On-Set Controversies Through the Years, Disputes Between Directors and Actresses

Jessica Clifford
A&E Editor

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PC: Universal Pictures Co./Wikimedia Commons

Last year saw the demise of some of the most profitable and famous directors and actors of our time by the sexual allegations of powerful women in Hollywood. As we all know, this flood of allegations was coined the Me Too Movement.

These ongoing crusades unveil the hidden dynamics within the film industry, cloaked in the appeal of blockbuster films. Yet, the sets of films are also home to other scandals, such as the unprofessional and contestable relationships between male directors and actresses.

The annual report, titled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair?” by the Annenberg Foundation and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has consistently found a lack of diversity in just that – the director’s chair. In the most recent report from January 2018, 1,223 directors from 1,100 movies between 2007-2017 were surveyed. Of those movies, four percent of the directors were female, or one out of 22 directors were female, with the number of directors who were women of color being less than 10.

With a film industry which has been consistently patriarchal from the get-go, it seems obvious that its history is speckled with several controversies, sexual and nonsexual alike. Many of the controversies include some of the most revered directors in Hollywood.

In the early ‘60s, the famed Alfred Hitchcock became obsessed with actress Tippi Hedren, who acted in two films under his direction: “The Birds” and “Marnie.”

In Hedren’s 2016 memoir, titled “Tippi,” she shared the sexual harassment and threats she faced on both movie sets. Hitchcock allegedly forced a kiss during a limousine ride and sexually assaulted Tippi in her trailer on the set of “Marnie.” After Hedren got away from Hitchcock during the assault, he threatened to ruin her career. The threat was very real since at the time, she was still under contract.

During the filming of “The Birds,” Hedren described her on-set demeanor as “chilled to a polite, professional distance.” She also said Hitchcock became envious any time Hendren talked to a male coworker on-set.

When filming the scene where Hedren’s character is attacked by a mob of birds, she was originally told the birds would be mechanical. Yet, when it came time to film the scene, the mechanical birds were supposedly defunct and replaced with real birds. Hedren described filming the scene as “brutal and ugly and relentless.”

Years later, during the filming of the 1980 horror “The Shining,” a less sexually-charged controversy emerged between Stanley Kubrick and Shelley Duvall, the woman who played the wife to Jack Nicholson.

Duvall called her part a “stressful role” during a behind-the-scenes documentary of “The Shining” by the director’s daughter, Vivian Kubrick. One scene in the documentary shows Duvall lying on the ground exhausted, and Kubrick coming over telling the crew members that were flocking around her: “don’t sympathize with Shelley.”

“…Jack Nicholson’s character had to be crazy and angry all the time,” Duvall said in an interview with Roger Ebert in 1980. “And in my character I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week…”

The iconic baseball bat scene was taken 127 times, making it hold the world record for most number of takes of spoken dialogue.

Yet, Duvall did not blame Kubrick for these moments.

“If it hadn’t been for the volley of ideas and sometimes butting of heads together, it wouldn’t have come out as good as it did,” she said to Ebert. “And it also helps get the emotion up and the concentration up because it builds up anger and you get more out of yourself. He knew that and he knew he was getting more out of me by doing that. So it was sort of like a game.”

Today, Duvall has come forward about struggling with mental illness during a Dr. Phil interview. In the interview, Duvall claimed Robin Williams is still alive and shapeshifting, her leg has alien implants and she fears for the Sheriff of Nottingham.

A more current example of on-set controversies between directors and actresses is the Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman debacle while filming “Kill Bill.”

In the scene where Thurman drives down a sandy rural road in a Karmann Ghia, Thurman crashes into a palm tree. Before Thurman drove the car, she was told by a teamster that the car was faulty because it was reconfigured form a stick shift to an automatic and the driving seat was not secured.

The car was better suited for a stunt double, not an actress. However, Tarantino wanted Thurman to drive the car anyways.

Tarantino said: “’I promise you the car is fine. It’s a straight piece of road. Hit 40 miles per hour or your hair won’t blow the right way and I’ll make you do it again,’” Thurman told Maureen Dowd, a New York Times reporter during an interview.

She drove the car up to 40 mph and lost control of the vehicle. During the impact, she injured her back and knees, which continue to cause her pain to this day.

Thurman attempted to sue Miramax; but instead, they told her to sign a form “releasing them of any consequences of [Thurman’s] future pain and suffering.” She never ended up signing the form. Then, 15 years later, Tarantino released the accident footage to Thurman, and she made it public.

While the Me Too Movement rose to front page media with the sexual indiscretion allegations against Weinstein, other nonsexual scandals were and are constantly present in the film industry. Whether people believe the controversies or not, it is important to highlight; all allegations should be taken seriously.



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