Perhaps more fearsome than this country’s incarceration system is the Hollywood punishment tool known as “director jail” or “filmmaker jail” — the purgatory where directors and auteurs go after a movie is bungled or botched. Unless you’re Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan or Spike Lee — a man, basically — the threat of director jail is prescient and weighty, with studios watching your every move to make sure you do what you can to make their budget back.
Patty Jenkins, for instance, dropped out of Thor: The Dark World for fear of director jail, returning from her long, post-Monster hiatus with the massive Warner Brothers hit about a girl who wants to have it all called Wonder Woman. Mimi Leder, a prominent director in the late ’90s and early 2000s, spent the better part of the decade directing television after her 2009 film Thick as Thieves before returning in 2018 to direct Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On The Basis of Sex (who eventually went on to kill Ginsburg in real life — I’M KIDDING).
Now people are speculating whether Olivia Wilde could wind up in director jail following the disastrous but entertaining press tour for her sophomore feature Don’t Worry Darling, which has been met with lukewarm at best reviews. The question at hand: Is this a real risk for one of Hollywood’s buzziest female directors?
Like all classic questions, the answer is both yes and no. Let’s start with the latter: director jail is often reserved for directors who make films that flop monetarily. Terrible press tours often wind up drumming up intrigue for the movie, as has been the case the past few weeks with Don’t Worry Darling; the more gaffes, the more eyes on the screen. Is what’s happening in real life as entertaining as what happens in the movie? That’s a question that can only be answered with a $17 ticket. With Don’t Worry Darling’s economical $30 million budget, it’s pretty safe to say that the film won’t straight up flop, especially if Harry Styles fans come out in full force (although it might come close to the break-even point).
Wilde does run a risk of director jail if she becomes known for being a director difficult to work with. The origin of the Pugh/Wilde feud is Pugh’s general dismay at Wilde’s handling of Shia LaBeouf — Wilde said she fired him from the movie; LaBeouf said he quit — and her subsequent relationship with his replacement, Harry Styles. A few notes on this: at the time of LaBeouf’s casting, his own reputation for being difficult to work with was so well-known that the actor himself made a movie about it. Additionally, as annoying as it is for a director and star to hook up, the reverse double-standard that’s been present for Wilde and Styles’s relationship is tedious and gross. Pugh has every right to be annoyed about it — they seem really annoying — but this is not really a point of monetary concern, nor would it really tarnish Wilde’s reputation as an actual director.
Bad press tours have rarely, if ever, stuck to actors: think of Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous I’m Still Here interview with David Letterman and his subsequent win for playing the Joker (lmao). The Fifty Shades of Grey cast members seem to be doing just fine despite openly loathing each other. Even director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who also hooked up with a much younger co-star on the set of one of her movies, has continued to work steadily on projects like the Million Little Pieces adaptation and the upcoming Amy Winehouse biopic. If anything, both of those incidents drummed up viewership for otherwise mediocre work. It’ll likely do the same here. Meanwhile, the only directors who have gone to director jail and stayed there are the ones who have also allegedly committed crimes: Brett Ratner, Bryan Singer. As far as we know, Wilde is innocent in this regard.
Regardless of what the industry “does” to Wilde, she’s already planning a self-imposed break after Don’t Worry Darling to focus on her family; she dropped out of the Kerri Strug biopic Perfect, as per Variety. Often, director jail merely amounts to an opportunity to chill out, take a break, and focus on things that are real, like whether Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine.