Hollywood wouldn’t be the obsessive, all-conquering dream factory that it is if people weren’t fascinated with the on-screen and off-screen antics of their favorite stars. But for many cineastes, the same preoccupation extends to their favorite directors, who occasionally wield unorthodox techniques to craft their cinematic masterpieces. Some of these fascinating filmmakers are merely eccentric, while others seem to be toeing the fine line between genius and insanity. Regardless, the filmic fusion of their quirks, phobias, chutzpah, and bizarre stunts combined have helped to shape some cinema’s most memorable works. Here’s our dossier of famed filmmakers and their weird ways that proves sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Who would you add to the list?
Inglourious Basterds director Quentin Tarantino is known for his uniquely stylized and quirky dialogue — and his screenwriting methods follow suit. There have been conflicting reports about the way the Pulp Fiction filmmaker approaches his writing, but it seems to be universal that he has a penchant for handwritten scripts. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine last year, Tarantino also admitted to being a henpecker typist — a method he uses to prevent himself from overwriting. “To tell you the truth, what I do is write it all by hand and then I get to the end. I have this gigantic manuscript, all handwritten, and then I type it up on a little Smith Corona word processor. But I don’t type, so I just type it with one finger. It’s a long, arduous process, but I’ve been doing it ever since Reservoir Dogs,” he shared. Sanford L.P. — the company that produces pens under their Paper Mate banner — released this press statement in 2004, piggybacking off of Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 success. Apparently he wrote the Uma Thurman vehicle with the company’s Flair pens.
It’s a little known fact that Quentin Tarantino hand writes all of his scripts with a set of three red and three black retro-styled Flair pens. It’s no wonder that the Paper Mate black and red Flairs were given a “supporting role” in Kill Bill Vol. 1 as Uma Thurman’s weapon of choice when she composes her hit list — laying the premise for Kill Bill Vol. 2. When discussing his writing style, the moviemaker affirmed, “I’m not superstitious in my normal life, but I kind of get superstitious about the methods of writing … it’s the way I started doing it, so that becomes the way. My rituals are that I don’t use a typewriter or a computer. I write by hand, and what I’ll do – it’s a ceremony, actually – I go to a stationery store and I buy a notebook. Then, I’ll buy a bunch of red and black felt pens. And I’m like, ‘These are the pens that I’m going to write Kill Bill with!'”
As the urban legend goes, the set of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was cursed — but there were several chilling real-life incidents that helped fuel the stories. The actress who lent her voice for the demonic Pazuzu had a son who eventually committed a murder-suicide. Actor Jack MacGowran, who played director Burke Dennings, died shortly after filming. There were several fires, injuries, accidents — and Friedkin supposedly even brought in a priest to bless the set. The director, however, added to the madness with his unusual and aggressive approach with his cast. Friedkin caused a stir when he slapped Reverend William O’Malley in the face to evoke an emotional reaction out of him for one scene. He also fired actual guns on set to terrify his cast and contribute to the anxious vibe. It wasn’t all for naught, as the final result produced one of the scariest movies ever to be put to screen.
While David Lynch’s gee-whiz charm makes him appear more normal than his surreal and often disturbing films, his fixation with Transcendental Meditation — which he has been practicing for over 30 years — eludes many. The director has called his meditation method his creative wellspring. He even wrote Catching the Big Fish to share his experience and provide insight into the way he creates his work, somewhat cryptically describing a process of “diving within.” Indeed, there is a fish in the percolator.
Legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s genius was in his precision. The obsessive-compulsive filmmaker would go to great lengths to craft his personal vision, meticulously controlling every shot from conception to completion. The 2008 documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes delves into the director’s neurotic personal archive of 1,000 boxes containing photographs (which he used as research to prepare for every creative detail of his movies, right down to the hats for Clockwork Orange) and other random filmic pieces. His reputation as a perfectionist is well documented when it comes to The Shining — just ask Shelley Duvall who reportedly worked through 127 takes for one of her scenes. Scatman Crothers holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for most takes. The scene where he explains to Danny what shining is was shot 148 times.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the guy who casually chats about Nazis at film festivals would be an unusual filmmaker. The Danish avant-garde director started the oft-talked about Dogme 95 collective to bring purity to the craft and quell the excessive spectacle of elaborative special effects and other gimmicks. Von Trier is a bit of a taskmaster as well. He often asks his actors to stay in character for hours at a time during continuous shoots — which was something that exhausted the cast of Dogville (a movie that reinvented the word “minimal”). The director’s obsessive streak was demonstrated during the filming of Dancer in the Dark. The musical sequences for the film were shot simultaneously with over 100 digital cameras (Von Trier only shoots digital). Films like The Idiots contained graphic, unsimulated sex — which makes sense for someone who produces hardcore pornographic films through his company Zentropa. All this makes his fear of flying and crippling depression seem a lot less… interesting.
If you’ve ever sat through the nearly four hours of Akira Kurosawa’s stunning epic Seven Samurai, then we probably don’t need to explain that the Japanese director is highly revered. You can also guesstimate that the Yojimbo and Rashomon helmer probably had to be something of a mad perfectionist to create such intricately compelling and gorgeous works. The hard working and heavy drinking filmmaker has been painted as a tyrant by the Japanese media — even nicknaming him Kurosawa Tennō, which translates to “The Emperor Kurosawa” — and only those who worked closely with him would know for sure, but some of his methods were certainly strange and almost seem cruel. In Throne of Blood, Kurosawa used real archers (and arrows) — who fired at actor Toshirō Mifune during his deadly scene. A small price to pay to work with a master director?
Suspense maestro Alfred Hitchcock was known for being somewhat aloof when it came to connecting with his screen stars. It has been said — even by the director himself — that he treated his actors like cattle, thinking of them as mere props for his masterpieces. ” … The chief requisite for an actor is the ability to do nothing well, which is by no means as easy as it sounds,” he once told French New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut. “He should be willing to be utilized and wholly integrated into the picture by the director and the camera. He must allow the camera to determine the proper emphasis and the most effective dramatic highlights.”
Would you sign a contract with a filmmaker to promise not to do anything “unbiblical” for five years? Cecil B. DeMille’s cast of The King of Kings did. His expectations of his crew were often strange — particularly when it came to Victor Mature who greatly upset and offended the director when he wouldn’t wrestle a real lion in Samson and Delilah. DeMille’s adopted his trademark tall leather boots during the filming of his western, The Squaw Man, to protect himself from desert creatures — but we suppose it’d be easy to see how his choice of clothing amusingly matched his sometimes sadistic reputation.