When Netflix decided on Tuesday to suspend shooting on the sixth season of “House of Cards” in the wake of the Kevin Spacey scandal, the announcement received a strong endorsement from the many critics of the star’s alleged misdeeds.
But the news also had a larger effect: It threw into question the job certainty of as many as 2,000 cast and crew members.
That’s approximately the number of people working on the Baltimore set of the new season of the political soap opera, according to Maryland’s film office. And their suddenly unknown fate highlighted a thorny issue in this post-Harvey Weinstein moment of many alleged sexual offenders: what to do with the productions they’re working on.
While sexual-harassment scandals have rippled through many parts of American business in the past few weeks, they have had particular consequences in Hollywood. More than many industries, entertainment is a highly interdependent enterprise. Nearly every job on a film or TV set relies on another — set decorators consult with production designers who look to directors; a location manager is constantly talking to a cinematographer and a producer. At the top of that heap is the star whose clout enables it all to stay intact.
A beloved employee at most corporations does not carry the job security of every other staffer on their backs. But the troubles faced by Spacey — who was accused by actor Anthony Rapp of sexual assault when Rapp was 14 (another alleged victim has since come forward) — has threatened to put many out of work.
While many actors are covered under union contracts through the end of the season, a whole raft of crew members are not similarly protected, according to representatives of several unions representing these so-called below the line workers. Many had even relocated from Los Angeles and New York, expecting months of work. Whether the series — which was partway through shooting its 13 episodes — could continue by killing or writing off Spacey’s Frank Underwood remains unclear. A Netflix spokeswoman did not provide a comment for this story.
Hollywood insiders are now raising the question of when punishing an offender gets outweighed by not creating more victims.
“The problem is that you can say, ‘We shouldn’t be in business with a guy like Spacey.’ The problem is that that means you’re also not in business with a lot of other hard-working people,” said a longtime film executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the sexual-assault claims.
There is, of course the comfort level of working with Spacey to take into account. Netflix and producer Media Rights Capital released a statement Tuesday that it wanted “to review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew” as producers and executives arrived on the set from Los Angeles.
What also differentiates Hollywood from other industries is an unusually long gestation process. Spacey and his production company Trigger Street have material at almost every stage of the Hollywood pipeline — from development to production to imminent release. Many of those began their lives years before the allegations surfaced.
Partners in all of these projects are suddenly forced to confront what to do with a Spacey project — trash it, proceed with it or wait on it. They have to weigh whether distancing themselves from the actor is more important than marooning the people who already spent all their time working on it with him.
Studio Sony Pictures is, as of this moment, aiming to release “All the Money in the World,” the Ridley Scott drama about the Getty family in which Spacey plays patriarch and oil tycoon J. Paul, as planned on Dec. 22. But executives are still waiting to see how the scandal unfolds before making a final decision, according to a person familiar with its plans, who was not authorized to talk about them publicly. In the meantime, Spacey won’t be promoting the movie at its premiere at Los Angeles’s AFI Fest in two weeks, the person said.
Spacey has completed filming two other movies — a Gore Vidal biopic titled “Gore” (he plays the titular author), and the fact-based get-rich-quick drama “Billionaire Boys Club,” in which he stars as murdered con artist Ron Levin. The former is a Netflix movie, due to come online next year; the company has not said what would become of it. “Billionaire” is an independent movie, its rights set to be peddled at an upcoming film market. Needless to say, that sales-agent’s job just got a lot harder.
At 58, Spacey is at the peak of his hyphenate powers. He began the year bringing the J.D. Salinger movie “Rebel in the Rye” to Sundance (he plays noted Story magazine editor Whit Burnett) and has been getting ready to promote “Money.” In between he hosted the Tonys, starred as all-powerful kingpin Doc in the hit action film “Baby Driver,” filmed “Gore” in Italy, and started shooting the new season of “Cards.”
He even found time to stage a two-night-only event of the one-man play “Clarence Darrow” at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest outdoor tennis facility in the world. (“It’s kind of hard to think about the way we live now and not think of Darrow,” he said when interviewed in June. “He’s the reason we have so many of the civil rights and labor laws we have today.”)
That has made him a ubiquitous presence. But now putting Spacey on screen is a fraught affair. Will consumers turn out to see a movie or show with him or another alleged offender — Wednesday brought news of allegations against Brett Ratner and Dustin Hoffman — prominently featured? Would waiting until a scandal dies down be a good compromise? Or even more dubious?
The entertainment industry is entering a new moment, one in which the rules are not only completely unknown — they’ve yet to be written.