Q&A: Scott Rudin
EmptyWith between 50 and 60 projects in development at a given time, Scott Rudin is arguably the most prolific producer in Hollywood. And that's just counting his film work. Rudin has remained fiercely loyal to the New York theater world while establishing a track record of quality movies as well as volume. On the heels of his best picture Oscar for last year's "No Country for Old Men," Rudin has returned with two major contenders, "Doubt" and "Revolutionary Road," both adaptations of literary works (John Patrick Shanley's play and Richard Yates' novel, respectively). He would have had a third contending film, but he took his name off "The Reader" after a dispute with distributor the Weinstein Co.
The Hollywood Reporter: Generally, what do you look for in material?
Scott Rudin: Something I'm willing to spend a couple of years exploring thematically. It's not really more complicated than that. It's a long slog from the time you start working on a movie till the time you finish it, so the main thing for me is, "Am I going to remain interested in it?"
THR: You've moved away from more overtly commercial films.
Rudin: It wasn't an intentional thing; it's just where the material took me. This year, I made a Nora Ephron movie (2009's "Julie & Julia"), and I'm making a Nancy Meyers movie (still untitled). It's totally about the material. One of the things that happened in our business was that, as a result of producing the Wes Anderson movies, people started to come to us to do that kind of movie. If you make the right movies and you make them well, any movie can work.
THR: What advice would you give to another producer in terms of getting these films off the ground?
Rudin: I'm a big believer in volume. As much as I admire Saul Zaentz, Sam Spiegel, one movie every two years, three years -- I don't have the metabolism for that. One of the reasons I've been able to get a lot of movies made is because I've made a lot of movies.
THR: You do all that and theater, too. How do you construct your day?
Rudin: I get up early, work, come into the office early. I read a lot of newspapers. If I'm shooting, I'm on the set. If I'm finishing something, I'm in the cutting room. I just came from a three-hour marketing meeting at Miramax; I'm going into a meeting with a writer I've done four movies with in a few minutes. I like the feeling of my days.
THR: What do you not like?
Rudin: Pulling the money together for movies is hard. Studios now are more marketing machines than they are interested in making movies, and I understand why that is. It just makes it very hard to pull movies together. That part is no fun. I like the process of making movies and I always have, and I've been very lucky that I like it because it's the only part that actually generates any pleasure. The rest of it, you really can't control; at least that part you fundamentally can control.
THR: You exited "The Reader" just before it finished. What happened?
Rudin: I'm not going to talk about "The Reader." I'm not going talk about someone else's movie. It's a really good film, a beautifully directed movie. I really hope it works. My collaborations with Stephen Daldry are among my favorites in my life, and I am rooting for him and the movie.
THR: Patrick Goldstein wrote a column in the Los Angeles Times about how studios are bypassing producers. True?
Rudin: I don't actually think that's true. I enjoyed the column, but I don't agree. Movies come from producers; movies don't come from studios. How can you bypass producers? It's not possible. The (functions) of producers have ebbed and flowed over the years, which I think was what he really was meaning. It's a really hard time to be a producer. I don't think I'd want to be starting to be a producer right now. There are not the enormous number of opportunities that there were at other times in my career. I'm very lucky; we make consistently four or five movies a year and we have for many years. But I don't confuse that with anything other than luck.
THR: Is there any one project you haven't been able to make that you'd love to?
Rudin: I'd love to make (Michael Chabon's) "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," and I'd love to make (Jonathan Franzen's) "The Corrections." (But) the perfect storm (hasn't hit) yet. It's never just one thing. We came very close on "Kavalier & Clay" and the money wasn't there, but I also understand why the money wasn't there. I don't begrudge the people who were going to pay for it. We could not really swear up and down that we could make it for the price we'd hoped. And they smelled that and didn't go for it. As much as I thought we could do it for the price, I couldn't hand-on-heart swear we could do it. And that's a dangerous place to start a movie.
THR: What about "The Corrections"?
Rudin: Just hasn't been the right combination of director and script. It's hard to cast -- the star part is an 85-year-old man. It has problems, but I loved the book and I think it would make a great movie.
THR: Is your apartment cluttered with books?
Rudin: Yes. I've got boxes and boxes and boxes of books in storage because they won't fit in my apartment anymore.
THR: Do you have one beloved book?
Rudin: The book that has always had a huge, gigantic impact on me is Moss Hart's "Act One."
THR: You started as a studio executive. How has the job of the executive changed?
Rudin: A lot of the people who run studios now are different in terms of what their skill set is from the people who repped studios when I started. Studios weren't corporate environments the way they are now. The people who ran studios were movie people, and that is not so true anymore. There are a handful of people, but not many who are still movie people. I miss that. I think everybody misses that.
THR: You've always been very hard-charging. Have you changed at all?
Rudin: I think I've gotten more confident. There was a long period of time where my own drive was based in a level of fear. Did I really know how to do what I was doing? I don't feel that so much anymore. It's not to say that I don't make any huge mistakes, because I make huge mistakes every day. But I basically feel like I know what the job is, and I feel that, more or less, I'm in charge of the job. And that's a feeling that comes from having made a lot of films.
THR: Have you mellowed in any way?
Rudin: I think so. Also, I'm older. I was head of production at Fox when I was 26 or 27. I just turned 50 this year. It's a lot of years to be doing this. I've been working for producers since I was 15 in the theater, so I've got 35 years of looking at this job and trying to understand it. That's a lot of time.
THR: What mistakes have you learned from?
Rudin: One of the great things about producing a volume of movies is that you learn things because you see the same patterns in movies. If you make 10 movies in two or three years, you're going to learn that much faster than if you're making a movie a year. I just feel like I'm an experienced movie producer at this point, and that's a comforting thing.
THR: You're a producer who's very involved with the marketing of your films. What about the campaigns for "Doubt" and "Revolutionary Road" comes directly from your input?
Rudin: I have a basic precept, which is you should be straight with the audience about what the movie is. I like good-looking and stylish materials, but I don't believe in saying a movie is something that it isn't. One of the things we've done very well on "Revolutionary Road," for example, is we've not backed off the toughness of the movie. Movies that operate in the high-culture side of the movie business, you don't want people coming in who think it's something else. They're gonna leave disappointed.
THR: What's immediately next for you?
Rudin: We're doing Peter Weir's movie, "The Way Back"; Nancy Meyers' movie; Nora's movie opens in August; Wes Anderson's animated movie ("The Fantastic Mr. Fox"); a Cameron Crowe movie that we haven't announced yet.
THR: If you didn't produce, what would you do?
Rudin: I'm interested in all sort of corollary things: magazines, books, performing arts organizations, arts management -- you know, all the things that run alongside it. I can't imagine that I would ever be in something that wasn't related to making entertainment that was in the dialogue with the culture. I'm interested and engaged in the world, and I'm very interested in creating movies and plays that are in a relationship with the world.
THR: What would surprise people about you on a personal level?
Rudin: That I have a really good life outside of work. I don't think anybody thinks that about me, but it's really true.
THR: Have you had role models?
Rudin: For years, I've envied a handful of people I always thought were the great producers. Jed Harris. Kermit Bloomgarden. Bob Whitehead.
THR: They're all theater people, not film people.
Rudin: My experience of making entertainment or making art is really based in language. So, I'm interested in writing. If you look at the movies I've done, they're almost entirely -- many of them, I should say -- are based on books. I have a big bent toward literary fiction. It propelled me to the theater and working for people like Bloomgarden and Whitehead, who had produced (Lillian) Hellman and (Arthur) Miller and the major plays of the '40s, '50s, '60s. These guys were giants. In movies, it was (Elia) Kazan, (William) Wyler, George Stevens. Warren Beatty is someone I have an unbelievable amount of regard for, probably the best producer ever -- with no close second. You couldn't have that career now.
THR: Why not?
Rudin: Because the business has completely changed. It's not possible to coalesce the opportunities that he was able to make for himself as a filmmaker. It's unbelievable.