So here's a rundown of 15 examples -- there are more of course, but when you consider the clashing egos and sometimes uncomfortable hierarchies involved in high-level filmmaking, what's maybe most amazing is that it doesn't happen every single time.
What Movie: "Maidstone"(1970)
What Went Down: Well, you can dodge a wrench and you can dodge a dodgeball, but you can't dodge Rip Torn coming at you with a hammer. This Norman Mailer-directed oddity (third of a trio of films creakily “experimental” enough to cure anyone of any nostalgia for late ‘60s avant-garde filmmaking) concerns a film director, Kingsley (played by Mailer himself), who is also a presidential candidate, and his brother-in-law and would-be assassin (Rip Torn). With Torn apparently hating Mailer’s directorial diktats and a final assassination scene unwritten as filming began, he took it upon himself to attack Mailer with a hammer -- whether in a fit of actorly improvisation or hazy rage is not quite clear. Mailer retaliated by biting Torn’s ear, and the ensuing brawl in its inglorious, awkward, unscripted detail, was all captured on camera. If anything, from there on it all gets even more stilted with the pair back-and-forthing-ing labored "barbs" but frequently stopping to pant and trade ferociously testosterone-y glares, only undercut by Torn's frequent use of the word "baby."
Choice Quote: “... I don’t want to kill Mailer but I must kill Kingsley in this picture” -- Rip Torn in "Maidstone"
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: On this occasion, you can judge for yourself as the scene in its entirety made it into the film, despite the actors using each other’s real names, and Mailer’s wife and children and another few bystanders interrupting the tiff.
For our money, despite infamous run-ins with the law elsewhere, and despite undoubtedly being the instigator here, Torn actually comes out rather better of the scene (“You know I had to do it, baby”) because at least he’s not the one responsible for the mess of a movie this fight rounds off.
What Movie: "The Birds" (1963)
What Went Down: Even in an industry as self-obsessed as filmmaking, it’s rare that the story of a director’s troubled relationship with a star itself becomes a fit subject for a feature. But last year’s BBC-produced “The Girl” did just that (review here) taking a look at the dark side of the Master of Suspense in terms of his oppressive and obsessive relationship with “The Birds” and “Marnie” star Tippi Hedren. Especially on the former film, we’re told, Hitch essentially terrorized the neophyte Hedren, if not with repeated exhausting and frightening takes featuring real birds then with his unwanted sexual attentions. This after he had locked her into a restrictive contract that saw him basically control her career immediately thereafter.
Choice Quote: “To be the object of someone’s obsession is horrible.” -- Tippi Hedren
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Hedren FTW. Of course, it’s a little unfair as Hitchcock isn’t around to respond, and for sure the movie version may have exaggerated for dramatic effect, but there seems little doubt that as grateful as Hedren should be for Hitch giving her a career, she has grounds for great bitterness at how he curtailed it, and how he treated her on set too.
What Movie:"Batman Forever" (1995)
What Went Down: Kilmer-behaving-like-a-dick tales are legion, but what we like about this one is that it casts director Joel Schumacher in the unlikely role of champion of the working man and defender of decency and justice -- rather like the certain superhero Kilmer was playing at the time. Having heard stories of Kilmer’s high-handed treatment of those lower in the on-set pecking order before, Schumacher witnessed one instance too many, and gave Kilmer a dressing-down of his own. Apparently Kilmer then refused to talk to him for two weeks which Schumacher described cheekily as “blissful.” Schumacher was reportedly also none too impressed by Tommy Lee Jones’ attitude, suggesting he was threatened by Jim Carrey. Carrey, however, was “a gentleman”
Choice Quote: "I'm tired of defending overpaid, overprivileged actors. I pray I don't work with [Kilmer and Jones] again." -- Joel Schumacher in an EW interview worth a rueful chuckle now for being from just before he started filming on franchise-killer "Batman and Robin."
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Oh Schumacher, no doubt. Not just less of a dick, but a bit of a legend. Shame about the films.
What Movie: "American History X" (1998)
What Went Down: If Kaye is to be believed, he never wanted Norton for his now-iconic role of ex-neo-Nazi Derek, but stuck with him due to what the filmmaker later labelled unreasonable demands by New Line (this will be a pattern). Still, things started off okay, with Kaye letting Norton work with the screenwriter on the script, before shooting wildly for 43 days, and amassing nearly 200 hours of footage. And the rough cut he assembled for that delighted the studio and Norton alike -- but not Kaye who re-edited it into a much shorter cut that the other parties hated (shorter=worse? see how topsy-turvy this story is?) Norton claims that his input into the edit was really more about reassembling the rough cut than anything more creative, but Kaye, while still at this stage working on the edit too, took out a series of cryptic ads in the trades, referring obliquely to back stabbing. Despite this, New Line gave him a further 8 weeks to work alone on his preferred cut, but when at that deadline he showed up with no edit and a monk, a priest and a rabbi at the meeting, their patience, rather understandably, ended. They decided to release the studio cut, and Kaye tried to remove his name, but Alan Smithee rules state that the director must not have badmouthed his film in public before he can use the pseudonym. So his name stayed on, and the Tony Kaye enfant terrible/art provocateur legend grows. This is a guy who was believably rumored to have taken a dump in a gallery and called it art, after all. But the real thing that sets this story apart from some James Franco-esque art/life/manufactured controversy experiment is the quality of the disputed film at its heart.
Choice Quote: "It's good enough to fool New Line. And it's certainly fooling Edward Norton. But it doesn't fool me. My standards are a lot higher." -- Tony Kaye
"Let's not make any mistake: Tony Kaye is a victim of nothing but his own professional and spiritual immaturity. Period." -- Edward Norton in the same 1998 EW article
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Edward Norton. His befuddlement over why the hell Kaye would want to remove his name from so excellent a film mirrors our own. But then, that’s our low standards, we guess. It should be noted that fences were subsequently mended a bit.