A-List Actor, Meet Unknown Director (Nobody Panic)

Video thumbnail for youtube video Source Title: "DIRECTING AN A-LIST ACTOR WHEN YOU’RE NOT EVEN ON A LIST" - No Film SchoolOne of the things I love about Film Courage is actually, well... its name. Filmmaking is not always an undertaking free of dread. Murphy's Law seems to like hanging out around film sets. It can be terrifying. It can be difficult, exhausting, maybe even unrewarding. Sometimes, you need to be brave to make movies. All too fittingly, FC recently shared a post in which a young, relatively unknown director was honored with (or condemned to) the unthinkable: "Directing an A-List Actor When You're Not Even on a List." Needless to say, excitements -- and anxieties -- ensued, but courage saw her through to the end.

According to her post over at Film Courage, Hanneke Schutte was hardly expecting a Skype call from some producer guy named Kevin Spacey -- who told her she was the South African winner of the Jameson First Shot competition -- and that she would be directing Willem Dafoe a week later:

The preproduction week flew by and before I knew it it was the eve of our first shoot day. I felt sick to my stomach. How am I going to direct an A-list Hollywood actor? An actor who has worked with Oliver Stone, Lars von Trier, Wes Anderson, Sam Raimi, Anthony Minghella, Martin Scorsese to name a few.

I woke up at 3am and yes, I'm not ashamed to say, I contemplated taking my passport, tiptoeing through the lobby and catching the first flight back to South Africa. It was either that or fake a dramatic case of Sudden Blindness or Alien Hand Syndrome (yes there is such a thing). But in the end I did it. I got up, I brushed my teeth (I had a nightmare the previous night where I'd forgotten to brush my teeth and I had to direct Willem holding my hand over my mouth) and I went to set.

And, as it always is, as soon as I get to set a huge sense of calm came over me. I can do this. I just have to trust myself and hope nothing gets stuck in my teeth after lunch.

The result is a short film called Saving Norman, written and directed by Hanneke Schutte.

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHLL_lhlwxg

At the same time it can be very challenging -- with or without having to, you know, direct Willem Dafoe (surprise!) -- filmmaking is a job that has to get done. As it is with any job, even the high pressure ones: commitment, attitude, and work ethic are great cures for panic. I can't speak for air traffic controllers but I'd assume the same is true. And, as much as they are stars, folks like Spacey and Dafoe are stars because they're talented, hard-working professionals. So, no sweat, right? (I say that from safely over here.)

Speaking of jobs and jobs well done, I'm glad Hanneke didn't jump ship, as the piece is terrific. According to her bio on the original post, "Hanneke Schutte is an award winning writer/director living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. She recently directed her first feature film called Jimmy in Pink, which will be released in South Africa in August." I also had no idea Willem Dafoe was so beastly at Ping-pong.

For those who are interested in hearing a bit more about the competition that grants such opportunities, here's some material straight from Jameson First Shot:

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7JwHFJODXw

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmjwYmD92Vw

How would you guys react to such news -- cause for excitement, or just another day at the office? What's the highest-tension moment you've ever experienced in filmmaking? What are your techniques for reaching your 'zen on set'?


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Your Comment


She should handle these actors like Sam Peckinpah did - just slap them around a little until they loosen up.

July 10, 2013 at 9:45AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


omg, reminding me of monty pythons sam peckinpaw salad days [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1-NpyaOWV0]

July 11, 2013 at 7:02AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Actually, 1975 (1st season) SNL skit with Robert Klein, Gilda Radner and John Belushi as Sam Peckinpah.

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/75/75esam.phtml (transcript)

Hulu video - http://www.hulu.com/watch/1438

July 12, 2013 at 11:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I shoot corporate and industrial but the challenge is the same - manufacturing can be held up, client becomes impatient, money is lost - and the need to remain calm, collected and productive can be just as critical.

My 'zen' strategy? It's simple: don't be afraid of yourself. You don't get to those A-listers without a clue. Do what you know how to do, as well as you can, and there it is.

Be calm - the reality is that there is rarely really anything to worry about. Most people - Hanneke included - suffer from what I call "professional paranoia." Don't give in. It's normal to anticipate, and then prevent, potential problems. That's professionalism. The zen comes in not worrying about ones you missed.

When I'm feeling panicked on set, I take a deep breath, remind myself that *I* am the professional, and I am in control of at least a few things. Remain objective. Categorize (swiftly) what needs to be done, what would be nice to do, and what can be done without. Focus deep and work efficiently. Not many people can engage in small talk AND be efficient. Choose the latter and your a-lister will thank you for it afterward.

Everyone (a-listers and z-listers) prefer working with people who focus on their job, and don't play up. Be yourself, and don't try to impress anyone. Don't feel the need to make them "like you." If you are honest, work hard, and show integrity, they will like you anyway.

July 10, 2013 at 11:28AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


How would I handle it? By melting down into a puddle of insecurity! lol

Ok maybe not, but that youtube clip of Christian Bale flipping out on Shane Hurlbut would be in the forefront of my mind. I know Shane wasn't the director, but I would be freaked out at the possibility of doing something wrong that would make the A-lister mad.

July 10, 2013 at 11:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


True, but if McG had any balls, he would have diffused the situation. As a Director, you have to have control of your set, even if, no, especially if your A-List talent is flipping out.

No one deserves to be spoken to the way Bale spoke to Hurlbut; no matter how many movie tickets, magazines or action figures their image can sell. McG showed he couldn't handle his set.

July 10, 2013 at 5:30PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


+1, the Director dropped it.

July 11, 2013 at 2:57AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


It also speaks volumes about Hurlbut's incredible professionalism and character, as he continued to work for many hours after the incident.

July 11, 2013 at 4:58AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Come on, that Bale thing was soooo obviously staged and intentionally released as the part of viral marketing campaign. Bale swearing in american accent? Please.

July 11, 2013 at 9:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


And Bale would agree to stage something that makes him look terrible? Nope.

July 22, 2013 at 10:52AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I would just surround myself with the most professional and experienced crew I could find, then listen to them. In my experience, if you have the right mix of personalities on your crew they can be so supportive. If as the Director you are inclusive, but decisive, you and your crew and actors can do amazing things. Directing is so often about making choices and bad directors are afraid to make choices. Don't get hung up on the minutia of things, the audience will never know what shots you didn't get, only what you present to them. But above all, don't be an asshole and and enjoy the moment.

July 10, 2013 at 12:43PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Years ago, working as a live sound engineer, I was setting up mikes for a drummer's kit on stage. I was having a hard time getting a decent sound, so I asked him if he had any new drum heads with him. I remember a few people looking at me aghast that I'd said that, but the drummer paused a moment, said sure, swapped the heads and got a fantastic sound. He thanked me after the gig.

I actually didn't know who he was at the time. Someone pointed out later that he was moderately famous, definitely A-list as drummers go. I do wonder if I had known if I'd have done my job as professionally and still been able to order him around (gently) as much as I did? Had I known, would I have been too scared to ask him to sort his kit out?

That was definitely a good lesson for me. Whoever they are, do your job!

July 11, 2013 at 1:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Artemis Jaen

I would be ready. I am a professional the A'lister will be a professional and we should be able to produce Professional work. The most tension comes when I take on multiple jobs in a short period.

July 11, 2013 at 2:49PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I've worked with the "A-lister's" in my field (different) . They walk in ,& perfectly normal ,Competent people Fall apart & sometimes become very self-conscious & strange. Afraid /Paranoid/Inadequate/Etc.
I walk the Earth ,same as they do. They are just People. Some of them have the same inadequacies that we do .Sometimes ,not even particularly Competent or Talented People. They are where they are for a large Variety of reason ,and not always for their Talent. Sometimes just because of plain Dumb luck.
Forget about who those A-lister's are. You have this Opportunity ,don't waste it & let it pass by. Do what you know & it will get you through the Situation.

July 12, 2013 at 10:52AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


PS PS - By the way - The Short "Saving Norman" ,was Great !

July 12, 2013 at 11:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM