Tuesday, February 3, 2009

At a Loss For Words. Not.

I don't care who you are, but if you make your living on film sets, you've been responsible for blowing a take at one time or another. Maybe you talked on the walkie-talkie during a scene. Maybe you sneezed while they were rolling. People trip over stuff. People laugh out loud when they just can't help it. You forget to silence your cell phone and it rings during a take. I was on one show where the Director of Photography got his son hired in the camera department. His son was absolutely and utterly dilligent about his job which was making sure that exposed magazines of film were promptly taken to the camera truck to be canned and that fresh mags of unexposed film were always within easy reach on the set. He was so dilligent that he often forgot why the film should be on set...that we were shooting a movie. This tunnel vision caused him to drive his golf cart through the background of our shots on a fairly regular basis. (He has since gone on to a successful career as an Assistant Cameraman.)

Once, I walked into the front door of a house only to discover the camera three feet away from me and rolling...for the shot of the actor walking in the front door. Ooops. Yeah, we all fuck up from time to time.

Anyway, audio from the set of Terminator Salvation has made it onto the intertoobs. It seems that the Director of Photography, Shane Hurlbut, got into Christian Bales' eyeline during a take. As best as I can tell, he didn't actually get into the shot, but he did commit the sin of walking where the actor could see him...and be distracted by him. He was doing what D.P.s do all the time; he was looking at the lighting to make sure everything was as perfect as he could get it. Christian didn't take this well.

I have to admit, I've never been in a position where I had to perform and concern myself with distractions in my eyeline. Most actors seem able to pay no attention to what's going on around them. On the other side of the spectrum I've worked with some actors who practically wanted a curtain between themselves and everyone behind the camera. Everyone is different. And I've heard my share of tirades. The ringing cell phone usually rates the most entertaining and sustained rants.

On the other hand, since the most common reason for a blown take is the actors' own fault, (blown lines, missed cues, wrong movements, the list is endless), they usually refrain from going absolutely nuclear, postal, batshit crazy.

Mr. Bales, seemingly, has no such restraints. Here. Give a listen. (Note: You need to play this at full volume because all of the audio comes from Christian's mic...if you want to hear other peoples' responses, turn it up. On the other hand, if you're at work or surrounded by children, or in any other crowded place, you might want to use headphones or wait until you get home. Fucking Christian can fucking curse with the fucking best of them. Fuckin-A-Right.)

The fact is, I don't actually have a lot to add to this. It kind of stands for itself.

Also, since I usually make a point of holding back on gleefully dishing dirt behind the scenes, I just thought I'd mention that I feel released from such restraints once I hear Kathy Lee Gifford doing 3 minutes on the event. Christian's got a whole lot of other people to punch in the face before getting around to worrying about me.

Enjoy. I know I did.


Eric said...

I haven't heard the audio (and I'm at the office right now), but I read an MSNBC article with the redacted quotes. I expected something really nuts, but I have to admit--I actually thought it was kind of funny. And I thought Bale's rant came off a little less like "bat((e)man)shit* crazy" than it did like "really intense professional." I mean, at one point (per the MSNBC article), he's basically telling the DP he's a nice guy but what the fuck, dude?

Sure, it's not pleasant to be yelled at. But I can understand a really method-driven actor (which Bale is) being taken out of a scene because somebody on the set was doing something mildly distracting which maybe wouldn't bug most actors but bugs somebody who throws themselves into a role the way Pacino or Hoffman used to when they were actors (before they became Pacino and Hoffman).

Okay, maybe losing his shit was unprofessional. I'm not defending it so much as I'm saying I understand it and I was a lot more sympathetic to Bale than I expected to be when I saw the headline.

Then again, after that whole thing with his family last year, maybe Bale really has just lost his mind. Which is a shame, tho' Brando was pretty fucking nuts and still pretty brilliant on screen even when he was slumming for crap. So maybe I'm indulgent to Bale for that reason, to be honest.

*You can go with either the American Psycho reference or the Batman reference! Awesome!

Believe it or not, I prefer the former: someone ought to mix the set rant with some Huey Lewis in the background if they haven't already. That would be pretty funny.

Tania said...

I have mixed feelings. I've been that upset over somebody blowing stuff when I was in my groove. Usually I have other things going on in my life that put me that close to the edge before I lose my shit.

Then again, I usually try to maintain a certain level of professionalism and courtesy.

Anne C. said...

I agree that professionalism probably should have kept that rant down to a 1/3 of it's length. We get it, Christian, you're fucking pissed. However, I get easily distracted myself (on the phone I sometimes have to close my eyes in order to not lose track of the conversation), so I can sympathize. Keep out of the way, dude. And like Tania said, other factors can make one overreact. For example, when I was trying to get back to work after the vertigo, my brain was not working real well, which made me a lot more frustrated than usual.

Sentiment was understandable, format of complaint was a little off.

Eric said...

Nathan, do you have any inside word on what Hurlbut was doing? Because if it was just sort of normal routine stuff, then that puts a different spin on it than what you'd have if he was doing something that was either not routine business-as-usual on the set, or if he was doing something that might normally be routine but that he was asked not to do while Bale was on set or during the scene.

One thing about this that seems a little odd is the provenence of the recording: not that it's illegitimate or a fake, but that it was apparently provided to the insurance company in case Bale quit the film; while Bale did threaten to quit if they didn't get rid of Hurlbut (they didn't and he didn't), you have to wonder exactly how toxic things might have been for somebody to decide that was appropriate insurance. I.e., was Bale so wacky on the set that the producers thought he'd just walk, or were the producers such assholes that Bale was tempted to? Or both?

I mean, what was the actual point of pre-emptively sending the tape to the bonding company? They would have still had the tape if Bale had walked. Or did Bale walk and come back after the tape was sent? It just seems screwy.

Method acting has its share of critics. There's the great apocryphal story about Dustin Hoffman, during the shooting of Marathon Man, staying up without food or sleep for several days to get himself in the proper mental state for his torture scene. He gets on set and Laurence Olivier (the story goes) asks him why he looks like hell, and Hoffman explains how he's trying to capture the physical and emotional feeling of being exhausted and abused, and Olivier blinks and says, "Well why don't you just act?" In a lot of ways method can just be plain silly.

But Bale is, after all, a guy who's been known for dropping down to near a-hundred pounds for one movie (The Machinist) and pumping up to 200 lbs. of muscle for another (Batman Begins, where the story is that Bale came in too physically ripped to play the goddamn Batman and had to lose some of the mass). So it's not hard to imagine him being all mentally wired-up for a big scene and then some guy traipses across the set--that's what Bale complains about, in fact--and it's not hard to imagine Bale then sort of going off kinda in-character, or at least still in his character's mental state, if you see what I mean.

Or maybe the guy's just a dick, y'know?

Nathan said...

I don't have any inside info on this situation. Most likely (and this is common), the D.P. saw something he didn't like (a shadow, a hotspot, whatever) and went looking for it.

With all the multiple sources of light (and shadow), sometimes, you have to wander around among the lights to actually pinpoint what's bothering you.

Like I said, I have no personal knowledge of this situation, but from what I've read and heard, this seems like the most likely situation.

Having said that, it becomes apparent fairly quickly which cast members are picky about their eyelines and the info is put out to the entire crew. The fact that Hurlbut must have known that Bales was a dick about the whole thing does makes it seem that he should have been more careful.

But I still think Bales was being a dick and I think its funny that the whole world is getting to listen to it.

Note: I'm not the least surprised that producers would make a point of putting this episode into the insurance company's hands "just in case". Movie productions are all about covering their asses.

0000 said...

Had he gone insane for ten seconds it would have been fine, I could even have been understanding.

As it is, after thirty seconds I had to stop listening, it made me embarrassed for Bale (for being such an asshole), it made me feel mortified for the poor guy being insulted like a piece of shit, and it made me feel sick to my stomach that after thirty seconds not one person is yet trying to say anything to shut him up and make him realise how much of an asshole he is.

There is not one good reason in my mind for going on after someone just doing their job, this violently and this long. Not one reason.

Thanks for enlightening us.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

Okay, I'm listening to it now--and it's that thing I suggested about Bale still being mentally in his character's headspace when he loses his cool. He was totally focused on the scene when the guy crossed his line of sight, and that's what fucked him up and might be what caused him to lose his cool.* What convinced me?

He doesn't start losing the American accent until midway through the rant. In fact, he never quite loses it entirely and it's only towards the end that his natural British/Welsh accent begins to slip in here and there.

Not that that necessarily justifies it--I just thought it was interesting.


*Assuming he's not a nut, as evinced by the assault allegations with his mom or sister, or screwed up on hormones as some suggested when he bulked up for the Batman movies. And, again, maybe he's just a dick, albeit a method-acting dick.

Scripty said...

As a script supervisor I have been in several situations like this one, typically I just slump down in my chair, and act dead. It seem to work quite nicely. I figure if I don't make a move the offending person will not notice me. I just go to the happy place in my head and wait for it all to be over. Afterwards there is an eerie silence and every crew person tries very hard to not look at each other or make any remark that's not directly related to the shot. Depending on the crew's mood this can happen for the rest of the day, or until the offending asshat leaves the set.

Nathan said...

First of all, Scripty gives a very accurate appraisal of how everyone on set feels after this happens.

Second, I'm at a loss to find any excuses that actually excuse the asshat. There are very few people who decide they are "privileged" to behave this way in front of 80 or more people they're supposed to be working with. The mere act of taking on this privilege makes you an asshole in my book.


P.S. I worked with another "method" actor early in my career. He was supposed to be drunk in the movie fairly often, so he was drunk on the set fairly often. One night after he passed out, luckily the rest of the scene was his girlfriend berating him for being drunk. The crew just positioned him on the floor in front of the toilet and let the scene play out around him. It's actually quite a brilliant performance.

Jim Wright said...

Personally, I'd have shitcanned Bale and gotten Ron Jeremy - that guy can do his thing in the middle of crowd with fireworks and sirens and coeds, and he he works for cheap. Just saying.

OK, smart ass aside for the moment - Nathan, correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't pretty much everybody on the set Union? Why would they put up with this shit? Why does the union allow their guy to hacked up like this? Chew out a teamster or a UAW guy like this, and I don't care if you're the CEO of GM, you're going to be apologizing your ass off to the guy, and the Union business agent, and the press - and then you're going to cough up a raise.

And from a personal standpoint, and again maybe this is just me and my military mindset - but if some fucking actor ever went off on me like that, well, let's just say the makeup department would have it's work cut out patching dickhead's face up for the rest of the shoot. Fuck the consequences. Also, I guarantee you that the lighting would be fucked up for a while.

But here's the thing I don't get -
Bale's getting paid right? So the scene got screwed up, so what? It wasn't Bale's fault (so to speak). So he does it again? Big fucking deal, don't actors have to re-shoot scenes all the time? And if he's this kind of guy, why would anybody hire him? Seriously, a couple years ago he was nobody - now he's a big shot. Yeah, he's a good actor, but he's not that good of actor. Find somebody else who's a nobody, pay him less and make him a star. If he starts acting like a prima dona, find somebody else - it's not like there isn't a fuckload of talent looking for work.

Yeah, OK, now you know why I don't work in your industry.

Eric said...

Seriously, a couple years ago he was nobody - now he's a big shot.

What, you've never heard the infamous recording of Bale going off on Spielberg during the Empire Of The Sun shoot?


Anonymous said...

Bale just needs to grow the fuck up. Period. I don't give a shit how into his character he was at the moment when the D.P made an honest mistake. That is NO excuse for going all apeshit on the guy, much less for four minutes.

Bale could've easily just said, "Dude, you're in my eyeline. It's distracting. Don't do that." Too bad he's just too much of a widdle baby to do so.

I nearly kept Jonathan Frakes and Genie Francis from making a quick costume change due to an honest mistake on the set of 3rd Rock From the Sun (none of us could see around the corners of sets, it turns out, and both of them nearly ran me down - Frakes is a big guy). Guess what? Both of them continued on their way, rather than rail at the lowly audience page that just was trying to get to her post, with all three of us throwing out a quick, "Excuse me." Because they're grown-ups. And professionals.

I have no sympathy for Bale. At all.

Anne C. said...

I have to admit that I've told a co-worker to "SHUT THE FUCK UP" because he wouldn't keep his mouth shut. He wasn't the type to respond to a request for more than 30 seconds, so a yell was slightly more effective (he may have stopped talking for 15 minutes that time! Yippee!). Generally I kept giant headphones on my ears to block out his constant hopping into other peoples' conversations, but that time it was one of my conversations he was interrupting.

I'm not saying a one-instance event of saying "fuck" is the same as a four minute tirade, but some of y'all make it sound like he should be drawn and quartered for losing his temper.
Yes, there's no real excuse for being unprofessional in a professional setting, but there's also no real excuse for speculating on a person's character based on supposition, hearsay, and an out of context clip. That doesn't mean we're unconscionable pricks either, just human.

Nathan said...

I'm not sure I can make this make sense, but there are unwritten "codes" of behavior on a set. One is that I'm the head of my department and that gives me two responsibilities: 1.) I take the blame regardless of who in my department fucked up. 2.) I give credit to the person who did the actual work that gets me a compliment from any of my superiors.

Along with #1 above, goes the understanding that I'll probably ream the fuck-up a new one in private later (severity depending on how bad he fucked up), but it would be considered very poor form to say anything to him in front of others, especially anyone not in our department.

So, I see a huge difference between one heartfelt "Shut the fuck up" and a 4-minute tirade in front of the entire crew.

Not for nothing, but there's also a huge difference between telling someone they've totally fucked up and telling someone they are a total fuck up. It's a personal attack that just doesn't sit right.

Sorry, I'm gonna stick with rating the guy as an asshole until I hear some redeeming info.

John the Scientist said...

Eric, I see a lot of the same kind of excuses made for big talent in science. Lots of top scientists are real dicks to their grad students. It's not excusable. Big talent does not excuse being a dick. But that is especially true when the talent involved is basically jacked up play-pretend. Dude needs some perspective.

I don't buy the altered mental state method actor argument either. I often switch from Russian to Chinese of late, and sometimes I'll get a whole sentence, or even paragraph, into talking to someone before I realize from the confused / amused look on their face that I'm continuing in the other language. One's brain tends to separate the world into native language / accent and non-native, and once you are in the groove of one, you have to consciously switch gears to get out of it. But in those cases the content is not on auto-pilot, that's under the speaker's control (including my dropping the f-bomb in Russian in my conversations on Monday night).

I'm with Nathan on this. 30 seconds, even 60 seconds, is prima dona, but not a dick. This is not yelling at someone to shut the fuck up. Four minutes of railing against someone who can not hit back? Fuck you, asshole.

And the key here is the relative power of the players. This is prima facie evidence of a hostile work environment. If this were a boss, even not a direct supervisor, but a boss from another line, berating a fellow employee like this in corporate America, there would be a workplace lawsuit filed in microseconds.

What would you do to a corporation, Eric, if you were in personal injury law, and a client brought this tape to you? No one is shutting the guy up, telling him it's inappropriate after three minutes. He's in a position of power on the set by virtue of his salary, even if he's not a boss. Don't tell me if this were a corporate case you would not be buying a new house with the attorney's fees from that suit.

Bales should be drawn and quartered, not for losing his temper, but for losing it so badly and for so long against someone without as much power as he has on the set. He's a dick.

And Jim, scabs sound all right in theory, but we are talking investing millions of dollars in a film like this. You can't fault the suits for stacking the deck in their favor by using someone they know millions of people already like to watch on the big screen, rather than taking on someone who may or may not pan out.

I just hope that after this, a few more people decide they don't like Mr. Effing Bales. I know I've just decided not to watch any of his movies (Hah, not that I watch many movies, the last time I was in a theater was ROTK).

Eric said...

If I stopped listening to music by dicks and watching movies made by dicks, and reading books written by dicks, John, I'd spend way too much time masturbating. I'm not going to boycott Bale over this any more than I'm about to burn my Frank Sinatra CDs.

And Bale isn't anyone's boss. He's a very critical and important employee, but his ass could have been fired by McG or the film's producers pretty readily if they had the balls or the interest. They wouldn't (and in a sense couldn't), because the reality of filmland is such that a DP is pretty expendible while an A-list movie star riding a string of critical and commercial hits isn't, and unless you want to pull an Ed Wood the costs of filming over a fired star's scenes with a new actor is likely to be prohibitively expensive.

The question of what I would do in a corporation is utterly irrelevant in a hypothetical scenario is utterly irrelevant. If you wanted to pose a relevant hypothetical, you could ask me if Bale had been screaming at a grip and the grip happened to be my Dad; the answer to that one is I'd be kind of pissed, but I think my Dad would totally laugh it off after the initial shock wore off--I don't want to speak for him, but my Dad's a pretty fucking cool guy (cooler than Batman, for sure). And if my Dad laughed it off, I'd laugh it off. It's not unlike the way I'd love to be verbally reamed by Harlan Ellison.

The corporate example isn't even in the same ballpark because that's just not how movies work. It's just not this structured environment with its uniforms and protocols and clear hierarchies. The director is in charge, but he can be fired, usually at will. The studio is in control, but they rarely have anything to do with what's going on on the set at any given time or even know what's going on. Every department head is a god except when they're not.

Bale's conduct might have been appalling, but if you want to talk about authority, McG could have shut down for the day or for five minutes. Except, again, he couldn't becuase his star was threatening to walk and the lost time would screw up the schedule and his ass can be on the line if the production is bleeding money or gets derailed.

Regardless of Bale's misbehavior, this whole thing has been blown waaaaay out of proportion. Headline: FAMOUS ACTOR IS A TOTAL ASSHOLE! Not exactly news, y'know? Odds are good this whole thing was going down the collective memory hole until the recording was leaked, presumably by somebody at the insurance company who thought it was funny or embarrassing.

The bottom line here is that I'm not going to excuse Bale's behavior. I spent enough time on stage as a kid that I think I do understand it, and I think it can be explained. I probably won't see this movie unless a friend drags me to it, not because Bale is a dick but because as far as I'm concerned this series ended with T2 (I've heard Sarah Connor Chronicles is actually pretty good, and I don't give a fuck; it might as well not exist even if it does star the hotalicious River Tam). And I won't stop watching my copy of The Dark Knight because of it, because Christian Bale is an actor who happens to be a prick while Bruce Wayne is a made-up character from the comic books. Also, I think the t-shirt Nathan links to in his next post is freakin' hysterical and I totally want one.

I'd like to think that's called "perspective."

John the Scientist said...

"And Bale isn't anyone's boss. He's a very critical and important employee, but his ass could have been fired by McG or the film's producers pretty readily if they had the balls or the interest. They wouldn't (and in a sense couldn't), because the reality of filmland is such that a DP is pretty expendible while an A-list movie star riding a string of critical and commercial hits isn't, and unless you want to pull an Ed Wood the costs of filming over a fired star's scenes with a new actor is likely to be prohibitively expensive."

True, but a boss in the sense of a Director or Producer is responsible for the workplace environment on the set. If I had a high-priced outside consultant on my worksite (which is the relevant analogy) and he treated someone like this, I'd expect a lawsuit if I didn't act.

Hollywood is a small industry, and the DP would never work again if he sued - and this, too creates a hostile work environment.

So, you may be right about a court turning a blind eye to that kind of behavior because a movie production company is a very temporary entity and movies are a special case. But they should be held to the same standards I am. I just had to go through the yearly corporate training on ethics, and an example exactly like this, of a contractor verbally abusing an employee, was on the test. Not kosher was the correct answer.

To your other point, I don't not watch things because of people's politics, otherwise I'd have nothing to watch. But people who do morally repugnant things do get on my blacklist. I won't watch Polanski's stuff, I won't watch Tom Cruise's stuff (or any other movie starring a $cientologist, though if they have a bit part I'll watch), and now Bale is on the list.

Eric said...

On a completely unrealted subject: how did I end up linked to this post. I'm not complaining, but I've noticed Polybloggimous keeps linking to everybody's blog.

Nathan, does somebody need to drive your blog home before she does something she won't be proud of tomorrow morning? :-D

John the Scientist said...

Well, it is Polybloggimous, Eric. :D

Nathan said...


I haven't got a clue. I have notice occasionally in the past that some of your blogs showed up linked when there was no relevance and I doubt any of you guys did the linking.

Blogger works in mysterious ways?

Jim Wright said...

I supposed this hysterical bit was inevitable.