Updated: May 18, 2021
Olivia Wilde, director of Booksmart (2019) and the upcoming film Don’t Worry Darling, has a simple on-set rule that is now a major talking point in the film industry: don’t be an asshole.
(Image Credit: Olivia Wilde cover shoot, InStyle )
Wilde revealed this rule–called the “no assholes policy”–after putting it in action during the production of Don’t Worry Darling. Last fall, she fired actor, Shia LaBeouf, for allegedly displaying poor behavior on set. There were reportedly some tensions between LaBeouf and the cast and crew. This event also followed abuse accusations made by LaBeouf’s ex-girlfriend, FKA twigs.
The film industry is no stranger to assholes, eccentric characters, and predatory monsters. Unfortunately, the general stereotype of filmmaking regards eccentricity, harsh attitudes, huge egos, sexual assault, and diva-like behavior as a standard–a requirement for movie-making. But most people who have ever worked on a film set, big or small, know that is not true.
“I think that it is an unfortunate part of the paradigm…the idea that great art has to come from a place of discomfort and anxiety,” says Wilde in a conversation with Emerald Fennell, director of Promising Young Woman (2020), in an edition of Variety’s “Directors on Directors” series.
Having a toxic attitude and displaying rude behavior is not some twisted totem or secret ingredient to genius. It probably only serves to make production less efficient. When the cast and crew are miserable, they will not have as much motivation to continue the laborious task of making a film. Sure, commiserating around the craft services table about that one rogue lighting tech who, as a “joke,” shines light in everyone’s face without warning might be a way for the cast and crew to bond. But wouldn’t it be better if everyone shared that connection within a positive work environment?
It seems that the no assholes policy works for all professions. There is a book by Robert I. Sutton called The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, which practically discusses the same idea as Wilde’s no assholes policy. Sutton shows how bullying behavior in the workplace decreases productivity and employee morale through research and case studies.
(Image Credit: "Directors on Directors," Variety)
In the “Directors on Directors” discussion with Wilde and Fennell, they speak on an interesting theory about the no assholes policy–is it inherently a female concept? Fennell tells Wilde how she adopted the no assholes rule onto her set as well. She wonders if the nurturing aspect of the policy might be gendered.
“I do think it may be a uniquely female instinct,” says Wilde in response, “to say, look, we can be nurturing, and we can multi-task, and it doesn’t mean that anyone needs to be uncomfortable.”
But just because the no assholes policy might have a female origin to it, it doesn’t mean that only female filmmakers should subscribe to refusing to tolerate on-set bullies. The no assholes policy is universal. All filmmakers and professionals should implement it if they want their operations to run smoothly. It is for those who wish to dispel the stereotype that toxicity is necessary for brilliant work. And it is for those who want to build a happier and healthier work environment.
“The no assholes policy puts everybody on the same level,” says Wilde. “If we all enter the process without thinking ‘they’re not going to listen to me,’ ‘it’s a battle,’ if we just remove that and realize that…it’s actually my job to take care of them and to listen. I just think the product would be better.”