‘It was like tending to a disgusting baby’: life as a Harvey Weinstein employee | Film

‘He was a manipulative bully. He would mimic people when he was shouting at them. We were all adults, but made to feel 17’
Anonymous, London office

I’d had other jobs in the industry before and felt this one, in Harvey Weinstein’s London office, was a step up. The business was very successful at this point. There was a fairly high turnover of staff; I worked there for just under a year.

Harvey loves Europe, and he came to London all the time. He was here 10 days or two weeks in every month. We used to joke, “Thank God Concorde doesn’t exist any more” because at least we had a bit of notice. But he never set foot in the office, ever – business was entirely run from hotels. The office was a dump in Soho, so it didn’t seem unusual.

There were two interviews for the job. I got a full briefing in the first interview about him being a bully, from the people who worked with him. I remember giving that same chat myself when I was interviewing later: this is the reality. I think it is a bit alluring – you’re thinking, “I can handle that.”

Before my second interview with him, which was at a hotel, I did get warned about him going in to the bathroom and masturbating. But that person was very gossipy and I didn’t think it was realistic – it sounded so out there. I just didn’t believe it, which feels a bit ridiculous now. They made a bit of a joke about him being a perv: “Keep your coat on.”

Now I think: didn’t that seem strange, and didn’t that seem wrong? But people were talking affectionately, if eye-rollingly, about him. I didn’t think I could expect better: if everyone else was OK with it, who was I to make a fuss?

The conversation with Harvey was very brief, because the person in the London office had already decided they wanted me. He said something I heard him say to a lot of people: “I have a very good instinct. I can always tell when I’m going to get on well with someone.”

I was told during my training that you must never lie to Harvey, or even fudge something – he would know. He has x-ray vision, and once he gets the bit between his teeth, he won’t let it go. But he also forgot things people had said only moments before, or went back on some big declaration he had just made, occasionally to his advantage.

There were two parts to the job. The real work had very little to do with him: there were a lot of projects, attending festivals, trying to meet film-makers and writers. And there was the other part, which was his visits and dealing with him.

It felt like everyone was his assistant. The philosophy was that the company runs best when Harvey is happy, so you have to make sure things run smoothly. Meetings were made and cancelled or moved or ran late, at the drop of a hat, and he’d be furious with us even though he had caused it. Weekends weren’t relevant, evenings were not relevant, breakfast meetings were scheduled for 7am after being up till 2am.

My days were rarely the same, the only constant being that they were chaotic and adrenalised. You would end up being proud of the strangest things, like getting through the day without being screamed at, or without him publicly abusing someone else – a waiter, a colleague, a director, a driver. It was a horrible feeling to be screamed at or “fired” (he threatened this multiple times a day). But it was far worse to see him abuse someone else. Fighting back didn’t work with him, really, but you could intervene on someone else’s behalf and draw his fire. It was like tending to a giant, belligerent, disgusting baby. His moods dictated so much that you constantly thought about whether he was tired, hungry, thirsty, cold.

I got told early on that he had girlfriends. Sometimes he would want them invited to things, or to send a car. Some were actresses, some I don’t know what they did. He was part of a rich-person’s circuit and a few of the women were connected to that. We’d never know when a girlfriend was going to turn up, or when we’d have to lie to his wife. But he would be happier afterwards. Now I worry those interactions were not necessarily what I took them to be.

His first visit to London was a few weeks after I started. His family were on the trip, and that was quite challenging. You are being told that it’s not your job [to look after them], but aware that they need to be kept amused and happy. He never, ever stopped working, and that was a bit sad to see. We used to say that he was either working or whoring: he barely slept.

Part of the reason there is a culture of silence, which is not unique to Harvey Weinstein, is that in this industry you can be made to feel a bit prudish if you are uncomfortable. This was definitely his cover: that it was nobody’s business if he was cheating on his wife.

I saw him become obsessed with the odd A-list actress, promising to win them an Oscar. But these were not private meetings. There were always plenty of people in the room.

I haven’t spoken to the press before. I felt this wasn’t about me: it is for those people who have alleged assault to take up the story. But I don’t want to be in the business of protecting the Weinstein company, either. And my perspective is useful. I can completely believe that people who worked for him didn’t know about the extent of his conduct.

He was a horrible, manipulative bully; he would mimic people when he was shouting at them. We were all adults, but you were made to feel 17. You had to think about it really carefully: how much is this job worth?

I used to have this horrible feeling of, what if my partner or family saw me when he was yelling at me? It would be very humiliating. And this was all the time – not in the heat of production. You couldn’t believe the good things that he said because then you had to believe the bad things, too. You had to say to yourself: this is him freaking out, it’s not my fault.

Fairly often his screaming involved a boast about himself: I can call the president, and I can call this person. He was telling us how important he was, and it was tiring but we would laugh about it afterwards.

Sometimes he’d scream at you in front of someone you respected or had worked with, and that bothers me to this day – that they would let it pass. Everyone wanted to get their movie made, and I understand that; but I feel sick that his bullying was allowed to flourish in public and no one ever said, “This isn’t acceptable.” If you raised it, you were laughed off as naive; there was the underlying feeling that maybe you just weren’t good enough to really impress him. This was – bluntly – bullshit. Plenty of stupid people could rise through the ranks, and plenty of great people were lost to the company because of Harvey’s bullying. I think behaving as outrageously as he did, and no one doing more than shaking their head or laughing nervously, made him believe he had all the power. He felt untouchable.

There was the odd male assistant. They were always quite tall and good-looking, and they were resented and envied by Harvey. His insecurities were close to the surface, and his awareness that he was not an attractive man was quite evident. He also felt less able to bully them – or maybe the bullying took a different form.

2937 - 'It was like tending to a disgusting baby': life as a Harvey Weinstein employee | Film



Weinstein leaving court in New York in June. He pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape and one of a criminal sexual act. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

He was good at currying favour. He would hunt down a first edition to send to someone with a note: “We should make this sometime.” I would see him with some people – actresses, film-makers – and think, “This does feel like grooming” and hope they knew what they were getting into. I would look at some of the people and think: this is not right – they were not likely to be actually professionally good. There were people who would do two or three meetings and then say, “I’m not doing this again.” He would be asking them to come, and they would be busy, and alarm bells would be ringing. In those instances I think they had twigged what was coming.

We were all across his email. We just thought he was an intensely energetic philanderer – we’d joke about the amount of people who wanted to sleep with him. There were a lot; it didn’t feel as if he was only a predator. Women would come up to him, give him their numbers – very, very beautiful women, models and actresses. We would work in the car with one of Harvey’s girlfriends there. They felt like transactional relationships, although he never really carried cash.

I don’t want to imply I don’t believe those who have come forward, because all those accounts make so much sense now. It’s horrible; how could none of us have connected the severity of his bullying with how that might be expressed through his sexual side?

I didn’t love the role of keeping the family busy: that felt a bit gross. It was not explicit, but we had to make sure that his wife or kids should not go to his hotel room: “It’s not a good time.” I was part of that; we all endorsed and stood beside him. I feel bad about his fixation with certain things, and with two or three famous actresses. He had crushes and would try to insist on having meetings without their partners or agents present. Thankfully, those meetings never really transpired. I thought the actresses were the powerful ones. Now, I wonder.

He used to say, “See me like a king. I’m your pass to places.” He learned the things you wanted from the job, and he would hold that over you as a carrot, to do better. But I left because life was too short. We were coming up to a round of festivals and I thought, I am not getting much out of this. And I was beginning to feel a sense of shame I couldn’t put my finger on. I had wanted to be the sort of person who could “handle it”, but emotionally I couldn’t. I was very adrenalised and nervous all the time. I had to leave before I got fired.

Harvey Weinstein is not the only monster on the hill that we need to kill. The culture that allowed him to hide in plain sight still needs to be addressed, and I think that’s barely begun. It should be embarrassing for people to scream at employees, for the fate of an entire company to rest on a bully’s whims. If he hadn’t been able to steamroller and abuse people for so long, his other, far worse behaviour might have been called out much earlier. Perhaps people are more nervous of sexual harassment lawsuits now. But I think the bullying and the culture of silence around it still flourishes.

‘A colleague came into the office one day, saying, “Call the police, Harvey just attacked me!” That was probably his last day’
Mark Lipsky, New York office

I worked for the Weinsteins three separate times, between 1986 and 1992. When I came on board, it was in a two-bedroom apartment on Broadway, with Harvey in one bedroom and [his brother] Bob in the other, and half a dozen of us in the living room. That was Miramax.

They did with me what they went on to do with many, many people: they offered me a position that no other employer would have done. I came in as the head of sales and marketing. They were very good at handing out titles that were unavailable elsewhere, and at that point they owned you. Where were you going to go?

You would see some terrible stuff. I remember one time Harvey was holding a meeting in a conference room. It was standing room only. And he just went off at this woman, calling her a man’s name – Richard or something. It wasn’t even a name that could have gone either way. It was completely psychotic. In this overcrowded room of people who had got so used to the insanity, there wasn’t a whole lot of surprise. I don’t know what the effect was on that woman, but it couldn’t have been good.

4841 - 'It was like tending to a disgusting baby': life as a Harvey Weinstein employee | Film



Bob and Harvey Weinstein in New York in 1989. Photograph: Barbara Alper/Getty Images

It’s fairly well-known that Bob was even scarier than Harvey. There was a moment at Miramax when we had this awful movie, this unwatchable movie, that had to be released in order to satisfy a video deal. In the late 80s, videos were where the money was. We had to do whatever it took to get this film opened in three or four or five markets and then throw it at the video company and get a cheque. One of those cities was Seattle and I had to commit to a certain level of advertising to get the theatre to book it, and I did. Bob came into my office one morning and said, “We’re not spending any money on that movie. Call them up and cancel ads.” And I said no: I had made the commitment.

Bob got more and more frustrated. I had a cup of pencils on my desk and he started taking a pencil out of the cup, breaking it, and throwing it on the floor. One after the other after the other, and saying something to me that I still can’t understand. “Are you tight? Are you tight now?” I was bemused. Sort of enjoying the show almost.

Not a lot of people left in my time. I was one of the few. We had someone senior who came running into the office one morning. Big guy, lovely guy. Red and sweating, and saying, “Someone call the police, Harvey just attacked me.” He said Harvey attacked him on the street in front of the office. That was probably his last day. I don’t think anyone called the police.

They made every girl in the office cry. There were lots of apologies and flowers. I wasn’t around it as it festered. My jaw didn’t exactly hit the floor when I started reading the accusations [last October], but it got halfway there. I believed everything was true, but the degree of depravity was surprising. The irony of ironies was that they distributed a documentary called Bully, and Harvey talked about how bullying was a terrible thing. He virtually invented bullying.

For me, it was largely educational. It made me better at navigating questionable personal relationships. I’m a straight shooter, but there were lessons to be learned in terms of how to manoeuvre and how to survive under adverse conditions.

I would shout back at them, but most people didn’t. They ruled with an iron fist, and you did not want to lose your job because it was a great job, except for the poisonous environment. People could escape it physically; that’s the only way they were able to keep some of their top executives, because they were 3,000 miles away in California. That eventually changed, because it got so big and there was so much money that Harvey was essentially bi-coastal and 3,000 miles meant nothing.

What they did best was negotiate. They were great negotiators, and even better renegotiators. They would hammer you and hammer you. And the next day come back and say, “No, that’s not good enough.” That was the way they approached life. It was them against the world, or the world against them.

They were such bad managers and so paranoid that there was no room for trust, even for people who were close to them in business. It was always only ever Harvey and Bob, fighting the good fight. They trusted no one but each other, and eventually, they didn’t even trust each other.

‘Harvey insisted on being present when we signed an NDA. It was distressing and intimidating. He apologised, essentially an admission’
Zelda Perkins, London office

It was when I left Miramax in 1998 and tried to pursue justice that the scales really fell from my eyes; in some ways, the real abuse started then. I began working for Harvey when I was only 22 and didn’t really know who he was; partly through my naivety, partly through my upbringing, I happened to have the right set of tools in my personality to deal with him. I simply saw him as an unpleasant, lascivious boss and so treated him as such. I didn’t initially understand his power, or see him as the key to my future, which were the things that made so many others vulnerable to him.

But the challenge turned into a nightmare when a new colleague alleged Harvey had tried to rape her while we were at the Venice film festival. I had employed her to assist me, so she was my responsibility; once she told me, there was no possibility of us continuing to work for him.

On going to lawyers we were told, to our horror, that our only realistic option was to make a damages claim and enter into an agreement. They told me it wasn’t worth considering going to court. It became increasingly apparent that this had little to do with justice and everything to do with money and power. I had presumed the law was above all men, but the disparity of my position and Harvey’s trumped whatever he had done; the ensuing legal process ultimately broke my belief in the core values of our culture. That is more seismic than having your belief broken in one individual.

499 - 'It was like tending to a disgusting baby': life as a Harvey Weinstein employee | Film

Zelda Perkins with Weinstein in 1998. Photograph: Alan Davidson/Rex/Shutterstock

Miramax was represented by one of the most powerful “magic circle” law firms on the globe, Allen & Overy. Even though the allegations were of a serious criminal nature, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) was negotiated that, as far as I can see, was wholly unethical. The agreement includes things that were legally extraordinary. Under its terms, my colleague and I would not be able to speak to a doctor, counsellor or accountant about what had happened, without them also signing an NDA, which we would be held accountable to if they broke it. The most sinister of these clauses stipulated that I was to use my “best endeavours” not to disclose anything in a civil or criminal case brought against Weinstein. In other words, I was to keep quiet, whatever the circumstances, for ever.

The NDA took hours of complex and stressful negotiations in Allen & Overy’s offices. The experience was one of complete siege mentality, with sessions lasting up to 12 hours. On one day, after a full morning’s negotiations, we resumed at 5pm and finished at 5am the next day. You lost track of time and space. We were two young women shut in a room full of lawyers talking in legal riddles, and we were not able to tell anyone what we were doing.

From the beginning, it was imperative to me that money never changed hands. But it was made very clear that a financial demand was the standard and only formula. At this point, our entire motivation became focused on the fact that, if we could not prosecute Harvey, then we had to stop his behaviour and protect people in the future, in exchange for our silence. Other obligations that were agreed were that Harvey would have to attend therapy for three years, and that Miramax would be forced to inform Disney (its parent company) or fire him if any further settlements were attempted. I don’t believe anyone had tried to do this before; it seems clear from the horrifying list of further allegations that have since emerged that his side of the agreement was not upheld.

I always felt we were being made to do something we didn’t want to do. However, it wasn’t a simple situation and it was not just about me. My colleague was in a very psychologically vulnerable position, having experienced extreme trauma in the first few weeks of her job, and we were being given frightening advice with few options. I had no choice but to do what our lawyers were telling us, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Harvey insisted on being present on the day we signed the agreement. He apologised for his behaviour and offered us anything we wanted to return to the company. This was the first time my colleague had seen him since the attempted rape and it was obviously very distressing and intimidating. There seemed to be no protection within the system to stop this. His words that day were essentially an admission, all of which was noted down by our lawyer. But when we got up to leave, Harvey’s team insisted the notes be destroyed.

My film career came to a halt after that. It’s a small industry, and there were whispers and rumours. No one knew what had happened, of course, but after several uncomfortable interviews, it became clear people didn’t want to risk upsetting Harvey, and I couldn’t defend my reputation.

My goal now is to ensure that NDAs cannot be weaponised and used to hide criminal behaviour. Law firms have been enabling questionable behaviour and making money out of these agreements. And this is not just limited to sexual harassment; it is far more insidious within our work culture. My NDA would have been unenforceable, but this was never made clear to me and I lived in fear of it for 20 years – until last year. I felt I had been criminalised and that, if I spoke, I would be the one going to jail.

There will always be characters like Weinstein; we can’t deny the existence of charismatic, sociopathic and dangerous characters, and they seem to people the top echelons of most businesses. But as a society, we have a responsibility to make sure that employees are protected – and that if they are abused, they have true recourse.

There is a place for NDAs, but they have become an immoral tool, legally used to silence victims. The circumstances in which they are created need to be carefully examined, and regulated.

Earlier this year, I gave evidence to MPs at a select committee inquiry to examine sexual harassment in the workplace, and the improper use of NDAs. The lawyer who negotiated my NDA from Allen & Overy gave evidence immediately after me. I was sitting right behind him, watching his neck getting redder and redder as he was asked whether he had produced an agreement that could pervert the course of justice. I got terrible nervous giggles, because I hadn’t expected the MPs to be so aggressive. Unfortunately, the representative sent to the inquiry from Simons Muirhead & Burton (my solicitors 20 years earlier) had not been involved with my case.

My argument was not with the individual lawyers, nor even with the firms. My argument is with the fact that they were doing something apparently legal. A positive thing to have emerged from the inquiry is that the Solicitors Regulation Authority is now investigating; this, and the recommendations made by the select committee, mean there is a real chance that significant change will come. If power and money put you above the law, then the law is worth nothing. And that, fundamentally, is more frightening and dangerous than an ego out of control.

If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email [email protected], including your name and address (not for publication).

Source link