The Coen Bros. knew, so did Denzel and everybody else.
April 7, 2021 6:09 PM   Subscribe

"Everyone Just Knows He's an Absolute Monster" Scott Rudin's ex-staffers speak out on abusive behavior.

Even as other Hollywood bullies are being sidelined, the uber-producer behind 'The Social Network' and Broadway’s 'To  Kill a Mockingbird' has been given a pass for his volcanic temper. Now, former employees open up about a boss who left many traumatized: "It was a new level of unhinged."
posted by chinese_fashion (53 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
On stories like this, I keep coming back to David Morrison's quote "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept" and I think about how many people walked past and did nothing for this to go on for so long.
posted by cadge at 6:53 PM on April 7 [57 favorites]


If this site were truly anonymous I could share worse stories than the one in this article. Working on Scott projects is one of those situations where abusive behavior gets so normalized that everyone ends up with Stockholm syndrome.
posted by roger ackroyd at 6:57 PM on April 7 [64 favorites]


"This should not happen more than once"

and yet
posted by Dashy at 7:05 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Well he sounds nice.
posted by chasing at 7:26 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


This is like so many things: shocking, but unsurprising :(
posted by tehgubner at 7:29 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


My thoughts on this are, I think, against site policy.
posted by thelonius at 8:03 PM on April 7 [10 favorites]


I'm so fucking tired of this.

I've been thinking a lot lately of a job I had years and years ago. The second-in-command (my grandboss) was a soft-spoken man who often seemed reluctant to wield the power he held. He deferred to his colleagues, went out of his way to accommodate even his most junior direct reports, and often kept silent in big meetings. I admit that for a time I thought him weak. And then one day after I had been working with him for about six months, I was in a meeting with him and a couple of other employees in his office. One of those employees, a man who was at his level in the company but from other group, made a racist remark. My grandboss stopped the conversation with a hand, looked his colleague in the eye, and said in a quiet but very firm voice, "that was inappropriate, do not say anything like that again." And then he continued with the meeting.

I didn't know decent authority could be so lightly worn; I hadn't encountered it before. Performative saintliness, yes. Braying misbehavior, yes. Keeping your head down and just getting through the day, oh absolutely yes. But this? This was a new lesson.

I hope Rudin loses his position and all his power. He's been an open secret, and we've all been putting up with him and his ilk for long enough.
posted by minervous at 8:24 PM on April 7 [128 favorites]


"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept"

Ty.
posted by firstdaffodils at 8:29 PM on April 7 [10 favorites]


So he sounds like a huge piece of shit, and the Coen Brothers can get fucked.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:37 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Where's PR Firm McGee? They know this:

The level of flexing and ego chameleoning in the film industry is absurd. To an extent, it is necessary to understand the position of other people condoning these experiences. It's an enormous part of communication. It doesn't mean the communication can't change.
posted by firstdaffodils at 8:51 PM on April 7


somebody said it a long time ago. The film industry is basically high school for grown-ups. Bullies prosper. Cliques drive things. Everybody's always horny.

Maybe we should just ban high school.
posted by philip-random at 8:56 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


So he sounds like a huge piece of shit, and the Coen Brothers can get fucked.

That's what I thought of, too. What does this say about the people able to work with a person like him?
posted by rhizome at 8:57 PM on April 7 [10 favorites]


You know who else knew about Rubin and all the other abusive dicks? Every major news outlet that covers Hollywood, all the major companies that work with the industry and scores of others associated or just mildly interested in Hollywood. The Hollywood Reporter can do this same story many more times as there is no shortage of assholes in the industry, but then again, there's no shortage of asshole in ownership or positions of power.

Maybe they could run also run some stories on their owner, Jay Penske and his family and their connections to Trump and the Republican party, the money they get from the Saudis, the pro-Trump writers they've installed in Penske's publications, and some of the "fun" they get into in their off hours:

Penske bought the ailing Variety entertainment biz sheet — he and brother Mark Penske were arrested in Massachusetts for allegedly shoving two women and urinating on their boots before attempting to break into a Nantucket Yacht Club residence (while drunk, natch). Today, the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror reports that the pair has been sentenced to 50 hours of community service and placed on pretrial probation for a year.

It's great that assholes like Rubin are shown to be the dicks they are, but you also have to keep in mind this kind of behavior infects every industry where "vision" is held as the value second only to money in importance and that concern over abuse is now weaponized and will be wielded to serve interests that aren't really about morality.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:41 PM on April 7 [26 favorites]


What does this say about the people able to work with a person like him?

a lot of these kinds of assholes are very selective about who they let see their abusive behaviors.

"One former Rudin assistant says the producer relished in the cruelty but was able to pivot from berating staff to turning on the charm as soon as talent walked in the door."

I have seen that shit happen and it is mind-boggling. It's also why he's so vindictive against anyone that speaks out against him - he's terrified that the truth is going to get to the people that he's still trying to kiss up to.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:58 PM on April 7 [25 favorites]


Or to put it a different way, for anyone familiar with Hollywood history, there's more than a little indication that the Penske owned Variety, Deadline, and Hollywood Reporter are harkening back to the Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons days of Hollywood gossip, where those in the industry learn to toe the line or get their shit brought to light, while those favored by the publications can continue to act with impunity.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:58 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


>What does this say about the people able to work with a person like him?
At an airport several years ago one of Rudin's assistants went out of their way to do me a wonderful kindness while I was in the midst of a very bad moment. We ended up next to each other on the flight and had a lovely conversation. They came across as kind, generous, and preternaturally calm. And though they didn’t want to speak ill of their boss, they made it clear that Rudin was not at all the same person to his staff as he was to his peers in the industry.
posted by theory at 11:30 PM on April 7 [21 favorites]


I wonder how super spreaders of abuse like Rudin end up corrupting and abusing thousands of people through his social network. How much more sane and healthy would Hollywood become if just a handful of the worst abusers were removed from this environment?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:34 AM on April 8 [10 favorites]


This is basically unavoidable under the hierarchical organization of work. We don't talk enough about how diminishing opportunities for decently paying work unduly empowers bosses. I've worked for at least two recently who could, and did, fire with impunity after treating people badly and having them simply refuse to be treated that way.
posted by OmieWise at 2:30 AM on April 8 [15 favorites]


I don't think the film industry has to be high school, but it is loaded with every human narrative imaginable, and some of it is certainly what it is.
posted by firstdaffodils at 2:46 AM on April 8


This is why Gibson eventually wormed his way back in, because they all do it, and his only sin was getting caught.
posted by Beholder at 3:35 AM on April 8 [9 favorites]


Let's disabuse this notion of the tortured ill-behaved lone male genius.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:25 AM on April 8 [12 favorites]


You, reading this, are culpable, if you've tolerated this kind of behaviour in any context whatsoever.
Especially if you're white, particularly if you're a cisman, and x1000 if you're a cishet white man.
Now go and sit with this discomfort, and do not attempt to defend yourself.
And swear to do better from this moment forward.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:55 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Paging Steve Jobs...
posted by dbiedny at 5:15 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


abusive behavior gets so normalized that everyone ends up with Stockholm syndrome

Relatedly, what we call "Stockholm syndrome" was actually an invention of the Stockholm police to cover for what could itself be termed abusive behavior. They responded to a bank robbery by actively escalating a hostage situation into a major threat against the hostages, including putting them into the lines of crossfire if a gunfight were to break out. When the hostages were freed, their experiences left them so disgusted that they not only refused to work with the police, they started a fundraiser to help defend the bank robbers in court. As you can imagine (especially given what we know now about police behavior), this pissed the cops off to no end, and they brought in a psychiatrist with a hard-line view against crime to basically invent a mental disorder that, to this day, has never actually been confirmed to be real.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 5:25 AM on April 8 [160 favorites]


seanmpuckett: Especially if you're white, particularly if you're a cisman, and x1000 if you're a cishet white man.

In my (thankfully relatively brief) experience of a workplace like this, being a cishet white man doesn't protect you if you've been chosen because you're vulnerable. I did end up speaking up a little bit and, more helpfully, contacting and encouraging others to contact the labour relations board anonymously, which made a bit of a difference for a little while, but I do not blame the people whose vulnerabilities were being taken advantage for keeping their mouths shut while quietly, desperately looking for other work. There's a reason that all of Rudin's assistants were under 25.
posted by clawsoon at 5:41 AM on April 8 [42 favorites]


Special thanks to Glegrinof the Pig-Man for illuminating a bogus and wildly overused and misused term. Looking forward to the day when this expression is an historical oddity that is never used in serious conversation.

Oh, and FUCK Scott Rudin, and all of his enablers.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 5:45 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


There are so many of these men, in all professions. Weinberg was known for his sexual predations but he was also known to be physically abusive.
The world needs to get past the idea that if someone "produces" their abusive behavior will be overlooked. None of us should have to work with assholes, there are plenty of good people that can "produce" too.
posted by Hutch at 6:15 AM on April 8


This is absolutely brutal. This person should be in prison.
posted by greenland at 6:45 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Dealing with people like this is often justified as the price of admission for coveted workplaces and industries. When I worked in the games industry, tolerating abhorrent behaviour from senior managers, poor working conditions and low wages was a part of the culture since anyone on the lower rungs had to fight past several dozen other applicants trying to make their break into the industry. If you couldn't tolerate it, there was always someone else to throw into the grinder, glad for the opportunity. Some people who made it up the ladder tried to make things better, others just emulated the shitty behaviour.

Ironically, I joined the games industry because I didn't have the required connections or ability to handle even worse conditions in the film & TV industry.

I have subsequently worked at places that have explicit "no dickheads, even genius ones, are tolerated" rules and they are by far better places to work. The screaming and verbal and physical abuse described in the article is not worth any "result" that is misattributed to the behaviour.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:52 AM on April 8 [13 favorites]


This is absolutely brutal. This person should be in prison.

Exactly, this isn't just "he's prone to get angry and yells a lot", the very first anecdote is about him smashing someone's hand with a computer monitor and sending them to the hospital. The article is full of stories of him throwing things at people and physically assaulting them. This guy needs to be in jail, he's a danger to everyone around him.

Relatedly, what we call "Stockholm syndrome" was actually an invention of the Stockholm police to cover for what could itself be termed abusive behavior.

The excellent podcast You're Wrong About did an episode about exactly this.
posted by star gentle uterus at 7:28 AM on April 8 [16 favorites]


The writer critiques (mildly) their own publication for an earlier profile it did on Rudin in 2010. The article.
posted by amanda at 7:30 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


since anyone on the lower rungs had to fight past several dozen other applicants trying to make their break into the industry. If you couldn't tolerate it, there was always someone else to throw into the grinder, glad for the opportunity.

Brings to mind a moment from many years ago. A feature film production I'd been involved with from the get-go was tipping into weirdly toxic territory causing me a pile of stress. I was at a dinner party and talking to a friend of a friend who'd done very well for himself in the then 'non-sexy' world of documentaries. At some point as I was regaling him with my tale of woe he shook his head and said, "Well, why do you think I chose documentaries? The people are decent in that world, actually kind of normal. One of my coworkers likens making it in the world of features to the legend of Faust. Except the devil isn't some sly character, deviously manipulating you into selling your soul for worldly gain. He's got the biggest building on the street and there's always a lineup around the block just to get in the door."

It was the 1980s.
posted by philip-random at 7:36 AM on April 8 [10 favorites]


I’m struck by what a waste of energy this idiot is. Whenever I read about these dickheads who stay at the office for 12, 14, 16 hours a day, I think, what is wrong with him that he can’t think strategically about how to have a better life? How much of his daily, weekly, annual energy was devoted to repairing the environment after his stupid man-baby temper tantrums destroyed the working atmosphere? What a waste of prior energy to dominate people you’ve trained and paid and brought up to just fire them. Clearly he wanted to leave an unemployable husk for the next guy but what a waste. How much of his net worth is garbage? What an embarrassment. What a blackhole of resources. What a waste of talent. He doesn’t work for 14 hours a day, nobody produces that much. He spent plenty of that day just sucking. I hope all his projects are cancelled from here on.
posted by amanda at 7:40 AM on April 8 [36 favorites]


Further, what a bizarre, macabre, Bosche-like world to have developed around the human delight in hearing stories. From shadow puppets on cave walls to this asshole. I don’t think we need this...to be this.
posted by amanda at 7:45 AM on April 8 [10 favorites]


it's enough to make one believe in the devil. Humans are seen to be doing something virtuous and beautiful -- he finds a way to worm his agents close to the source.
posted by philip-random at 8:56 AM on April 8


The world needs to get past the idea that if someone "produces" their abusive behavior will be overlooked.

I'm sure this is part of it, but it leaves out a lot of other reasons people tolerate abusive behaviour. There's a reason that Rudin's staff is a constant churn of under-25s: they don't have well-developed standards for professional treatment yet. There's also a macho "I can hack the abuse to get into the industry" stance that comes from non-abusive people talking about "paying your dues" and "showing hustle".

"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept" is part of it, but the Coen Brothers didn't get treated this way, and Rudin didn't act this way in front of them--abusers are good at hiding their abuse from direct sight of the wrong people. Everyone knows because of the whisper network, but it's a lot easier to walk past rumours and anecdotes than experiencing it or witnessing it yourself, especially when Rudin isn't the only missing stair.

The central problem isn't reverence for "producers", it's collective behaviour at all distances from abuse. I've never had anything as bad as Rudin's assistants, but I've had one abusive boss, and later on, a longterm client who was occasionally difficult. The first gave me triggers that the second one would set off on rare occasions. But I knew how to handle it, I was shielding others more than junior than me when it happened, and the account was (and is) very lucrative and interesting work. The client retired suddenly and I'm working with his successor, and it's like the windows have opened and sunshine is coming into the room, and I'm wondering at the choice I made to tolerate a bit of abuse over time in exchange for a lot of good work with other good people that I'm still enjoying.

Everyone comes to their own accommodation with their circumstances, and finds their own tolerance level for what they're experiencing and what they know or suspect is happening, and it's a perfect definition of a collective action problem.
posted by fatbird at 9:00 AM on April 8 [10 favorites]


For some four decades, Rudin's abusive behavior has been chronicled — even celebrated — by the press. In a 2010 profile, this publication dubbed him "The Most Feared Man in Town" and called him "dazzlingly charming" one paragraph after describing acts of cruelty and intimidation.

I like this kind of thing—such a strong indicator of how things have changed/are changing.

It's amazing what's happening in France around pedophilia, sexual abuse, sexual harassment. An astonishing shift in just a couple of years. This NYTimes article from today does a good job writing about it.

One example from the article:
There is Georges Tron, a former government minister, who was cleared in 2018 of raping an employee but was condemned in February to five years in prison in an appeals court ruling that, according to Le Monde, reflected the fact that society’s “understanding of consent has unquestionably changed.
posted by Orlop at 9:02 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]




You, reading this, are culpable, if you've tolerated this kind of behaviour in any context whatsoever.

What simplistic, reductive nonsense that ignores the complexities of abuse and trauma.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 9:21 AM on April 8 [45 favorites]


I knew a woman who'd worked for Rudin right out of college back in the mid-90s. She lasted 6 weeks and said to herself fuck this guy, and quit. He called her "weak" and she said, well, she'd live with it. She ended up working on indie films in the camera department for about 12 years until she got married and moved into another line of work in order to raise kids.

I haven't had a job yet, in or out of media production, where there wasn't at least one boss (or boss of a boss) who acted like this guy. The worst for me was in 1995; a unit production manager on a TV show who got angry at me, the office PA, because I told her that the morning bagel truck was stuck in traffic and would be late. She blamed me for the "calamity", cussed me out, and threw a ceramic mug filled with hot coffee at my head. I quit. As an apology, her husband (an editor on this show) got me a new job on another show. I never got to ask him why he put up with cleaning her messes, and was appalled to find out that they had kids.
posted by droplet at 10:06 AM on April 8 [7 favorites]


You, reading this, are culpable, if you've tolerated this kind of behaviour in any context whatsoever.


What simplistic, reductive nonsense that ignores the complexities of abuse and trauma.

I feel like that's a knee-jerk reaction to something that is fact ... an uncomfortable and necessary-to-face fact. And also there are other traumatized people here... it's trauma all the way down. You can be both complicit and too traumatized to have done anything about it.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:42 AM on April 8 [8 favorites]


There's a reason that Rudin's staff is a constant churn of under-25s: they don't have well-developed standards for professional treatment yet.

That's logical--I certainly put up with a lot of crap when I was younger that I wouldn't put up with today--but probably the worst boss that I've ever had was one in the mid-aughts, when I was newly divorced, bankrupt, and struggling with my alcoholism. They seemed to know how vulnerable I was, and made absolutely no bones about exploiting and manipulating me. It wasn't until after I left that I realized that they had already been put on notice for their behavior and probably would have been in even worse trouble had the people that they answered to been aware of what they did. (In retrospect, the best that they ever treated me was when I told them that I was looking for work elsewhere.) "Tolerated" is maybe not the best way to describe "putting up with while vigorously but futilely pursuing work elsewhere", and maybe those who are seeking to assign culpability might look around themselves for a spare crumb of compassion.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:34 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept" is part of it, but the Coen Brothers didn't get treated this way, and Rudin didn't act this way in front of them--abusers are good at hiding their abuse from direct sight of the wrong people.

I'm reminded of a book I read, by a prison psychiatrist, who observed that many of his patients had histories of perpetrating domestic violence and explained this to him as being unable to control themselves. He observed that most of them seemed to have no trouble controlling themselves around larger, more violent inmates, or around prison guards.
posted by atrazine at 11:42 AM on April 8 [31 favorites]


The two things are not incompatible. They weren’t controlling themselves under threat, they were being controlled. It’s hard to be more controlled than being an inmate in an American prison. Not to defend that argument for incarceration.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:17 PM on April 8


I'm thinking of a recent Ask where an obviously miserable, struggling person was asking about a job situation that sounded an awful lot like this. More than a few responses were about how the OP must obviously be in law/marketing, and that was just the way things were, and if they wanted to keep the job they should basically get used to the poison and abuse. It was dispiriting to see any people being like "shrug, you get used to it, it is what it is."
posted by kitten kaboodle at 1:28 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


That AskMe was completely different. There is a big difference between people being a little abrupt when mistakes get made (although I think adults who can't control their emotional responses towards co-workers are pathetic) and routinely assaulting your staff.
posted by atrazine at 1:40 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


atrazine: I'm reminded of a book I read, by a prison psychiatrist, who observed that many of his patients had histories of perpetrating domestic violence and explained this to him as being unable to control themselves.

Was the book Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men?
posted by clawsoon at 4:02 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


The control question is a standard and good diagnostic question: who is it that you ARE able to control yourself around?
posted by OmieWise at 2:27 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]


One particularly insidious manner in which we all, as a society, enable abuse is illustrated by the way we seem to have read this:

> You, reading this, are culpable, if you've tolerated this kind of behaviour in any context whatsoever.
> Especially if you're white, particularly if you're a cisman, and x1000 if you're a cishet white man.


and marched straight over to characterizing all of the "you"s targeted by this statement as vulnerable 25 yr olds. It's as if we cannot tolerate a moment of introspection and discomfort about the abuse we might have helped to hide when we were not vulnerable or 25, that we might be enabling right now when we are no longer vulnerable or 25 anymore.

I know, I know, I really fucking know how thorny it is to even put this toe across the line of prescribing a set of "correct" or "moral" behaviors to victims or witnesses of abuse. So let's not. Let's have this discussion very carefully in a spirit of curiosity and NOT BLAME.

I myself have kept secrets about the identities of people who have been abusive to me. Even years after the fact. Even when it would cost me nothing, really, to be honest and open about the harm they did. I mean, it would be weird perhaps to randomly call them out in public out of nowhere but it wouldn't be weird at all to talk about them by name when the general question of such behavior in society comes up in a discussion. But I don't.

And I really do think it's worth asking myself, why not? And also: who is being harmed, and whose abuse is being enabled, by my keeping these secrets? I have at least *some* power to potentially prevent harm to others, and I am not using this power. It makes sense to ask myself why not, carefully and kindly and gently, in a spirit of curiosity not blame.

If we make this unspeakable, abusers are the only ones who benefit. We have to be braver about making the unspeakable open to discussion. What is it that keeps us silent long after youth and vulnerability have expired as excuses for our silence? Who have you ever protected with your silence, and why?
posted by MiraK at 4:07 PM on April 9 [7 favorites]


There's a reason that Rudin's staff is a constant churn of under-25s: they don't have well-developed standards for professional treatment yet.

It goes way beyond how they or their peers are treated. I noticed this first when it was something relatively new to read accounts of Microsoft courting recent college grads. The Internet companies and the Hollywood producers both prey on these people to define the entire industry in existing terms, since a wide-open and undefined market is how they disrupted the previous century of business machines. It's pulling the ladder up, and it's anchoring, and it's why so many Xooglers and Xacebookers and Xahoo!s try to get the band back together and repeat what they've done before. I've known people who had been around the corporate block more than me and they could look at a startup's technology stack and make a very good guess as to the past employer(s) of the CTO.

Bringing this home, Hollywood has to be similar: the bad behavior you--let's say--walk past, is a pedigree, throwing things will say that you worked for X, hiring only women from university A marks you as a former assistant to Y, and likewise, and this becomes the structure of the industry. "Get 'em young and malleable."

It's like building a house and saying, "No, those stairs are missing on purpose. Have you never seen Century City Revival architecture?"
posted by rhizome at 7:41 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


What is it that keeps us silent long after youth and vulnerability have expired as excuses for our silence? Who have you ever protected with your silence, and why?

I assume it's self protection because we see what happens when a woman stands up and says that a man did this to her.

I don't know what I'll do if/when this ever happens to me, but I suspect I'd stay silent so nothing worse would happen to me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:12 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Or milk it until you can convince them to throw a stapler at your head before leaving with a settlement.
posted by rhizome at 8:29 PM on April 9


Looks like it's catching up with him a little.
posted by leslies at 10:25 AM on April 18


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