, happy example, Iñárritu and Birdman.
I can’t begin to imagine the years of obsessive planning required to make a film in what is essentially a single shot, a feat beyond the reach even of the great Alfred Hitchcock, who attempted it in Rope.
So there you have it.
Directors are ruthlessly manipulative, obsessed, monomaniacal control freaks.
My only question?
Why did I fail in my repeated attempts to direct?
I clearly have all the qualifications for the job.