Gary Foster has worked in Hollywood for more than three decades producing hit films like “Sleepless in Seattle” and watercooler shows like “Community.” It’s a life on set that’s allowed him to observe the best and often the worst of human behavior, from star tantrums to director meltdowns. For too long, Foster believes, the entertainment industry has looked the other way as actors, filmmakers and, yes, producers abuse
“It’s been there since the foundation of our industry,” Foster says. “It’s ‘If you fuck me, I’ll bury you. You’ll never work in this town again.’ It was mythologized and passed on from generation to generation.” But recent exposures of the toxic workplace culture at “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and ICM, as well as the career fallout that greeted a report on producer Scott Rudin’s history of bullying staffers, is pressuring entertainment companies to crack down on tyrannical behavior.
And it’s given Foster fresh purpose. He’s teamed up with leadership expert Eileen Coskey Fracchia to create a company, Humanity on Set, aimed at training producers and directors on how to run sets more effectively and respectfully.
“It’s a good business decision to do this,” says Coskey Fracchia. “It’s not that you’re not going to have tough conversations, but it’s going to be done after establishing a code for how that will take place.”
The two help producers and other talent to establish better ways of approaching everything from conflict resolution to management techniques. They are working to get buy-in from industry guilds and corporations, selling them on the need have assurances that the people who manage sets won’t berate crew or cast members to get their way. That’s important because studies show that less than 2% of producers or directors have any formal leadership training.
“Why would you bet millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs on people who might not have leadership ability?” asks Foster.
Studios and the conglomerates that own them have human resources departments and codes of conduct, but sets are less regulated. Producers, directors and the like are hired by limited liability corporations that are set up by entertainment companies when films are greenlit, making them essentially contract employees. For independent productions, there’s often less oversight. Money comes from foreign presales, and there often aren’t any major distributors involved until after a film has stopped shooting. That’s created an atmosphere that’s ripe for abuse.
“I don’t know if you can change the person, but you can create new habits,” says Coskey Fracchia. “You can get to the point where the pain of not behaving in a certain way gives them no choice. If they don’t change, then they aren’t allowed to work in the space again.”