OSCARS Q&A: Scott Rudin

Christy Grosz is Editor of AwardsLine.

With a list of collaborators that includes some of the most sought-after writers and producers in the business, Scott Rudin is no stranger to awards season. He’s earned best picture nominations for the last two years running, for 2010’s The Social Network andScott RudinTrue Grit and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close last year. He won his only Oscar in 2008 for No Country For Old Men — a year in which his other film, There Will Be Blood, also earned a nom for picture — and this year he earned the career distinction of having received all four major entertainment statuettes when he added a Grammy for The Book Of Mormon musical cast recording. In 2012, Rudin also saw the release of his fifth feature film with director Wes Anderson, the box office hit Moonrise Kingdom. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has gone on to win a Gotham Award for best film and earn five Independent Spirit Award nominations. Their creatively and financially lucrative partnership continues for Anderson’s 2014 followup, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which reunites much of the same cast and crew from Moonrise, including star Bill Murray and financier Steven M. Rales of Indian Paintbrush. The very busy producer recently spoke with AwardsLine about the film’s success.

AwardsLine: You always have a fairly heavy workload for a producer. How do you maintain the quality and still give everything the attention it needs?
Scott Rudin: I have no idea other than there’s no alternative. Honestly.

AwardsLine: Wes Anderson said in his AwardsLine interview that he really relies on you in terms of helping shape the material. What kind of feedback did you give him for Moonrise Kingdom?
Rudin: It’s always, is the story coming across the way he wants it to? Does it have the shape of a narrative in the beginning, the middle, and the end? And are the events landing in a sequence that continues to build on the one before it?

Related: OSCARS: The Directors

AwardsLine: This story is more personal than some of his previous films — does that factor into the feedback you give him?
Rudin: That’s true, but I didn’t know that when we were working on it. That was never a factor. I would only ever respond to it as a story he wanted to tell. However much of it was personal or not was kind of beside the point of making it into a movie.

AwardsLine: Does he usually pitch the story to you, and then you help shape it from there? Or does it depend on the film?
Rudin: We’ve been in the process for five or six movies, and it tends to be the same on every movie. Sometimes there’s more script when he shows it, and sometimes he does much less — and we work from a lot of conversations.

Related: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Wins IFP Gotham Award For Best Picture

AwardsLine: For this film, what was your role in terms of getting it to the right studio and making sure that the right budget was there?
Rudin: Steve Rales and Indian Paintbrush financed it, and they’ve done the last few movies, and we always hope to have them on everything. They’ve been fantastic. Steve’s been an incredible supporter of Wes’. Then we talked to a handful of people, and Focus liked it a lot and chased it very hard.

AwardsLine: You’re also generally very involved in the marketing of the films that you produce. What were some of the challenges for this particular film?
Rudin: Realistically, it’s always hard when you make a movie that’s fundamentally about kids for adults. It’s hard to make them work, although this one has worked at a really extraordinary level. But that’s always difficult: How do you make people aware of who the adult cast is without making them feel that the adults are the center of it? Because the adults are really part of the ensemble, but the subject of the movie is the two kids. You don’t want to make it misleading, but at the same time you want to make it appealing.

Related: OSCARS: Behind The Scenes On ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

AwardsLine: And obviously it worked. Why do you think that the film did so well at the boxoffice?
Rudin: People really respond to what it’s about. It’s a very specific (story), but because it’s so sophisticated, it’s also quite universal.

AwardsLine: And it’s been generating awards talk since Cannes.
Rudin: Well, his movies are executed at such a high level that it becomes an inevitable conversation.

AwardsLine: This one in particular has been called more accessible — is that why Moonrise Kingdom is getting that kind of attention?
Rudin: I think so. And Wes now has made a lot of movies, and he’s a filmmaker with a very loyal fan base.

AwardsLine: In terms of your career, you always emphasize that you’re attracted to story not genre, but it seems like you’re also attracted to filmmakers who have a very distinct voice, like Wes Anderson, like David Fincher, the Coen brothers, and Matt Stone and Trey Parker. How do you preserve those voices and serve the project?
Rudin: I don’t know. I think the job is trying to get the filmmakers to make the movie they want to make.

Related: OSCARS Q&A: Bill Murray

AwardsLine: There’s been a lot of talk about the midrange budget, studio, adult drama — like Flight — connecting at the box office. Has something shifted in the business that makes it more attractive for a studio to take a risk on a film like that?
Rudin: They’re hard to get done, but they actually can really work. Any movie in which the movie stars work for free, that’s always a big draw. (Laughs.)

  1. Hey Scott,

    If your reputation holds true, you are sitting up late Christmas Eve reading this. (And every other thing in space and time written about you.) Years ago when I was a struggling writer I sent something to you unsolicited. At the time I was a complete novice and didn’t know any better. Your assistant at the time, Susan C. (it’s my understanding you went through assistants faster than Murphy Brown) called and gave me a verbal reaming out that lasted a good ten minutes about how I should never disturb you again, you were too important to read anything by me, blah, blah. It was brutal for a wanna be to hear this from people who were in the industry. Extremely mean-spirited. Anyhow, I didn’t it it deter me for long, I kept at it, and while I never submitted anything to you or Susan again, I did manage to sell a considerable amount of stuff that was produced and made a lot of money for the producers. I even won a Writers Guild Award once.

    I just thought you’d feel good knowing that I never bothered you again.

    1. TR: Congratulations on your success and your refusal to quit despite being reprimanded for doing something, frankly, you shouldn’t have done.

      I’ve been an assistant. I worked for a great guy that remains great and has only gotten more successful. I had friends that worked for Scott. Some are in the business. Some are not.

      I’ve read unsolicited material despite the fact I was instructed not to. 95% of what I read was very bad — the remaining 5% was bad to mediocre in parts.

      I worked 16 hours days for 3 1/2 years to climb the ladder and would frequently get stalked by demanding Writers I made the mistake of giving chances to.

      As great and prolific a producer as Scott Rudin is, pardon my language, but you have no fucking idea what it is like to work for Scott Rudin. No one owes you, me (I’m a Writer now) or anyone else a single fucking thing, but the sense of entitlement you have so clearly expressed is what disgusts people like the assistant you dealt with at Rudin about Writers.

      You’ve achieved success, but be grateful for it rather than rail against someone you clearly know absolutely NOTHING about who worked a job YOU CAN NOT POSSIBLY FATHOM. And if you found an abused assistant to be “Extremely mean-spirited”, then get out of the business NOW and go join a Monastery. You will not like it here.

      Oh, and Merry Christmas.

    2. Oh, I’ve always regretted that call and really wish to see your future oeuvre. ok, just kidding. What a pompous post. You should know there are certain rules within the industry. It’s completely illegal to read works like that and YOU ARE the jerk that sent it unsolicited. Your lucky you got that call because it saved you from future embarrassment with other producers, which may have even made so much money off your works. These are the rules we live by. If you’re going to be part of the business please play by the hand we’re dealt. You’re obviously still torn up about this. Please keep working and making other producers TONS of money.

      PS That’s an amazing Murphy Brown zinger. Is that in your script?

      PSS I respect the heck out of Mr. Scott Rudin and have never sent him anything as I know it’s not ready yet. When it is, I’ll go about the proper channels.

      1. I’m lucky I got that call, huh? This was the very late eighties/very early nineties when occasionally a producer would read an unsolicited script. A very different era from today. What I submitted to Rudin was not a script but a query/three-page outline. And within a few weeks an equally accomplished producer I won’t mention by name because I respect him, read the same query/outline, had his much nicer assistant call me to request the script, and then he…rejected it. With a lot of great feedback, that kept hope alive and indirectly helped me achieve my success.

        There are tons of assholes in this business, especially at the assistant level. Some of you need to crawl back into your holes. Angry, bitter and broke is no way to go through life.

        1. The funniest part about this whole thing is that “TR” is coming across as the biggest “asshole” of all. QUITE the accomplishment in the context of a SCOTT RUDIN article!

          TR, at this point you need to stop posting and go away. You are either lying about your accomplishments or worse, you’ve done what you said you’ve done and hold on to a 20 year old resentment.

          I go back to what I’ve said before: I clawed my way up. I did what it took and it cost me years of family life and a marriage.

          I’ve never complained about it — contrarily, I’ve worn it like a badge of honor. You, sir, have no fucking idea.

          May you have a Merry Christmas and pull your head out in the New Year.

      2. could have just as easily have been professional (not to mention saved her oh so precious time for ‘unfathomably’ important work) and said ‘sorry, we do not accept unsolicited scripts’. you and ‘I’m a Writer now’ sound like a couple of insufferable hollywood ‘kiss up, kick down’ spineless specimens.

        1. You don’t know me nor do you have a clue.

          Easy to make claims about what a Rudin asst. SHOULD have done from the comforts of having never worked a second in this business.

          There is a reason this business is so small — we have a zero tolerance policy for babies. You survive or you’re chewed up and spat out.

          1. From your posts I get the impression you’ve been chewed up, spat out and crawled back several times now.

          2. @Truman: Quite the contrary, but I DO see how you came to that conclusion. I’ve been very blessed, but I worked very, very hard and have maintained a lot of strong relationships.

            All that aside, nothing enrages me more than the sense entitlement some people have. If I hadn’t sacrificed so much to get where I am now, I probably wouldn’t care, but because I did, things like this just… well, I think I’ve made my point.

  2. I’m in awe of Rudin. I recent had to deal with casting of a replacement player in the Chicago version of BOM, OVER THANKSGIVING, and there he was, deep in the middle both of negotiating and choosing the performer. And may I say he was, even though it went down to the last minute, and was a tough deal, supportive, engaged and available. I simply don’t get how he does it.

  3. Not sure why people don’t like using their real names, however , having worked for Scott on 3 films in the past bar none he’s the real deal!

  4. All the pontificating about violating the “rules” of the business is nonsense. While the original poster should in fact let some interaction with a long-suffering Rudin assistant of yesteryear go, his method of cold-calling is part of every writer’s journey up. Yes, as a producer or development person, you could most definitely get yourself in legal trouble reading an unsolicited script. But most of the people I know who have made it in entertainment have done so by bending, breaking, or rewriting the rules. That includes writers who shoved their material in the hands of everyone who could possibly make a difference, for years until the right person bit. Annoying, yes. And not always effective. But sometimes it works.

    And 20 years ago, things were very different. I was an assistant at a major studio production company and we would read unsolicited scripts, with a release form, and if we liked the pitch of course. The calls came all day long and it was part of the gig.

    Amongst the people who cold-called and who we built relationships with as a result? A struggling writer named Peter Farrelly, who was repped by CAA but had to keep pounding the pavement himself. A wannabe producer named Warren Zide, who always had some script he was peddling. The list goes on.

    Screw the rules. There aren’t any.

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