Woke up this morning and was perusing the Internet and it seems the most important thing that happened in the world this week is that actor Christian Bale dressed down a director of photography on the set of Terminator 4.
My overriding reaction? People who like to eat sausage shouldn't look too closely at how they are made.
Okay, that's a bit tongue in cheek, but really...If one thing is, or should be, patently obvious from the extent and intensity of the responses is that this isn't really about Christian Bale. Much like the Alec Baldwin phone message to his daughter, this is a microcosm that touches on everything from civility to powerlessness to privacy to celebrity.
I think the intensity with which people respond has to do with the fact that the incident, like many that have higher shelf lives on the Internet, has the illusion of being self-contained (i.e. without context) and thus allows people to graft it onto their own experiences and think it analogous. (Who hasn't had a boss, parent, or other authority figure scream at them? Who hasn't had a subordinate, child, or team member f--- things up through lack of concentration, attention, or adequate training?)
What follows are a couple of random thoughts, in no particular order:
--I don't know any of the people involved nor do I know anyone who knows anyone. Christian Bale may very be a jerk whom people like Darren Aronofsky are defending for reasons that serve various self interests that have nothing to do with what they know to be true. He could also be a very nice person to know and work with that others are deliberately trying to embarrass or discredit for motivations that have nothing to do with this particular incident. That's the nature of media. I haven't ever been involved with making a movie, but I've had a small taste of being in the public eye to the extent that things I did (or people close to me did) were reported. When are people going to learn to get over this notion that this dichotomy between scripted and unscripted, caught by microphone and not caught by microphone, etc. isn't identical with the dichotomy between the "real" person and what they are projecting? They are both expressions of the real person. What's so hard to understand about that?
--To the extent people want to make this about "acceptable" vs. "non-acceptable" behavior, I would respond with "according to who?" Context matters. (Which is what microphones or clips don't always give.) Like it or not, there are different standards of behavior that are considered acceptable in different contexts. Some may say that there is no context in which such an outburst is acceptable. To them, I would say, have fun in your bubble, because that's the only place where you get to be the unilateral arbiter of acceptable behavior. There are behaviors that I think would be unacceptable to a stranger that would be acceptable for a parent. There are means of addressing a person that I would find reprehensible in a Little League coach, questionable in a High School coach, perfectly acceptable in a college coach, and pretty much expected in a professional coach.
--I honestly wonder how much of this is generational? I would not be the first person in the world to suggest that the self-esteem movement in child-rearing and education has resulted in a group of young adults who tend to phase out or not listen to correction and who, because they have been systematically shielded from the consequences of their mistakes, never learn from them nor develop the capacity to distinguish between major and minor errors or consequences. These people are incredibly frustrating to have to work with or be teamed with, not just for divas, but for anyone who has something invested in the success of the enterprise one is corporately working on.
--I have seen or been involved with many enterprises (plays, sports teams, military, business) where such people are much more effectively dealt with via peer policing than top-down instruction. This is especially true as we move to an age of a relatively "flat" world and one in which team chemistry (athletic or corporate) is more important to success than effective management. Chuck Daly used to talk about this in sports--guaranteed contracts flattened the authority/power hierarchy, making the difference between coach and player small. There is an emerging (heck probably already present) attitude in our culture to praise team members' policing themselves, motivating each other, and holding each other accountable rather than simply doing their segmented job and expecting management to deal with any other problems. Like it or not, Bale's conduct or initiative is increasing viewed as a legitimate kind of leadership** in a team environment, particularly one such as sports or film where success or failure is very strongly performance based.
--Here's one thing I know from teaching, from being on some athletic teams, from having been on a variety of jobs, and from being involved in theater. Such dressings down are no fun to give and less to receive, but they are extremely effective at altering behavior, particularly behavior that has already been addressed but has not been altered. People don't like being embarrassed, but...and here's a point that I think is largely lost in this discussion....sometimes they should be. And if they should be and they are not, than forcing them to acknowledge that they should be can be a last, drastic intervention before escalating the consequences of their failure to alter their behavior.
A couple of examples, perhaps not as extreme, but I think analogous:
--I was in a stage play once where one of the principals was having trouble learning his lines. The director was at a loss; she was used to simply just giving a deadline (i.e. I will expect all lines to be learned by such and such a date) and having actors with enough pride in their craft and professionalism and courtesy towards others that would motivate them. She tried several times to explain in polite terms to this actor that this was holding back the development of the play. Each time he would nod politely, listen attentively, say he would try to do better, and then go out that night and show up at the next rehearsal still not ready. It wasn't until other members of the cast got in his face and said "You are not going to mess up our play. If you don't learn your lines and we can't rehearse, it is not just your performance that will suffer, our play will suffer. We will all look stupid and dumb. The scenes that you are not in will be worse because we will have had to rob time working on them to redo stuff we should have down flat by now with you. Or we'll have to have you dumped and spend even more time with an understudy. In either case, you are screwing this up for all of us and we are not going to let that happen--and if it does, you can be damn sure that we will do everything in our power to make sure everyone who will listen knows it is your fault." Needless to say the prospect of escalating embarrassment was a much greater motivation than any other. *
--I had an otherwise good student once who in the course of a busy semester fell behind in reading and came to class unprepared several times in a row. Assuming she was one of those who was responsible enough to be humiliated by being found out to be unprepared, I just said something generic like, "you need to get caught up" and moved on. But rather than this motivating the student to work harder, it actually relieved her of the fear of being caught--hey, that wasn't so bad--and the behavior escalated rather than diminished. Worse she started cracking jokes about not being ready for class until I finally read her the riot act before class. Chagrined, she admitted the non-chalance was a defense mechanism to cover her embarrassment at not being ready. Avoiding embarrassment was her motivation, and to the extent that it was, the refusal to ever embarrass her was actually a disservice, because she wasn't capable of motivating herself by herself and needed me to motivate her before things got to the point where the consequences of her failure to motivate herself were beyond repair.
--I wonder, then, if all the people who think Christian Bale is now the scum of the earth would feel if he had ignored the director of photography altogether or said something polite, like "Hey, as a gentle reminder, please don't adjust the lights or walk in my eye-line while the cameras are rolling" and then gone privately to the director and said, "Look, McG, we've talked to this guy several times, but it's just not working. He doesn't get it. He's a nice guy and it's nothing personal, but this is a $100 million dollar plus movie and we have a responsibility to the studio and other members of the cast and crew whose careers are on the line to get rid of him and get someone else in with a bit more experience who knows how to conduct himself around a set."
What would have been the consequences of that? I imagine a) Christian Bale's reputation might not have taken a hit. b) The DP could very well have been fired (and if people in Hollywood don't think of Bale as being particularly hard to work with, might have been branded as incompetent and had a hard time finding another job). c) The director could have said "no, I won't fire him but I'll talk to him" after which the DP stayed on the job but didn't alter his behavior and the film suffered as a consequence; Bale or others could have trashed him later either on the record or privately, and the DP would have a hard time getting additional work. d) The director could have said "no, I won't fire him but I'll talk to him" after which the DP stayed on the job but did alter his behavior.
Perhaps d) might have happened. Given that Bale asked McG in the tirade if he had anything to say and the director said he didn't see it unfolding, I suspect (but don't know) that this issue had been addressed by the director previously and therefor I'm skeptical that d) would have been the case.
Here's my point about such hypotheticals. For all those who are aghast at how Bale handled the situation and think he could have (or even should have) handled it better. How should he have handled it? What would have been an appropriate response? And are you positive that the response you think was appropriate would have been better for anyone, including the object of his wrath? Locker rooms, green rooms, sets, some board rooms, boot camps, are all high conflict areas and cultures, and anyone who wants to succeed in these industries knows that going in and accepts it, or if they can't accept it, probably won't succeed in such cultures. Now we may not like that. We may say I would like to be in such an industry but I wouldn't want people to treat me that way. But that's the way it is. And Christian Bale responding to the way things are doesn't make him the root of all that we find evil in such situations. Heck, it may not even make him wrong. It may. We may find out after the fact that he's just a jerk. But I don't think this one tape clip is evidence of that fact. Sometimes you have to be a little cruel to be kind. Sometimes, to be successful, you have to require that people take their work seriously or make way for someone who does.
*It's also worth noting, as any parent will tell you, that different people have different temperaments. Some kids will be so embarrassed by a withering look that that is all it takes. Others are more expressive and honestly don't think anything rises above the level of a minor irritation until the volume level is raised. Some people respond well to clear, flat instructions, but some really do need a good kick in the pants.
**If I were going to invest a 100 million dollars in making a movie, even laying aside talent, I'd rather have my cast led by someone like Bale than someone who is the nicest guy in the world to everyone from the director of photography down to the smallest intern, but phones it in or cares more about hurting people's feelings than about holding them to a standard of professional behavior. We aren't talking about having the wrong color M&Ms in your trailer here or just being generally d--kish to someone because you can be even though they did nothing wrong.