Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hollywood Meltdown

Like a lot of other people, I cringed when I heard the recently released tape of Christian Bale going off on Shane Hurlbut, the cinematographer of “Terminator: Salvation.“ The incident (which happened on set back in July) was apparently sparked when Hurlbut crossed through Bale’s sightline while the star was filming a scene. The resulting three-minute, expletive-filled tirade made me want to crawl under my chair. I felt bad for all parties involved and was slightly relieved when, by mid-week, it started generating some very funny YouTube parodies including one where someone imitating Bale goes off on an imaginary craft service guy for having brought the wrong kind of donuts to the set. “Do you fucking understand that my fucking mind is not in the fucking scene if I don’t have the right fucking donut!”

It seems like every other week, some new poisonous celebrity tape emerges: David O. Russell calling Lily Tomlin the “C” word. Michael Richards calling two hecklers the “N” word. Alec Baldwin calling his daughter the “B” word. It’s all horrible to witness and serves as an unfortunate reminder of one of the darker sides of the business: Isolation. Show business can sometimes cut us off from the clarifying forces of reality; leaving us adrift and vulnerable to embarrassing bouts of insanity. Whether you are a big star or a hardworking drone, at a certain point in the process, real life retreats. When you are in your 17th day of working without adequate sleep and the pressures of producing a mega-success start hitting home, small things don’t seem so small anymore. Shit happens.

I’ll admit it. I love show business. And I hate seeing its fucked-up underbelly exposed. In truth, these abusive outbursts are actually pretty rare. I remember the first time I ever witnessed one. I was in an off-Broadway play, when the star lambasted all of us who were sharing the stage with her; proclaiming us a bunch of "shitty amateurs.” This was sort of strange given she was a total drunk who only managed to show up for every other performance. My ex was once appearing on an episode of “Star Trek: TNG” when (after working for fifteen hours straight), one of the stars asked that the entire cast and crew to be assembled for a very important announcement. The announcement turned out to be a formal dressing-down that ended with the star advising them to all go “fuck themselves.” According to my ex, everyone listened politely and then calmly went back to work as if the star had just announced that someone had left their lights on in the parking lot.

In truth, any of us is capable of a big freak-out. Including me. Early in my writing career, I got forced into a shotgun marriage with another writer whose work I didn’t know particularly well. Although he initially seemed like a nice enough guy, he actually wasn’t. In fact, he had some very serious problems (including a delusional tendency to view his life as some sort of Victorian melodrama in which he was always the tragic victim). Soon he’d written a role for me in the drama as well: that of the usurping, backstabbing traitor. It’s a long story (with two sides), but the collaboration went sour fast. The resulting script was just funny enough that it refused to die. The process drug on for years as people optioned and re-optioned the material (requiring further rewrites). By now, my “writing partner” and I could barely stand the sight of each other. All our meetings had to be held in public places since neither of us could tolerate the idea of having the other inside our home.

One of my collaborator’s favorite tactics was to refuse to pick up his phone when I called; forcing me to leave long detailed messages about whatever drama had sprung up. Then five minutes later, he would call me back and issue a clipped, highly-formal reply that always sounded like something William F. Buckley would have written for a Bette Davis movie. During one particularly tough day, I came home to a voicemail from him that not only didn’t answer my question, but included a tartly-worded set of instructions about how and when I was to contact him and which subjects I would be allowed to bring up in the future. After years of putting up with his crazy shit, I’d had it. I picked up the phone and left him a screaming vitriolic voicemail, intended to singe the hair off his fucking head. It felt incredible to let go with such childish abandon. The second I hung up, I regretted it, but oddly our relationship improved; mostly because from that point on all further communications were handled by attorneys.

I listened as Christian Bale called in to an L.A. radio show this week and issued a public apology for his “terrible, ridiculous behavior.” He seemed sincere enough, although it creeped me out a little when (toward the end of the interview) he expressed how much he didn’t want his childish antics to keep people from coming to see this “amazing film that so many had worked so hard on.” In other words, “Hate me, but don’t take my box office clout away.” Mr. Bale added that this incident had reminded him how terribly uncomfortable he is in his new role as a “movie star.” He wanted us to understand that he was first and foremost, an actor. And actors care. Deeply. And apparently all that caring occasionally boils over and scorches the skin off a few innocent bystanders. His statement struck me as sort of ironic since most of the actors I know (all of whom are quite easy to fire) don’t tend to have meltdowns like that. Only movie stars do stupid shit like that. Even in the murky waters of show business, there are a few realities that are hard to miss. I like Christian Bale’s acting and I hope his vision clears up soon.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at


C. Burke said...

Thank you for this post David, but mostly thank you for that Bobby McFerrin moment. I could listen to that all day!! Judy Donaghy has a new fan...

contact said...

Insightful and entertaining as usual - I love the way you think. As outrageous - in its length - as it was, I don't think Bale is the villain here. The real villain is the sound mixer. Anybody with even a few brain cells left knows you turn the pot down when a scene is cut unless you're going to set someone up for a fall. God knows what we'd hear if this happened on a regular basis, from tirades to casual insanity. Shame on that guy - and the producers - for nailing Bale. While it's clear he did something to make them feel his rage issues deserved to be exposed - maybe it's their version of an intervention and they're really doing him a service? (personally, I think there are better ways) - but, unless someone is physically injured or sexually harassed - I think that what happens on a set should stay there. Best, James

Michael Coulombe said...

I finally heard the tirade from Christian Bale yesterday. My friend let me listen to it on his iPhone while, ironically, we were on set. This is interesting for me. I've worked with Shane Hurlbut before. He's a good guy.

With that said, as you know, when a scene is being acted out there is minimal movement on set. Mostly for noise reason but also because of an actor's concentration. I'm intrigued at why Shane decided, during a scene, he needed to check a light. Who knows? It could be for a number of reasons...and it could've been a long day and they could've been into hour 12 or 13 for all we know. Some times after many days of long hours people are tired, irritable, moody. Lord knows it could've been something as simple as that. I just find it more fascination that Christian Bale could go on a rant for so long because of it.

i still think we have the best jobs. I've been told I have an amazing attitude on set...and that I've very good at my job. It's because I know how, even though, there are tough days what we do is something fun and amazing. I may not get to sit in a cushy trailer like Christan Bale does before he goes on set....but I still make movies for a living. I find that a luxury. Yes Christian is an amazing actor, he deserve that praise. But we all have a job to do; we're all there for a reason. Sometimes you get a crew that creates synergy and sometimes you don't. This is just the case of the latter.