THR's Roundtable Series kicks off with superproducers including Jason Blum, Eric Fellner, Seth Rogen and Ridley Scott debating tough decisions, surprise successes and sexual harassment in Hollywood: "No, I don't think [Weinstein]'s an outlier."
"It's a tragic situation for our industry," says Amy Pascal, addressing the Harvey Weinstein-sized elephant in the room at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Producer Roundtable on Oct. 7 in Hollywood.
It's been only two days since the first sexual harassment and assault allegations against Weinstein were reported by The New York Times, followed by more shocking claims in The New Yorker and from dozens of women since, and the 59-year-old onetime Sony Pictures chief and now producer (Molly's Game, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Post) has joined five of her peers for a discussion about filmmaking, politics and, yes, the shame of sexual harassment.
"This is a bad dude," says Seth Rogen (The Disaster Artist), 35, adding that he decided after filming 2008's Zack and Miri Make a Porno never to work with Weinstein again. But with a legend at the table like Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World, Blade Runner 2049, Murder on the Orient Express), 79, a disrupter in horror king Jason Blum (Get Out), 48, and two of Hollywood's most prolific producers — Judd Apatow (The Big Sick), 49, and Working Title's Eric Fellner (Baby Driver, Darkest Hour and Victoria and Abdul), 58 — the discussion touches on all the thrills and frustrations of modern filmmaking, from the granular (how did Baby Driver sync up all those songs?) to the grand. "Movies absolutely can change or push a conversation," notes Fellner, "but only if they're good."
Eric, music was so central to Baby Driver. Were the songs included in the script?
FELLNER Yeah. The script was on an iPad. It was quite expensive in development. We were sending iPads everywhere.
BLUM We could make a movie for the cost of sending that script out.
PASCAL You had to listen to the music as you were reading.
FELLNER When you got to a scene, you just tapped the header and the music played as you were reading.
ROGEN That's more complicated than any movie I've made.
FELLNER Of all 50 songs Edgar [Wright, the director] had chosen, only one changed. We preapproved them all before we started shooting.
SCOTT What was the song bill?
FELLNER Substantially less than you would think. The only reason we've ever been able to make the varied amount of films we make at Working Title is by keeping the cost low. Being based in London helps that enormously. I shouldn't say it on camera, but you negotiate through the international rights holders. We had a brilliant lady who does all our clearances.
I want to get into Harvey Weinstein and harassment in Hollywood. What responsibility does the industry have for this type of behavior?
APATOW It's a difficult question because there is a culture of paying off people. If you're sexually inappropriate with somebody, they think, "Oh, if I speak up, am I suddenly a pain in the ass to everyone else in show business and I'll never work again?" And then Harvey's like, "Here's 150 grand, and I won't mention it to anybody." That's why it lasts for decades, because it's like a perfect system. We all hear all these rumors: "He does this, he does that." But we didn't see it. So it's hard to say, "Let's go get him," because we're not a part of it. It's unfortunately up to the people that are truly aware of it. Someone was writing those checks and somebody knew and those people on the inside, when they're quiet also, it goes on for decades and decades. But it's not hard to not be a creep. We all work in this business. It's very easy not to act like that. You can respect women. It's easy. It's demented not to. And hopefully the industry as a whole is getting fed up.
ROGEN I worked with him once a decade ago, and I was like, "This is a bad dude. I'm never going to work with him ever again." And everyone is just like, "Yeah!" But they still do. People would say to me, when I would refuse to work with him, "You know, he's old-school." And there is kind of a wink and an acceptance of that type of behavior. A lot of Hollywood people also like the fact that we work in a business that doesn't have the same rules as other businesses, and they're kind of free to have varying personalities. That ultimately also allows people to excuse a lot of horribly inappropriate behavior that shouldn't be acceptable.
Do you think Harvey's an outlier?
PASCAL No, I don't think that he is an outlier. And I think that's probably why a lot of people haven't spoken up, because I don't think that you can throw bricks at glass houses. Some of the problem is that people really believed that they'd get hurt. And it's a tragic situation for our business. The women who stood up have to be applauded because that's really, really hard to do when nobody wants to stand up, and the silence is deafening. That's the part that we're responsible for.
ROGEN There's just a lot of people who, for lack of a better word, are pieces of shit, and people just keep working with them. Because they're just like, "Well, it's a necessary evil. It's what you got to do."
PASCAL And you can make money.
ROGEN Yeah, you can make money. And like, I don't work with those people. Again, I said 10 years ago I'd never work with him. I knew nothing about any of this stuff, but it's not surprising at all. So more people need to do that. It's nice that I'm in a position where I'm successful enough to say I don't want to work with someone, 'cause a lot of people aren't in that position. But it is up to those [who are] to not work with those people and to shun them and to let people know that it's not acceptable.
What's the best advice that each of you has received about working in the industry?
BLUM Mine was recent, actually. There's this book called Ego Is the Enemy.
ROGEN I disagree with that. (Laughter.)
BLUM So there's this whole chapter in the book, which says passion is the enemy. Obviously I don't totally believe that, but it's a funny idea, and it rung very true to me. There is something really to the notion of being pragmatic. The first eight movies I produced, I wasn't passionate about the script. I read a script that I thought I could get made. And now, luckily, we're all in the position where we do things that we love. But to those starting out, I'm going to say, put passion over here for a second and be pragmatic.
PASCAL You always have a choice between your ambition and your ego. And you have to be very clear which one you're choosing all the time, because it's really hard not to choose your ego. And it doesn't work.
APATOW I'm trying to think of the best advice I've given. I remember when we were making Superbad with Seth, I think my advice was, "Less jizz, more heart."
ROGEN Yeah! (Laughter.)
APATOW It's an odd encapsulation of years working for Garry Shandling, whom I'm making a documentary about. Everything for him was about getting to the truth of people and being authentic. Garry didn't make an enormous amount of things in his life. He did great stand-up, a couple of specials and like two series that changed television. He did things that he cared deeply about. He wanted to make things that would make the world a better place, make people think, make people happier, make people in some way try to connect with other people. And so I have always thought about what Garry would do and how he made decisions.
FELLNER I think Stephen Frears gave Judi Dench that exact note. (Laughter.)
ROGEN Less jizz, more heart?
FELLNER Less jizz, more heart. She went with it, and it worked.
Eric, do you have a great piece of advice you've received?
FELLNER I think it was Hitchcock — he didn't tell me but somebody told me, and I've really focused on it for the last 10, 15 years: It's the ending. It's all about the last five, 10 minutes, just in terms of audience, the way they go out of the cinema and talk about the movie and give word-of-mouth and perpetuate the success.
SCOTT I didn't get a shot to do anything till I was 40, so my advice is be grateful and keep trying.
ROGEN I started doing stand-up in high school [when I was 14], but I was a big fan of other comics, like Billy Crystal and Steven Wright, and I would try to emulate their styles. And then an older comic named Darryl Lenox was like, "Aren't you out there trying to get hand jobs and stuff like that? Talk about that. Like, nobody else can talk about that. That's how you can make it."
He said that to a 14-year-old?
ROGEN He did. And to me —
FELLNER He is currently in jail.
ROGEN To me, Hollywood is incredibly competitive, and I am just not a competitive person. I hate feeling like I'm in competition with other people because I fear I will lose. And the only way I am able to rationalize that what we are doing is not actually competing with what anyone else is doing is by feeling as though it's something only we could be doing. For better or for worse.
BLUM All right, hold on a second now. I'm going to take issue with one thing that you said. You said you are not competitive, but you don't want to compete because you're afraid you would lose. Those two don't go together. That's a very competitive thing that you just said.
ROGEN It is, it is. It's for sure my own weird rationalization. But if you're afraid of losing, it's a good way to deal with Hollywood.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.