On December 14 director Morgan Spurlock, known for his comic documentaries Super Size Me and Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?, posted a lengthy statement to Twitter in which he admitted that he has played a role in the ongoing epidemic of sexual harassment in the workplace. “You see, I’ve come to understand after months of these revelations, that I am not some innocent bystander, I am also a part of the problem,” he wrote.
In addition to explaining that he was accused of raping a young woman in college during what he thought was a consensual one-night stand, Spurlock also says he settled a sexual harassment allegation (verbal harassment, rather than “gropy feely” he says) at his production company Warrior Poets around eight years ago:
I would call my female assistant “hot pants” or “sex pants” when I was yelling to her from the other side of the office. Something I thought was funny at the time, but then realized I had completely demeaned and belittled her to a place of non-existence.
So, when she decided to quit, she came to me and said if I didn’t pay her a settlement, she would tell everyone. Being who I was, it was the last thing I wanted, so of course, I paid. I paid for peace of mind. I paid for her silence and cooperation. Most of all, I paid so I could remain who I was.
The reaction to Spurlock’s statement was swift. He stepped down from his production company, his Super Size Me sequel was quickly pulled from this year’s Sundance festival, and a forthcoming television show co-produced with Sarah Jessica Parker and website Refinery29 titled “Who Rules the World,” which ironically focused on “women’s issues,” halted production.
Jezebel spoke with seven former Warrior Poets employees who prefer to remain anonymous because of their current standing in the film and documentary industry about the “fratty, boys’ club” culture at the company. “Garish and gross” nude paintings hung in the office, alcoholic drinks were pushed on employees whether they wanted them or not, and women’s appearances were frequently and openly commented on by both Spurlock and his COO Jeremy Chilnick.
“When women would come in for meetings and they were conventionally attractive women, very dolled up, Jeremy and or Morgan would say after she left, ‘she gave good meeting,’” said a former employee who worked at Warrior Poets from 2008 to 2010. “It was sexual in nature. They were talking about her appearance and, presumably, not what she offered.”
This conflation of appearance and work prowess could go the other way as well. “I remember looking at people that we were going to interview for the project and [Morgan and Jeremy] kind of making an assessment based on what they looked like,” a former producer who worked with the company in 2009 says. “Like, oh I wish they were more attractive, and having that be feedback about the content rather than whether the interview was good or whether the person was smart.”
Assessment of women’s appearances also dictated content. “If you were making a film or TV show about a woman character they’d say like, oh, cut that shot of the fat woman,” says a former freelance employee who worked with the company from 2012 to 2015. “I was making a film with them at one point and when I first got the notes from Jeremy for the all female characters, he said, you already have two fat characters, why don’t you just cut the other ones.”
In an email to Jezebel, one employee wrote of how she’s found Warrior Poets to be supportive to many women, despite the fact that “bro culture” does exist at the top tier. “Warrior Poets has been incredibly supportive to me as a working mother. I’ve negotiated my hours to get in late and get home early. I’m not questioned when I need to take a day off with a sick child,” she wrote in an email. “I’ve known many women who, after having children, either left the industry, or got demoted. Not the case with WP.” Nevertheless, the culture was consistently disrespectful and demeaning to other female employees.
One of the women who outwardly wouldn’t put up with this bro culture of Warrior Poets was the former assistant Spurlock referred to as “hot pants” in his statement.
“She would always look disgusted like, oh, here we go again,” according to an employee who worked with her at the time in 2010. “She was beautiful and talented but she was also an incredibly smart business woman and she wasn’t treated as a business woman. She was just treated as Morgan’s hot assistant.”
“I remember her talking about not being happy there in passing coworker conversations,” says a former editor who also worked at Warrior Poets the time of the settlement Spurlock cited. “It was a very contentious relationship they had.”
Spurlock also mentioned in his statement that he “hasn’t been sober for more than a week in 30 years,” something that was reflected in the heavy drinking culture at Warrior Poets according to several former employees.
“The scotch would come out at 4 p.m. everyday,” says a former employee who worked at the company 2015 to 2016. “We were encouraged, if not expected to drink because that was how you got any sort of face time.”
“It wasn’t like an offer of, hey there are drinks in the other room,” says a former producer. “Someone would just put a glass of wine on your desk.”
“If I were older and less worried about the job I would have said no,” a former employee says about being offered drinks, adding that employees would get made fun of by Spurlock if they did not participate in the frequent after-works drinks. “I pretended sometimes too, I would just throw down a glass and say, oh I drank it.”
But while multiple former employees confirm that Spurlock may have been leading the tone at the office, he was not the person who made women feel the most uncomfortable.
“I have to say I had many more problems with Jeremy than I did with Morgan,” a former producer tells Jezebel.
“It was so shocking when [Morgan’s statement] came out because everybody knows that Jeremy is the problem,” a former freelance employee says.
“[Jeremy] was always worse in my opinion,” a former assistant at the company says.
Jeremy Chilnick, who started out at Warrior Poets working as Spurlock’s assistant in 2004 and worked his way up to COO, is now co-running the company with partner Matthew Galkin. But former employees describe Chilnick as a manager with inappropriate boundaries who is being omitted; Spurlock’s admission of misconduct at Warrior Poets is overshadowing the company’s other problems.
“When he found out that I had a boyfriend, he withheld any kindness and was kind of pouty,” says one former producer, adding that Chilnick would openly talk about problems in his personal life. “It made doing my job much harder because I was supposed to be having meetings sort of regularly about this project and when he found that out he just sort of withheld access, which was very unprofessional.”
One former employee describes how after she first started working there she made the mistake of going home with Chilnick one night. After, when she repeatedly expressed no interest in continuing a relationship with him, she said that he would ignore her, continuing to make advances. “He thinks everything is like a cute, solvable problem,” she says. “He was like, I thought you wanted to do this and I was like, no I’m clearly telling you no.”
A former employee who was married while working at Warrior Poets said that while Chilnick knew she was not single he made it “very clear” that he wasn’t happy about it. When asked how he made it clear she responded, “by saying I wish you weren’t married? He can not hide his sexual interest in women.”
That paramount sexual interest, combined with an office culture he dictated, often manifested in touching female employees. Three former female employees said that he would give them unwanted neck massages. “He would just like come over behind you and start rubbing your shoulders and look down at your work,” a former producer says.
“I didn’t really want to be physically touched, but I think he also thought of himself as my friend, at least that’s what I thought at the time, so I felt bad for him,” says a former employee who put up with the massages while working closely with Chilnick. “He made me and a lot of other women in the office uncomfortable by being too friendly or too needy in a way that other people that I’ve worked for as a boss didn’t do.”
And Chilnick’s objectification of women simultaneously affected the content Warrior Poets was creating and kept women from moving up within the company, they say.
A former assistant at the company describes working on the Sarah Jessica Parker and Refinery29 project which would become “Who Rules the World.” Despite the fact that she worked on the show she was never promoted from her assistant role. “I would be invited to the meeting which was exciting to me, to have a role, but when those executives [from Refinery29 or Sarah Jessica Parker’s company] weren’t in the meeting or if it was just an internal meeting I wasn’t invited,” she says. “I felt like I was always the token woman. I couldn’t seem to claw my way into things unless it was specifically a female project.”
At one point, she says, Chilnick said either she or the other lone female assistant in the office could attend a meeting, suggesting that the two women were interchangeable despite the fact that only one of them did work on the show. “Gotta have my bitches,” is what Chilnick said, according to her and another employee with knowledge of the situation.
A former employee says that after she rejected Chilnick’s advances and stopped being “flirty” with him, she felt like she wasn’t up for the same jobs. She came back after he called and offered her an opportunity to direct a women-centric show at Warrior Poets, though she took issue with the fact that she was only being steered towards “women’s content.”
“This was the first time I said things to him about his dismissiveness towards the women working on the show. The women would all agree on a character or a story and he would have some issue with it,” she wrote in an email. “Once, he asked for an American based story and all the staff women loved the idea of a Native American coming of age ritual. He said ‘that’s not really an American story though.’”
Near the end of his sexual misconduct statement, Morgan Spurlock wrote “the only individual I have control over is me.” But in talking with other people who worked for Warrior Poets, it’s clear that Chilnick, who Spurlock employed for over a decade, is another individual that could use the producer’s newfound soul-searching.
“When I read Morgan’s statement, my first thought was, well, I hope Jeremy gets taken down in all this,” a former producer says.
“The negative statements and actions attributed to me are untrue,” writes Jeremy Chilnick in a statement to Jezebel. “I have treated both the women and men I have worked with at Warrior Poets with the utmost respect and dignity. Our goal has been to create a work environment that is creative, inclusive, and always respectful.”
In response to the allegations outlined in this article, a spokesperson for Warrior Poets wrote, “Warrior Poets is aware of these allegations and takes them seriously. The company will be looking into the allegations and will deal with them in an appropriate manner.”
Morgan Spurlock was not available for comment.
Update, 4:11 PM: Warrior Poets partner Matthew Galkin tells Jezebel in an email that he resigned from the company yesterday.