On a recent Friday, Scott Rudin, the freshly minted president of production at 20th Century Fox, flew to New York for a working weekend. On Saturday he met in Manhattan with director James Brooks ("Terms of Endearment") to discuss "Big," the new picture Brooks is producing which will star Harrison Ford. Then Rudin headed downtown to check in with Joel and Ethan Coen ("Blood Simple"), who recently completed shooting "Raising Arizona" for the studio.
On Sunday morning Rudin flew back to L.A. to catch a test screening of the soon-to-be-released "Jumpin' Jack Flash." (On board the plane he was busy reading a number of scripts in development at rival Columbia Pictures, reasoning that a recent management turnover there might free up some of the material.) The next night, he was nervously pacing in front of the candy concession at the world premiere of the mega-hit "Aliens."
Heady stuff, but all in a day's work for your average modern-day studio production head. What's unusual in this case is that Rudin, who is the consummate baby mogul, is just 28 years old--several years younger than most of his peers at the other major studios. (According to the school registrar, Rudin was graduated from Baldwin High School in Long Island in 1975.) "Scott is not your average 28-year-old," said Edgar Scherick, a veteran producer Rudin has worked for. In a business known for its hyperbole, that's something of an understatement. To begin with, Rudin does not look like your average 28-year-old or your average hard-charging movie executive. With a heavy, dark beard and thick horn-rimmed glasses, he looks more like a reflective Talmudic scholar than a Hollywood deal-maker.
But appearances can be deceiving. Rudin is described by those who have worked with him as an ambitious and sometimes ruthless workaholic who can be charming--or dictatorial. He is known for a brutal temper and a generous heart. (One employee routinely receives gifts after being subjected to Rudin's outbursts.)
"I see him as an absolute force of nature," said one observer who has worked with him. "I think he was born for this. A shark is born to be a shark; Scott was born to be a studio executive."
Rudin, the son of a Long Island clothing salesman, broke into the business at the age of 16 when he worked for noted Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg for free. Instead of accepting an academic scholarship at Brown University, Rudin said he opted to go to work for Azenberg full time. "I figured, why go away for four years learning to get where I'll be on Monday if I want it."
He helped Azenberg produce everything from Neil Simon plays to "The Real Thing" and "Sunday in the Park With George." Still a teen-ager, he opened his own casting agency in Manhattan where his photographic memory helped him gain a following. Rudin eventually cast Broadway hits like "Pippin," "Annie" and "Equus," along with about a dozen motion pictures. "I never looked at casting as a career, but it's one of the few disciplines in the movies where you can enter at the top. You can announce that you're a casting director and if someone will hire you, you're in the room with the producer."
One producer to spot something in Rudin was Scherick, who in 1979 hired him. For Scherick Associates, Rudin helped produce the miniseries "Little Gloria . . . Happy at Last" and the Oscar and Emmy-winning documentary "He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing." He also worked on feature films--"Mrs. Soffel" and the box-office failures "Reckless" and "I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can" (both of which are curiously absent from the Rudin biography furnished by Fox). In 1984, after five years with Scherick, Rudin left to work with independent producer Larry Gordon. When Gordon was named president of Fox in the summer of 1984, Rudin was brought in as executive VP and helped Gordon develop "Aliens" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Shortly after Gordon resigned last spring to return to independent production, Rudin was named president by studio Chairman Barry Diller.
There's a reason why most of the production heads at the studios are so young (see accompanying box). The travel, volume of reading and just plain long hours are physically exhausting. Rudin, a bachelor, is known to start making calls at 5 a.m. (to Europe) and is often in his office on Saturdays and Sundays. "Nobody works harder than this kid," said Gordon. "Sometimes he goes a little too fast, but he makes Katzenberg (Jeff Katzenberg, the 34-year-old president of production at Disney who was nicknamed "the Golden Retriever") look like a sick old Labrador."
Rudin is also seen as an adept politician who has thus far been able to work well with Diller, known as a demanding taskmaster. "Scott's an intelligent, quick study who can work well with his boss," said one veteran agent who insisted on anonymity. "But then you have to be if you're working for Barry Diller."
Indeed. The past two months have been marked by a high rate of executive turnover at Fox. In addition to Gordon, a number of other key executives have left. In June, David Weitzner, president of marketing, resigned; Alan Horn, president and chief operating officer of the studio, left this month. In July, Martin Shafer, executive vice president of production, resigned as well, but insiders said his departure was the result of friction with Rudin.
The acid test for Rudin's long-term potential will be how well he can maintain his working relationship with Diller. For his part--no surprise--Rudin is a complete company man at this point and quickly backs Diller.
When asked about his chief's taste in movies, Rudin responded, "I don't think there is such a thing as a Barry Diller movie. He can embrace anything. There are certain things more to his personal taste than others, but he got behind us making 'Commando.' "
Others who had been at the studio in the fall of 1986, when "Commando" was released, said Diller initially resisted making the movie but finally agreed to give it the green light when the marketing and distribution executives convinced him the timing was right for the film.
And what about Rudin's personal taste? What kinds of movies can be expected bearing his imprint? "I have a very catholic taste, anything with a really good story," Rudin said.
"I tend to like smart movies, which does not mean they are so refined. I thought 'The Terminator' was a great picture. I like bravura movie-making."
Some of the current projects he's marshaling include:
--"Big": the previously mentioned James Brooks movie (Brooks is producing it).
--"Raising Arizona": the Coen brothers movie that's being edited now.
--"Less Than Zero": Based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis, Rudin said this will soon get the green light for production.
--"Cookie": a comedy by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen.
--"Sneakers": a script by Walter Parkes and Lawrence Lasker ("WarGames") about a high-tech security team.
--"The Gossip Columnist": a highly regarded comedy script by Paul Rudnick about a crusty old sportswriter who's forced to quit a paper or go to work as its society writer.
Sitting in his spacious high-tech office on the Fox lot (he ripped out the gray flannel wall covering and replaced it with a black-speckled gray wall), Rudin appears to be happily and aggressively living out a career fantasy. He thoroughly enjoys the art of making movies and the business of pursuing deals, he says, but doesn't relish the competition. "If you acknowledge there is competition, you acknowledge there is a chance you won't get the material you're after," he said. "I prefer to think that if we want it, it's ours."
Following are the presidents of production and their ages at the eight major Hollywood studios: MGM: Jay Kanter, 59 Paramount: Dawn Steel, 40 Warner Bros: Mark Canton, 36 Disney: Jeff Katzenberg, 35 Universal: Sean Daniel, 35 Tri-Star: Jeff Sagansky, 33 UA: Roberrt Lawrence, 34 20th Century Fox: Scott Rudin, 28