The legendary David O. Selznick was the epitome of the “hands-on” producer, a filmmaker who was celebrated for the enormous amount of energy, passion and personality he lavished on his movies; who was obsessive about detail; who kept a hand in every aspect of a film’s production.
“I’ve been accused of similar things,” says Scott Rudin. “But it’s rarely been positioned as a compliment.”
And yet when Rudin picks up the lofty David O. Selznick Award from the Producers Guild of America on Saturday, it will be fitting for more reasons than just a shared intensity: Few producers since Selznick have been as synonymous with their movies as Rudin, who will be an unheard-of double nominee for the PGA’s competitive best feature film kudo (for “The Social Network” and “True Grit”) and whose 30-year career has produced some of the more memorable movies of the past three decades.
“It’s a giant honor,” Rudin said in New York, where he picked up the New York Film Critics Circle best picture award Jan. 10 for “The Social Network,” a film that has more or less swept end-of-the-year critics’ voting. “True Grit,” meanwhile, has been galloping to B.O. gold. But the Selznick honor is different.
“Every year you get judged on the quality of the movies you’ve made that year,” he says. “But there’s something very satisfying, on a much larger level, about people looking at your body of work and saying, ‘We like this,’ after 30 years of producing movies. It’s not ‘you made a good movie this year.’ It’s that you’ve made enough they want to recognize it.”
As a Selznick recipient, Rudin follows a long list including Stanley Kramer, Saul Zaentz, Clint Eastwood, Billy Wilder, Robert Evans, Brian Grazer, Roger Corman, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall and last year’s recipient, Pixar’s John Lasseter. When it’s suggested that Rudin’s honor may be overdue, he sounds a note of alarm.
“Believe me, I would never say that,” he says. “When I was called, I was very flattered and said ‘yes’ right away, because it’s an acknowledgment of staying power, if nothing else.”
Since the first Scott Rudin production (Gillian Armstrong’s “Mrs. Soffel,” 1984), Rudin has been involved with a number of studios and an extraordinarily diverse catalog of films. They’ve ranged from the broadly comedic (“The Addams Family,” “The First Wives Club,” “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut,” “It’s Complicated”) to Brit-flavored fare (“The Queen,” “Notes on a Scandal,” “Venus”) to auteurist epics (“There Will Be Blood” and 2007’s Oscar best pic, “No Country for Old Men”).
The line on Rudin has long been that he maintains a balance between producing, say, a “Julie and Julia” so he can continue to make films like “The Hours” or “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” He denies it all.
“That’s really never been true,” Rudin says, “because some of the biggest films we’ve made have been among my absolute favorite movies. I don’t feel that way about it — there’s a handful I regret making and, frankly, I blame myself for them getting made. But I didn’t have different criteria for them.”
The financial model that makes a movie possible, he says, has to have a relationship to what the movie is, which means “some movies are smaller and some movies are bigger. But that doesn’t mean you do them with any more or less effort or skill.”
In addition to his numerous productions on Broadway, of plays that occasionally have become Rudin movies (“Closer,” “Doubt,” “The History Boys”), he is a voracious consumer/rights-buyer of books intended for the screen (“The Corrections” and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” are just two novels apparently still in the Rudin adaptation process). His latest pickup is Stacy Schiff’s celebrated “Cleopatra,” which is intended to star Angelina Jolie.
“It’s being developed with her, and if it happens, it happens because of her,” Rudin says. “I think the response to the book is going to be the challenge of the movie, because there’s this perception of Cleopatra as this seductress in history, and the book is the opposite of that.” In Shakespearean terms, he said it’s more “Julius Caesar” than “Antony and Cleopatra.”
Hollywood politics are another matter; Rudin knows how to navigate them. Which seems to be what made “The Social Network” his favorite film thus far.
“It’s an amalgamation of everything I’m interested in as a producer,” he says. “A seemingly impossible subject, something that’s political, modern, engaged with the world, has a point of view, is trying to connect the dots about what’s going on in the culture. And a brilliant writer (Aaron Sorkin). And a brilliant filmmaker (David Fincher). And one of my closest friends is the head of the studio (Amy Pascal). What is the absolute fantasy experience of being a producer? That’s it.”