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Scott Rudin On the Coens, Managing Oscar Expectations and Why Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg May Be the Best Comedy Directors of 2013

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire December 23, 2013 at 2:47PM

Scott Rudin talks to Indiewire about his mighty trio of 2013 films, and some films from this year that he didn't help make but loved anyway.
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Scott Rudin
Scott Rudin

Scott Rudin just had a very good year, though there's nothing unusual about that.

Over the past decade, Rudin has produced or executive produced a rather astonishing amount of major Oscar contenders -- "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Social Network," "True Grit," "Moneyball,"  "Doubt," "Notes on a Scandal," "Closer," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," "The Queen," "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country For Old Men," and should be adding a few more films to that list come January. 

Rudin's 2013 slate was made up of three very different films that each won over a very fair share of folks: Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha," Paul Greengrass's "Captain Phillips" and Joel & Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis," the latter two looking quite set for a handful of Oscar nods (and there's definitely a lot of "Frances Ha" fans that wish that was a likely case for it as well).

As his year winded down, Rudin reflected with Indiewire about its highlights, both for him as a producer and as a film lover.

So congratulations on 2013. I say with total honesty that "Inside Llewyn Davis" is my favorite film of the year. I just totally fell in love with it.

Oh, that's so great. To be honest, mine too.

I guess an obvious place to start the genesis of both the project and your role in it. It's your third with the Coens, after "No Country For Old Men" and "True Grit."

I didn't know they had any interest in the subject. But I saw a tiny piece about something vaguely related to it in the New Yorker and I called them and said 'is this possibly the beginning of a basis for something?' And they said, 'Well, actually we've been thinking about doing something inspired by [1960s folk singer Dave] Van Ronk for a long time." From there we started talking about it and it just gradually became the next movie. It was honestly no more premeditated than that, except that they'd been thinking about it for 20 years.

Among the many things that impressed me with what resulted from this is that this movie looks and feels like a movie that could have cost 3 or 4 times its budget.

It's stunningly beautiful, I think.

Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan in "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan in "Inside Llewyn Davis"

How, as a producer, do you make a film that looks like it could have cost $80 million for just $20 million?

I really can't take the credit for that. It's all them. I mean, remember they are the day-to-day producers that run the movie and they are incredibly shrewd about how they prep. They don't shoot anything more than they need and they don't shoot anything less than they need. There's never a reshoot. There's never an additional unit. They just shoot exactly what the script is. Everybody who works with them knows there's no need to prep anything beyond what they say they're going to want. What makes movies expensive -- in addition to many other things, but primarily on a smaller movie -- is the overpreparation of elements you don't actually ever see or need. They are unbelievably efficient and they're extremely conscious of the risk-reward relationship. They don't want the movie to cost more than it needs to. They want the freedom to make a movie the way they want to make it, and they know that the quid pro quo of that is the cost.

Compared to making "No Country" with them nearly a decade ago, how has your relationship with them evolved or changed?

Years ago when I was at Fox, I was the executive on "Raising Arizona." That's probably almost 25 years ago. So I've known them for a really long time and we've been friends for a really long time. But I would say that we kind of know very clearly what we each do now. They don't ever ask for things they don't need. There's no small talk. It's just a very, very streamlined process.

Well, that sounds like the dream for a producer.

They're remarkably easy to produce for because they are so articulate about what they want to do. They know exactly what they want, and you know what your job is in relation to helping them achieve it. I mean, it has remarkable clarity and requires zero interpretation. It's entirely direct and forthright. And they're also generous and very appreciative of what is done for them. We also notably had great partners at Canal and CBS on this movie. Joel and Ethan feel like this has been, I would say in a way, the best and also the boldest way we've put a movie together. But also it's been very pleasurable because it's had the most enthusiasm from involved from everyone involved of all the movies we've done together. And I think they feel that even when compared to the films they've done on their own.

It's really nice to hear about that kind of gratitude coming from this process.

I think [Joel and Ethan are] exactly the guys they always wanted to be in terms of their work.  They made sacrifices along the way — some of them, I think, very considerable -- to preserve the ability to make movies the way they want to. That's the line they just won't cross.

The choice to go with CBS Films as a distributor definitely surprised a few folks. But it sure sounds like that's all working out so far.

It's been fantastic. I think Terry [Press, co-president of CBS Films] just had a massive amount of enthusiasm for the film and, even before she saw it, for the music as well. And not just the music in the movie but of the period. She knew a ton about it and chased the movie very aggressively. And it felt like she and Wolfgang Hammer and Les Moonves were at the beginning of something that could be really exciting. And for a movie like this, where what we really want is enthusiasm and marketing know-how, it was just a very clear, easy choice. We didn't need the things that they didn't have. We needed exactly what they do. And I've worked with Terry on many movies. I mean, Terry was head of publicity on "Sister Act," which I made over 20 years ago. So we've known each other a very long time and she worked on "Social Network" and "Dragon Tattoo" and a lot of other movies we'd done.  I felt very comfortable that we'd fit together easily and sell it really well.

'Frances Ha'
'Frances Ha'

Well, I sincerely hope the coming weeks brings the film the money and awards consideration it deserves. 

Thank you.  I feel really grateful to have had this particular year. We had three good movies come out this year and they're all very different and I'm very proud of each of them. But also part of it is when you have a continuing relationship with filmmakers, the next movie is always the thing you feel happiest about. Because it just means the relationship has worked.

Let's talk about those other two films you note besides "Llewyn Davis." First there's Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha," which was definitely a little movie that could this year and indeed continued your long-standing relationship with Mr. Baumbach.

It was just such a great thing for Noah to go off and make a movie nobody knew about. It was completely quiet. Literally, it was never called "Frances Ha" or anything like that on any call sheet. Nobody knew we were making it. No one knew it existed, and I think it's a beautiful movie. We've made 5 or 6 movies together and it's been one of the most rewarding relationships we've had.

And then there's "Captain Phillips," which is your first film with Paul Greengrass, and was clearly a success both critically and commercially.

All credit entirely to Greengrass. It's really his film, top to bottom.

Well, it certainly seems likely that will pay off to the tune of some major Oscar nominations.

I hope so. You never know. I hope it is because I feel like Paul and Tom took a movie that could have easily been a pretty standard programmer in anyone else's hands and made it into a real experience. I think it also has a very deep political idea that is entirely where Paul lives. It is what it is because of the relationship that he made with Hanks.

"Captain Phillips"
"Captain Phillips"

Going into awards season, how do personally manage the expectations of that? I mean, you've certainly had many films do extremely well at the Oscars, but there's also been a few that for one reason or another didn't go as far. I'm thinking of "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Truman Show," for example, both of which as far as I'm concerned should have got best picture nominations.

Every year is different. Expanding the amount of best picture nominees, I think, made it a happier thing for everybody just because more films are included and a wider range of films gets rewarded. But realistically, I don't think many people remember what movies got nominated and what didn't. The posters are on my wall when I walk into my office and I feel a huge sense of pride either way. We've made nearly or just over 100 films. I never in my life thought I'd get anywhere near that body of work. You can't look at things any other way. In the end, I got to make a movie with Jim Carrey and Peter Weir at a time when nobody particularly thought that movie had a chance to be anything. And those two guys made a great film. I'm thrilled that we did it. Honestly, it's great when awards stuff happens, but it doesn't change what I feel about the movies when it doesn't.

Well, let's end things off by talking about some of the movies of 2013 that you weren't involved in making. Were there any that really sort of blew your mind?

You know, funnily enough [Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's documentary] "Leviathan." I thought it was really, really tremendous. And the other movie I thought was just astonishing was Sarah Polley's movie.

I can't argue against either of those choices.

And the other movie I thought was really, really fantastic that I can't believe is getting overlooked by the year end groups, even in the Globes, is the Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg movie "This is the End," which I thought was brilliant. If anybody but those two guys had directed that movie as their first movie, you'd be looking at it saying that this is the advent of a brilliant, brilliant comedy director. Just because they wrote it and Seth is in it just makes the directing achievement so easy to overlook. But that's probably the best-directed comedy of the year and by a mile the most inventive.

It's also one of the most clever commentaries on Hollywood I've ever seen.

Unbelievably so! But also the genius of getting people to sort of play your idea of them rather then them. It's as in control of its meta-ness as any Charlie Kaufman movie.

That's definitely saying something.

This article is related to: Awards Season Roundup, Scott Rudin, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha, Captain Phillips, Awards, Interviews