A friend of mine – we’ll call him Ben – booked an amazing role in a huge national commercial. It was the stuff that every actor dreams of, and you can’t help but celebrate like Rocky and Apollo Creed on the beach at the end of the training montage.
The commercial featured a basketball game, and Ben arrived at the set and started warming up and taking shots with his fellow actors. Suddenly, the very esteemed director of the shoot singled him out.
“You! What the hell are you doing here?”
Confused, Ben said, “I’m cast in this.”
“Oh yeah? Can you even dunk a basketball?” screamed the director.
Knowing he probably couldn’t, Ben replied, “Uh, I can try.”
At this point, all of his fellow actors were crowded around him, watching as the director angrily whipped a basketball at him. Ben took a deep breath, dribbled toward the basket and wasn’t able to dunk.
“Get the F off my set!!” screamed the director at the top of his lungs.
Ben collected his things and left. What began as one of the best days of his life – shooting a big commercial that could earn him up to 80 grand – turned into the most devastating day of his life, and a $600 day-rate. It took him six months to get over it.
Our circle of friends commiserated with Ben, and I wondered often what could be learned from what had happened. Then I shared the story with my friend David, an actor who’d worked with the same director, and David said, “Oh, he pulled that same shit with me. He screamed at me on the set, and told me I was the worst actor he’d ever seen. So I got right up in his face and told him, ‘Shut the F up! Now get back behind the camera and let’s shoot this f’in spot.’”
The director quieted and retreated behind the camera. Over the next few years he hired David to shoot six more commercials.
Poor Ben hadn’t fared nearly as well, but in his defense, having not heard David’s experience, I might have been a complete scaredypoo and fled myself.
Yes, directors (and producers and studio execs) can and will fire us. But we’ve got to stand up for ourselves, too. I’ll never allow someone to speak to me like that, especially a lunatic director who likes to send a message to the rest of his set by being the biggest asshole on the planet. And by the way, the man is unfortunately a super success. But that’s advertising for you. In any other business he’d be Hitler; in the ad business, he’s Hitler in Germany.
Ever actor will have his fare share of extremely disappointing days, but I’d argue they’re necessary to make the highs that much sweeter. Bottom line: if you were told the end at the beginning, you wouldn’t have to travel.