I know Bruce Willis a little. We have mutual friends and have been in the same place a bunch of times. I was sad to hear about his aphasia announcement and that he’s retiring from acting, not just because I’m a longtime fan of his work, but because he was always nice to me. His reputation in that regard wasn’t always the best, but my experience was purely positive.
Willis’ recent run of acting in one garbage project after another made a lot of sense when the news came out about his health, since I knew he was making a million dollars a day to show up for these travesties, and no matter how much money he might have made over the years, when facing something as serious and scary as he was facing, the idea of making as much cash as you can before the clock runs out is understandable.
Then again, there are those who took advantage of his condition to milk the man for all that he was worth, and while that’s also understandable, considering the industry in which we work, it is likewise reprehensible.
Which brings us to Randall Emmett.
The producer was the subject of a major LA Times expose this past week, in which a seemingly endless list of his transgressions was spelled out, including his casting couch habits, his philandering, regular use of NDAs, financial skullduggery, mistreatment of assistants and crew members, and yes, his ongoing exploitation of Willis before the actor’s retirement announcement this spring.
I’ve been on an Emmett set a couple of times, and I know several people who have worked with him — some only once, some more than that — and the thing that they all have in common is their severe and active distaste for the man. Sure, they weren’t above taking his money, but for most of them, that money soon became not nearly worth everything else that came along with it.
Now, not liking someone is, of course, no hurdle to working with them. If it were, nothing would ever get done anywhere ever. And Emmett’s reputation as a hustler was well earned, considering how he built himself from relatively nothing into a Hollywood player. It’s the American Dream, really, and any time someone is able to pull that off, they should be celebrated for it.
On the other hand, when the person who realizes that Dream is the kind of person who has a sign on his office door reading “Assholes Get Shit Done,” and then does everything he can to live up to that philosophy, there’s considerably less celebrating to be done. It reminds me of another credo I’ve seen more than once — “Assholes succeed too,” which reassures us that the notion of nice guys coming out on top remains a fallacy. Emmett, by all accounts, is Exhibit A.
It’s sort of amazing to me that it took this long for Emmett to face the music, four-and-a-half years after #MeToo became a thing. This is a guy whose reputation was never exactly sterling to begin with, but like most of his movies, he managed to fly under the radar for years.
Emmett’s path to success began with a lot of lowbrow straight-to-video fare, but his fortunes picked up quite a bit when he began paying large salaries to actors like Willis, Mel Gibson, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Sylvester Stallone to show up for a few days of work, thus allowing him to sell the projects in questions with their names and faces on the poster. This strategy was especially successful in European markets and not only made Emmett a rich man but eventually led to his crossing paths with Mark Wahlberg, followed by Martin Scorsese.
Emmett’s work with Wahlberg and Peter Berg on Lone Survivor gave the producer some serious credibility, and he was soon in a room with Scorsese to discuss the financing of the filmmaker’s longtime passion project, Silence, which was never the most commercial of the great director’s projects, seeing as it concerned a pair of Portuguese Jesuit priests in 17th century Japan. Scorsese spent years trying to get it made and Emmett, to his credit, came in and not only promised Scorsese the moon but actually delivered, ultimately bringing in half the movie’s budget. As a thank you, Emmett was given a producer’s credit on Scorsese’s next big endeavor, 2019’s The Irishman, which earned a boatload of Oscar nominations, including one for Emmett, for Best Picture.
This is where the standard success story leads to even more mainstream success, the protagonist achieves the thing for which he’s long worked, and becomes better for it. But not Emmett, whose baser instincts proved too much for his Hollywood aspirations. Lawsuits, accusations, people lining up to say bad things about him — these are not triflings. Emmett’s lawyer has gone to great lengths to deny everything, pointing to sketchy evidence and attempting to refute much of what has been said, but the simple truth of the matter is that people don’t line up to accuse good humans of misdeeds. They don’t go out of their way to try to take down someone who has treated them well, and they don’t get together with a bunch of others who have had experiences with this person and plot to destroy them.
Something else that’s important here, too: vilify the media all you like, but real reporters and journalists do not set out to take down people who aren’t asking for it. There are laws, standards, and ethics, and writing a story that isn’t based on facts can mean the end of someone’s career. Especially these days.
So when it comes to someone like Randall Emmett, whose shoddy treatment and exploitation of others have come back to haunt him, it’s fair to say that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Listen, the way Hollywood works, there are a lot of slimy people involved, and some become more successful than others, but if you look at the list of those who have stuck around, none of them end up doing it for too long. Their behavior inevitably catches up with them, and in that regard, Emmett is no different.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.