I worked for Harvey Weinstein from May to August 2014. A successful independent film producer at the time, I had sold him two films in 2005, and produced over 20 altogether, 12 of them selections at Sundance. I was brought on to “fix” an ailing movie, Natalie Portman’s Jane Got a Gun, and then hired—ostensibly as a “fixer,” an “indie expert”—to help Harvey bring indie discipline and ingenuity to large films. When I left, I was paid for the duration of my contract and Harvey wrote me a complimentary letter, but my time there did not end well.
I was not sexually harassed. But I was subjected to egregious verbal abuse, usually in front of several colleagues, or over group emails. In my experience, most people who worked at The Weinstein Company had a similar experience, and some joked about “PTWS,” or post-traumatic Weinstein syndrome, whereby it took them months to recover peace of mind and a resting pulse after emerging from the company’s culture of abuse.
At my first team meeting there, I was asked for my opinion about a scene on a project in development. The opinion I expressed was apparently not the one Harvey had in mind. He looked at me for a long moment, as though trying to remember my name. Then his face contorted like an animal on attack and he yelled, “What are you stupid, Stupid?”
I said nothing, paralyzed by the address, and the volume of my boss. I confess I was so shocked by the volume and viciousness coming from Harvey that I said nothing in my defense. It went on from there with a torrent of personal insults.
Afterwards, an executive chastised me for failing to respond with commensurate strength. “You’re too weak around him,” he said. “If you don’t stand up to him, it will just get worse.” He named a woman executive who had handled the same kind of verbal attacks better: “She finally said ‘don’t fuckin’ talk to me like that’ and he eventually stopped.”
Next time indeed. It did not occur to me how ridiculous it was to blame me for Harvey’s behavior, as the executive did, as opposed to condemning it outright. Later that afternoon, I was invited to meet with another superior who just wanted to “see how [I was] doing.” The meeting was brief.
Throughout my short stint at TWC, I experienced this type of thing repeatedly. I was called names, mocked for my appearance, irregularly praised or ridiculed, often with several colleagues present. In the span of three months, I was sent all over the world, to sets in New Mexico, New Zealand, New Orleans, London and Los Angeles, often without a day to regroup, or to see my kids. When I complained that I had not signed on for a job that entailed so much travel, I was told to suck it up, and reminded of the number of people waiting for my position.
On each new set, tempestuous directors squared off with Harvey, and there was a constant revolving door of new staff. A party for Harvey and only young women guests was organized during my time in London. It seemed like all women over the age of 30—including me—were dismissed before it began. A colleague of mine told me that Harvey told him to “be more like the Mossad.” The colleague prostrated himself to Harvey, much as I had done myself. This was the most disquieting aspect of my time at TWC, the seeming uniformity of everyone’s experience—the bullying, degradation, and abuse—and the tacit gag order around it all.
I observed what I came to think of as a silence switch; the way in which employees, scared for their jobs or simply their place in the pecking order turned a blind eye to routine and chronic instances of abuse. We were ashamed and afraid, deterred or incentivized to say nothing, to tolerate this behavior toward ourselves and one another. It would take an experience in my own personal life before I understood the mechanics of this, not only how abuse is perpetrated often with many witnesses, but how the reports of this behavior—whether verbal, physical, or sexual assaults—are disbelieved, dismissed, or silenced. Aggression toward women does not always manifest itself as sexual harassment or assault. Verbal abuse is harrowing and paralyzing in its own right. While it is qualitatively different than the trauma of being coerced into sex, it is abuse nonetheless. And it tends to follow the same pattern, in its rising volume, its repetition, and its progression to physical acts. Much has been made since the allegations against Harvey broke, about the silences of witnesses to abuse and assault. To me, the pearl-grabbing and head-scratching is disingenuous. It happened just like this—perhaps the alleged assaults were only in private, but the abuse never was.
My employment at TWC ended much the same way it began. I was on set in London on a movie starring Bradley Cooper. I showed up for an emergency budget meeting at a café nearby. I sat at a table with several other employees as Harvey demanded we reduce wardrobe, scenes, and locations to cut the budget, and fast. I made a suggestion that was dismissed.
“What are you wearing?” Harvey sneered.
I looked down at my clothes. A tidy blouse and skirt, leggings and Converse, standard fare for a movie set.
“You have to be great to be here. Clearly, you’re not great.”
I finally grew the backbone the executive had advised.
“Don’t fuckin’ talk to me like that,” I said.
“Are you quitting,” he said.
“Are you firing me?” I responded.
A woman colleague sitting across the table looked squarely at me, mouthing, “Do not cry.” I managed to make it to the bathroom before bursting into tears.
A few minutes later, I emerged, buttressed by my friend’s support. As I walked out the door of the café, found myself walking head-on into Weinstein. He opened his arms. I inhaled, prepped for an embrace. But he kept on walking. I turned around me to realize my mistake: Bradley Cooper was just behind me.
“Brother from another mother,” Harvey said to Cooper, and they embraced.
Editors’ note: Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein company did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment on this piece.
Galt Niederhoffer has produced over twenty films, twelve of them Sundance selections, most recently Infinitely Polar Bear and Robot and Frank. She is the author of four novels, including Taxonomy of Barnacles and The Romantics. Her latest, Poison, will be published on November 21 by St Martin’s Press.