Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Outburst and Respect for Professional Nature

In a newly published interview with Total Film, Christian Bale attempts to explain The Outburst, his four-minute tirade against a technician during the filming of a movie scene. It’s become a symbol of Hollywood ego and pretension that will be remembered long after the sequel they were working on at the time (Terminator Salvation) has been forgotten. And, whether it’s intentional or not, Bale’s attempt at an explanation will only add to the legend.

Because when asked about it, instead of talking about his own actions, Bale went on at length about how hurt he was that his profanity-laced tirade was recorded: “I’m not making any excuses, but there is an essential trust . . . every sound guy says, ‘We are not only not recording, we are not even listening.’”

All of which is nonsense, of course. It not only goes against the way a movie production works — it is not the actors, but the directors, who direct the work of the film crew — but it shows a lack of respect for the professional nature of the people he was working with.

“Professional nature”? I just mean that when people have a certain level of dedication and involvement in their work, you have to expect them to perceive and respond to situations in a way that is consistent with that. You just can’t be surprised if a police officer breaks up an argument or a race car driver mentions how worn out the tires on your car are. You don’t spill your company’s secrets to a journalist and then act surprised when they are in the paper the next day. In the same way, “trusting” sound technicians not to record sound doesn’t make any sense, all the more so in a setting where everyone’s work is wasted unless the sound is recorded. It is like saying to an actor, “I thought I could trust you to stand still and not say anything!”

Granted, there was some kind of failure, or a series of failures, that led to that recording ending up in public seven months later, but that is not the result of the microphones being plugged in on the movie set. The microphones were plugged in for the same reason that the actor was there — in order to make the movie. Really, anywhere the microphones are on, it is only prudent to act accordingly, as more than a dozen politicians have discovered in the last couple of years.

As a matter of etiquette, it is good to pay attention to where people’s livelihood comes from so that, whenever that subject comes up, you can show a basic level of respect for work involved in it. One of the worst things you can do is to show that, in your mind, the work you do is all-important, and everyone else is just screwing around. And if you do that with an astonishing degree of clarity and emphasis — well, that’s why The Outburst is the stuff of legend.