5 of the Most Notoriously Difficult Movie Directors

From the initial stages of development to distribution, filmmaking is not only a long process but one that is rife with potential hiccups, defining choices and the nuances associated with any art form, which can make a film great or simply passable. From establishing a relationship with the actors to setting a scene for maximum effect, the picture that is eloquently painted for use on the big screen is often the result of the finest of calculations to prevent it from falling into the morass of forgettable films.

While the unique and complicated art of filmmaking requires the right kind of person, there have been a number of filmmakers throughout history that have not only become well known for their films but for the strange and sometimes difficult quirks that distinguish them. Whether its from the particularity of their vision to the eccentricity that can precede greatness, some of the larger-than-life figures in filmmaking have taken a few liberties with the concept of artistic license in their drive towards perfection.

From director Stanley Kubrick, who was so intent on his own vision that he often wrote, produced and directed his own films, to the well known Danish hellion Lars von Trier who has created much recent controversy for his 2013 film Nymphomaniac and its gratuitous sex scenes, there are many directors who have exacted a toll. While the movies they've made put them in good company, they also have a reputation that trails notoriously behind their catalog of films.

5 David Fincher

American film director David Fincher has given rise to some of the most acclaimed movies of the past 20 years while also becoming known for some of the directorial quirks he’s acquired while honing his craft. Born on August 28, 1962, Fincher was early inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which led the 8-year old Fincher to take up the art of movie making with his own 8 mm camera. While Fincher rejected the customary film school route, opting instead to get his education on film sets, he started out by directing a variety of advertisements and music videos before he became the director behind Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999) and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011).  With Fincher’s notable successes come the quirks that now define him, including many directed scenes on the set of 2007’s Zodiac requiring up to 70 takes, which likely inspired actor Jake Gyllenhaal to say that Fincher “paints with people…it’s tough to be a color.” While Fincher’s ethos seems inseparable from the darkness of some of his movie projects, his reputation as a director who demands the hardest of work from his actors, and tests their stamina and patience, has won him nominations for Best Director at the Academy Awards for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and The Social Network (2010).

4 Stanley Kubrick

Considered among the greats of the filmmaking world, Stanley Kubrick, born on July 26, 1928, started out as a photographer before he vaulted into the role of film director and taught himself everything he needed to know about the craft. While Kubrick’s long career gave life to hallmarks in filmmaking like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), he went to extensive lengths to make his films his own, often directing, writing and producing them so they were the closest representation of his own particular vision. Kubrick may be much revered as a filmmaker, but his high demands often meant both actors and crew alike were vulnerable to an ever-changing schedule and an intense work effort, a reputation that has actually given Kubrick the record for the most takes required for a single scene at 148 times for The Shining. While Kubrick had a knack for demanding the best, he has received numerous award nominations for movies like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and A Clockwork Orange (1971), which are often considered masterpieces of modern cinema.

3 Terrence Malick

Born on November 30, 1943, Terrence Malick is an American film director that has been a fixture in the Hollywood film industry for more than four decades. While Malick started out as a philosophy teacher at M.I.T. and worked as a freelance journalist, his illustrious career in film started in 1969 after which he went on to make films like The Thin Red Line (1994) and The Tree of Life (2011). Known as a perfectionist, Malick has often been accused of significantly reducing an actor’s performance in a film or even cutting it out completely without letting them know, and some very famous actors have suffered the boon of Malick’s cuts. The director’s own high standards have also led to many missed deadlines and stretched out timelines that have caused past crewmembers to walk off the set before completion. Though Malick’s unwillingness to be in front of the camera has fed the mystery that surrounds him, staying behind the lens has led to Academy Award nominations for Best Director for The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life, as well as a Golden Bear win at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival.

2 Lars von Trier

Raised by parents that refused to mete out discipline to their children but didn't indulge much in the commonplace opiates of religion and emotional expression, Trier, born on April 30, 1956, found his future outlet of filmmaking when he was gifted with a Super-8 camera at age 11. While Trier gained notoriety for his seemingly arrogant personality when he was attending the National Film School of Denmark, his 1983 film Images of Liberation became the first film in the school’s history to receive a theatrical release and launched Trier into his directing career. Quite open about his struggles with depression, Trier has identified filmmaking as the only thing he is not afraid of, saying that actors “are the only thing that stand between you and a good film.” Trier’s notorious difficulties even inspired musician Bjork, who worked on the 2000 film Dancer in the Dark, to say that she would never act again, most notably due to her on-set experiences with Trier. While Trier has shocked the masses with his depiction of a woman sabotaging her genitalia in Antichrist and his gratuitous sex scenes in Nymphomaniac, he has also received great acclaim for his achievements in films like Melancholia (2011) and Dogville (2003).

1 Werner Herzog

Born on September 5, 1942, German director Werner Herzog is among the most prized figures of New German cinema and has more strange anecdotes to go along with his name than almost any other filmmaker in history. Growing up in Munich, Germany, Herzog was inspired early on by the encyclopaedia entry for filmmaking which led him to steal a 35mm camera, kick-starting the revolution that would give creation to films like Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). While Herzog’s films have garnered him numerous accolades, he’s gained a reputation for being at the top of the eccentric elite for incidents that include forcing film extras to drag a 320 tonne steamboat over a mountain top in Peru to having crews out on the soon-to-erupt La Soufrière volcano to document the local that refused to evacuate. It’s even said that Herzog forced actor Klaus Kinski to complete Aguirre Wrath of God (1972) by threatening him at gunpoint when Kinski threatened to leave production. While working on a Herzog film might seem like an act of unbending faith, the man himself has never been hesitant to put himself in danger, from cooking and eating his own shoe after losing a bet to carrying on with a BBC interview in 2006 after being shot by an air rifle, insisting instead that “it was not a significant bullet. I am not afraid."

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