What began as a lauded Black List script and became the buzzed-about second feature from actor/director Olivia Wilde has transformed into an internet sensation.
But it’s not for the reason its creators intended. Let's dive into what we know, and how it's impacted the film (and the internet meme machine).
For the past few weeks, the internet has been laser-focused on Warner Bros.' new film, Don't Worry Darling. But instead of focusing on the content of the 1950s-set thriller and its mind-bending twist, the internet has been consumed by the drama surrounding its production, the romance between director Olivia Wilde and lead Harry Styles, and the apparent falling out between Wilde and the other lead, Florence Pugh.
Oh, and Shia LaBeouf's text messages.
If you’re looking for an in-depth timeline of the furor surrounding Don't Worry Darling there are some deep dives available here and here. It remains to be seen whether all this gossip translates into bigger or smaller box office receipts for the movie itself, but generally, it’s considered a bad idea to have the behind-the-scenes relationships overshadow the relationships on screen.
There’s still a great deal we don’t know about what happened before, during, and after the production, but even so, there are a number of important lessons that we can glean about how one should and should not go about dealing with actors and on-set as a director.
In a recent Tom Hanks interview on the podcast Armchair Expert, Hanks discusses what he calls “The Hang.” That is, the overall environment of the set and the experience of working on a film outside of the actual work itself.
Anyone who has been on set for any length of time knows that the actual moments when the camera is rolling are few and far between. Much more of your time is spent waiting for lights or makeup or any of the other departments. And so, regardless of what department you’re in, there’s often a lot of time to “hang.”
I bring this up because, at least from the outside, it seems that Wilde did not handle the “hang” portion of this shoot as well as she could have. Whatever the environment was on that set, it does not appear to have engendered much affection.
Directing can be an immensely difficult job. You are making a thousand decisions and also helping your actors give their best performance, all while facilitating the vibe on set and trying to maintain your creative vision. But if the on-set environment becomes overshadowed by interpersonal drama, it can be a problem not only for the “hang,” the experience of making the film, but for the finished product and, ultimately, the promotional process after.
There are many troubled sets that the general public never hears about. Either because of the lack of tabloid-fodder names or because of the relative discretion of those involved. But when dirty laundry does get aired like this, it can become a teachable moment.
Wilde has done an excellent job of maintaining a positive and upbeat demeanor regarding all these rumors. And, to be clear, they are still rumors. She has acted as if all this petty drama is merely a distraction from her film, which is what the press should be focused on.
But that all fell apart when she claimed that Shia LaBeouf was fired, when it sure looks like he quit instead. There is a reason why the phrase “creative differences” is used so often in Hollywood. It allows both parties to avoid blame no matter what really happened. By insinuating that she fired Shia because his process was “combative” and that she needed to “protect” her cast and crew from him, she steamrolled over the useful “creative differences” exit ramp and made it significantly more personal.
If you ever find yourself in a similar position as a director, avoid this. And avoid this particularly if, in the course of trying to navigate those “creative differences,” you have sent a video message and multiple texts pleading with them to return to the film after they quit.
Email Is Forever
A good rule of thumb is that if you are going to send a message to anyone involved in a production, whether that is a text, an email, or a video message, remember that those things don't self-destruct. Be smart. Don’t email angry. Don’t disparage people. Don’t send anything you wouldn’t want to see leaked in the pages of Variety. Because we’re seeing now what can happen if you do.
Whether the movie does well in theaters or not, Olivia Wilde may have more difficulty getting actors to trust her and her process in the future.
As a filmmaker, it’s easy to be so focused on the film in front of you that you can forget your behavior may impact your projects after it. So while I’m not telling you to worry, darling, I am recommending you exercise as much respect and caution as possible when you’re communicating with collaborators and while you're at it, try not to sleep with your lead during production.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.