The beauty of being a director is that you can get killer screen time without the hassle of actually knowing how to act. Being a good director, however, is knowing not to haphazardly stick yourself in your films – at least not unless you’re Spike Lee or Woody Allen. Really it’s all about identifying your limitations.
So here are some neat ways that a director opted to show up in their film without taking the spotlight at the same time. These are creative little cameos that you might never notice in a million years of watching.
10. Stanley Kubrick Voices Murphy in Full Metal Jacket
This one appears to be a topic of debate. Even the IMDb trivia page only says this is probably true – which is pretty amazing coming from one of the least substantial sources of movie trivia. It does sound like Kubrick though – not that I’m an expert or anything.
Here’s the scene. Right near the ending, Cowboy is radioing in for support and supposedly it’s Kubrick on the other end of that communication. While there seems to be debate about other cameos the director may have made in his films – this one does appear to be more confirmed than the rest, along with two brief on-screen appearances in Eyes Wide Shut and his first film Day Of The Fight.
Overall he’s like the Bigfoot of director cameos – a lot of rumors but very little factual information.
9. Bryan Singer is the Real Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects
Probably less of a cameo-by-choice and more of a cameo-by-necessity, Bryan Singer was working on a budget of about $6m and found himself working with limited sets and time. So at some point in this production he found himself shooting in his own backyard. He shot 30 close up shots in this manner, including Keyser Soze’s hands and feet as he leaves the boat in the opening scene. So Singer just stood in for the infamous character.
It’s funny how quickly and clumsily you can bang out a classic so long as the script is good. This entire shoot took 35 days to do – often marred with various unexpected surprises along the way such as the actors’ inability to keep straight faces during the lineup scene or Benicio del Toro’s decision to go with a less-than-understandable speech style. All of the little imperfections in the end coming together to make the film seem a little more organic and natural – like a woodcarving or a drunken homemade tattoo.
8. Carol Reed as Harry Lime’s Fingers in The Third Man
This is no doubt another case of necessity over choice – after all, if you got Orson Welles on your set you don’t waste time with shooting his fingers, especially since he’d be a voodoo zombie at this point. And no doubt Zombie Welles would be as difficult to work with as when he was alive.
The story is that when Reed was shooting in Vienna he had pretty much prepared to shoot around Welles’ reluctance, enlisting then-assistant (and later Bond director) Guy Hamilton to double for any of the shadowy shots of Harry Lime. When Welles showed up he was instantly reluctant in playing the role, especially turned off by the thought of running around in the sewers. However when Reed coaxed him into doing just one shot, it was apparently enough to make him enthusiastic enough to continue on.
It really goes to show that getting down into the sewer is most of the battle – once you’re down there it’s a blast, kids.
7. Steven Spielberg Watches The News in The Lost World
While Spielberg has no problem showing up in Vanilla Sky or Austin Powers or Gremlins, he doesn’t seem to appear very often in his own films. He did provide the voice of the radio operator in Jaws, but other than that nothing else really comes to mind.
His appearance in the second Jurassic Park is so hard to notice that even when you know it’s there you still have trouble seeing it. It’s right at the end when Sarah and Malcolm are all dinosaured out and slumped in front of the TV, and for just a moment in the reflection you see the bearded wonder right in between them. They say he is eating popcorn as well – but you can’t really tell just from looking at it.
6. James Cameron Can’t Stop Talking in All Of His Films
It’s kind of a bummer that James Cameron apparently has nothing but Avatar on his mind because, as we’ve seen in the past, he’s really good at making movies that aren’t Avatar. Like, when you think about it, he’s been consistently fun as a director up until he started giving us big blue CGI cats – and even that wasn’t horrible, right? But now that he’s done the naked aliens, it would be nice to see him move on to another action film or something.
Anyway, that’s not the point – the point is that, as that montage shows, Cameron apparently can’t stop talking in all of his movies. Dude has to stick his voice in somewhere – whether it be a hotel receptionist in The Terminator or the goddamn Queen Alien in Aliens. He is even the T1000 dying at the end of T2.
But hey – if you had a chance to voice a killer robot or egg laying xenomorph you’d take it to – so you can’t really fault him for it. After all, there are plenty of other things to fault Cameron for at this point.
5. Kevin Smith Has the Last Word in Red State
It seems weird that anyone would have a bone to pick with Kevin Smith. Like his work or hate his work – it’s hard not to respect someone who speaks honestly so consistently about every facet of their career and life. Even when stuff like his terrible Sundance speech comes up, he usually is able to own up to it all in retrospect. Still – it’s pretty irritating that someone can make a living filming dick and fart gags with their friends and that person not be me.
Red State worked for some and not for others, but was clearly a film that this director needed to make. It’s not like the others, and yet it still feels like a Smith film in its dialogue and (occasional) humor.
The cameo in question is directly contrary to most of Smith’s previous roles in that we hear him but do not see him. During the last shot of the film, as the amazing Michael Parks does his thing as the horrifyingly charming preacher crazy in his cell, Smith pipes in with a final “Shut the fuck up.” It’s something we’ve waited the entire film to hear someone say.
4. Ridley Scott Doubles as a Facehugger in Alien
It’s a classic case of not overcomplicating the task at hand. During this introductory scene, John Hurt’s character stumbles upon a nasty batch of alien eggs – only to decide to stick his face right at one. The result is a sweet spider mask, followed by a nifty ribcage realignment.
For the part where we first see the facehugger squirming around in the egg – Scott opted to just stick his rubber gloved hands inside a fiberglass egg and wiggle them things around. That’s what we are seeing there – probably the laziest hand puppet ever seen in a film. But it worked, so whatever.
The simplicity of the effect was kind of a running theme – for later one when they had to dissect the little bugger it was only a matter of laying out some shellfish and various fish guts to get the desired look, proving once and for all that seafood is disgusting.
3. Ang Lee is The Hulk
Everyone hates this film but me, and I’m starting to think that perhaps I’m on the wrong side of history. Still – big green dude jumping around like a freak – I just don’t see the downside of it all. Who cares if it looked ridiculous? The Hulk is ridiculous.
Anyway – quality aside, Ang Lee apparently had some anger issues during the making of this film. You see – along with several other performers, the director contributed his rage to the Hulk’s motion capture performance – apparently channeling his future frustration and regret with the movie into the big green monster’s angst.
The apparent problem retrospectively evident to the director was that he took the film “too seriously” and should have had more fun with it as opposed to “all the psychodrama.” Holy hell, if the director is reflecting on his process as “psychodrama,” you know that had to be a fun time for the production assistants.
2. Sam Raimi Can’t Stop Abusing Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man
Raimi is the sadistic big brother of movie directors, and while he’s made physical appearances in his own films, it’s his off-camera abuse that really stands out. See, it’s one thing when you’re swinging branches into Bruce Campbell’s face because well – that’s his friend. But when you are constantly whacking Tobey Maguire with shit it becomes a whole different beast – or so you’d think. Turns out that Maguire seems to be no stranger to big brother-type abuse, and takes the hits with the greatest of tolerance.
For example – the scene in Spider-Man 2 where Pete bends down to get his stuff and is slammed in the head by a backpack, guess who’s the one doing the slamming? Or later when gold coins are flying left and right during the bank robbery? How about the first film where Pete is being pummeled by popcorn during the wrestling match? This is all Sam Raimi’s handiwork. The guy deals out abuse so often that Wikipedia files it under “recurring trademarks” & “motifs” – right next to his rapid POV shots.
1. Alfred Hitchcock Manages to Stick Himself in Lifeboat
He really was the Waldo of movie directors. Appearing in 39 of his 52 films, spotting Hitchcock became such a fun game that the director actually started making a note to stick himself into each film no later than 30 minutes as to not distract his viewer. It makes you wonder about those other 13 films he did not appear in, and some poor jackass desperately trying to find a man who isn’t there.
For Lifeboat, it was a bit of a challenge. You see, as the name might have tipped you off, the entire film takes place on a lifeboat. Not many opportunities for an overweight Englishman to pass by unnoticed – although it would have been some fantastic balls had he just rowed by in the background.
No – the answer was sticking himself in a newspaper ad for “Reduco Obesity Slayer,” which just so happens to be the name of my 6th level dwarf character in Dungeons and Dragons.