In 2020, Christopher Nolan began trending online after rumours swirled that the Tenet director previously enforced a rule against people sitting down on his sets. Nolan's chair ban ultimately proved false, but people are now turning to another director who has also unintentionally outed himself for creating harsh conditions on set: Zack Snyder.
While doing press for his new zombie blockbuster Army of the Dead, Snyder revealed that he had certain rules on set to ensure that filming of the Netflix production went according to his vision. On an episode of The Playlist’s Fourth Wall podcast, Snyder (who served as the film’s director, cinematographer, and camera operator) shared that he had actually banned chairs from the set.
“There’s no sitting down,” he explained. “Like, I banned chairs from the set. But the nice thing is, it’s really intimate. I can just talk to the actors right there, I’m not back in a monitor across the room. It was definitely the most purely engaged I’ve been making a movie.”
It's unclear whether Snyder banned chairs for everyone or if he just restricted the usage of chairs in his video village. (Refinery29 has reached out to Snyder and Netflix for comment.) Still, while the decision to prevent people from sitting down was likely meant as a way of bringing the production together (or just a joke), it feels like a potentially thoughtless move for several reasons. The first is the most obvious critique: Not allowing chairs on set is very clearly ableist. For people with disabilities or health issues, visible or otherwise, it renders the set inaccessible, and exclusionary. But even beyond that, being so flippant about forcing an environment in which people have to be uncomfortable is just really bad practice. Even if Snyder only banned chairs for himself, as a director, he needs to recognise that he leads by example — if he doesn't sit, others may not feel like they're allowed to do so.
For years, Hollywood has lionised auteurs, directors with vision who are willing to do anything to realise it. But little attention has yet been paid to the cost those around them sometimes pay in order for that perfect shot or snappy scene to come to be. Of course, some cases are more extreme than others. Recently, Joss Whedon, who replaced Snyder as the director of Justice League (2017) following a personal tragedy in Snyder's family, was accused of being very abusive on the set of the superhero flick. Ray Fisher (Cyborg/Victor Stone in the film) made headlines when he publicly called Whedon out for his behaviour, revealing that the director had been aggressive with the cast throughout the production — a claim later backed by his co-stars Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot — and that Warner Bros. and DC Films enabled his power trip despite multiple internal complaints. Whedon has yet to address these claims directly, but he did deny Fisher's additional assertions that he'd altered the skin tone of one of the actors of colour in Justice League during post-production.
People from other projects Whedon had worked on began to share their harrowing experiences with him as well; the cast of his vampire series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel also claimed that Whedon had created a toxic working environment in the 1990s and early 2000s. Whedon did not comment on the allegations.
While Snyder's ableist chair ban isn't at all on the same level as Whedon's alleged abuse on set, both exist in a continuum in which the industry allows creatives — often white and male — to fulfill their vision at the expense of their cast and crew, because of their talent. There's a clear line between being incredibly passionate about one's work and being abusive, and yet, so many men in Hollywood have been allowed to cross that line time and time again, getting new opportunities to create even after accounts of their misdeeds go public.
During the filming of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula adaptation, Winona Ryder said that the director shouted wicked insults at her behind the camera to make sure a crying scene would be believable. David O. Russell reportedly made Amy Adams cry every single day while shooting American Hustle, and a video of the director berating veteran Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees went viral. Alfred Hitchock famously insisted on frightening his stars with vicious pranks. And Lars Von Trier, a self-described "Nazi," has a reputation of being especially hostile to the women cast in virtually every film he's made. Somehow, all of these men are still considered geniuses and mavericks within their field.
Snyder's statement comes on the heels of the release of the fabled Snyder Cut of Justice League on HBO Max. The four-hour run-time may have reversed some of the sexism of the original, but the very decision to release it at all was the result of a toxic campaign by the director's fans, obsessed with the idea of seeing his vision finally realised.
From the way he so cavalierly dropped it in conversation, Snyder likely views his chair ban as a quirk, an inoffensive way to make sure that he gets the most out of a day on set. But ultimately, it proves that even as some people within Hollywood try to reshape the space to be safer and more equitable, ingrained attitudes about artistic genius are much harder to change.