I’m with Bale
Apparently there was a bit of a row on the set of Terminator 4 last summer. Christian Bale blew his top at the DP, apparently for walking onto the set during a take. And now TMZ, that perfect encapsulation of our celebrity-obsessed culture, has the audio.
First impression: that audio is really clean.
Second impression: I’m siding with Bale.
Now, I wasn’t there. I don’t know what really went on. And I know a lot of people hear that audio and think “Holy shit, what a fucking diva asshole. I would never work with that dick and I’ve lost a ton of respect for him.” But quite honestly, I disagree.
Acting is hard. If you want to do it well, it’s hard. You’ve got to live in the space, you’ve got to really believe everything you’re saying every moment that the camera is on you. Worse yet, in the film world, you have to believe it in five minute chunks, aka takes. You’ve got to know your lines, take direction, make sure you’re made up, make sure you hit your marks, and maneuver around the lumbering apparatus that is a shooting crew — while simultaneously looking like you aren’t doing any of that at all. While looking like the character you’re playing a real person in a real situation.
Gary Oldman has lamented the fact that the crew gets to take hours to do their jobs, and yet he’s expected to show up, say his lines, get it right the first couple times and move on. Everybody always makes a big thing about how an actor in a biopic — whether it be Carrey in Man on the Moon or Langella in Frost/Nixon — never breaks character while on set. The fact is that this is the only way they can be sure they’re doing their job properly. If they don’t focus themselves wholeheartedly to respectful personification, it is far, far too easy in the staccato world of production to just fall into impersonation. The actor’s job is to forget that they are acting, so that you, in turn, can also forget that they are acting. Sometimes, with very complex characters, that means they have to never acknowledge they are acting as long as they are on the set, or else they will not be able to maintain the character’s reality before the cameras.
On a big-budget picture, I imagine the pressure is immense. There’s an awareness that you are burning cash at a terrifying rate just by standing there. You’ve only got the brief period between “action” and “cut” to actually focus in and put yourself in the world. You need to use that time to immerse yourself in the fantasy world of the film. Because you care about doing a good job, doing the best job. The quality of your work matters to you no matter what the project, so within the limitations you are going to cast everything out of your mind, and just be in that other world, with everything you’ve got.
So imagine, that in that brief period between “action” and “cut” that is yours, that moment you need everyone to disappear from your awareness so you can be that character, imagine that the DP goes wandering onto the set, right in your line of sight, right in the middle of the scene. And he thinks it’s okay because the camera can’t see him.
He’s showing total disrespect for your craft, to the extent that he doesn’t even seem to acknowledge that your work is important — doesn’t acknowledge that you’re even working at all. Listen to his excuse — he’s “checking the light.” You can’t wait for “cut,” guy? You can’t just look at the frigging monitor?
If you’re an actor that cares about the quality of your work, how do you NOT go apeshit over something like that?