Can Abusive Workplace Bullying on Set Be Stopped?

Can Abusive Workplace Bullying on Set Be Stopped?
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Workplace bullying has probably been around for as long as there have been workplaces.  But now, it seems to be in the news a lot more than in the past.  If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve undoubtedly come across people calling others out for abusive behavior from the film industry to Amazon warehouses to the White House.

Anyone who’s worked in the film industry for any length of time has encountered workplace bullies.  Unfortunately, they’re often people in positions of power who have few leadership or management skills.  Their behavior ranges from annoying to psychologically damaging, and it’s past time the industry confronts this behavior.  There would be a lot less crisis management if there were more training on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior on set.

The Problem

Recently producer Gary Foster wrote a guest column for discussing workplace bullying on set and suggesting some solutions.  Frankly, just the fact the problem is now being discussed out in the open is welcome.

Foster mentions the reality that studios often put people with no management training whatsoever in charge of managing multi-million dollar productions involving hundreds of people.  Too often, they’re ill-equipped to handle the pressure of those demands.

When I was a trainee, we had numerous seminars on set behavior and what to do in various situations.  To complain about anything short of physical violence was to put your career in jeopardy.  Everyone was supposed to stay silent and survive workplace bullying with little or no support.

Never mind that studies show that abusive, bullying behavior in any workplace leads to mental distress, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety.   As Foster states in his article, “We have allowed bad behavior to rule our world and define our way of working.”

The #MeToo movement confronted the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and this has spilled over into engaging all forms of bullying and harassment on set.   The excuse that such bullying is just a result of highly talented creative types being volatile is no longer acceptable.

A hostile work environment leads to the risk of victims taking legal action against the employer, as well as negative publicity.  In the age of social media, the response to this kind of negative publicity can be swift and brutal.

Possible Solutions

With the onset of the pandemic, guild and union members have had to participate in safety training to ensure they can safely do their jobs on set.  The guilds and unions should similarly provide leadership and communication training to directors, producers, and crew members.  After all, leadership and communication extend to effectively managing individual departments, too.

Years ago, I worked on a TV pilot where a Humane Society representative was on set because the scene involved, believe it or not, cockroaches.  The harming of even one cockroach was forbidden.  I think the humans on any film set deserve the same humane treatment as those cockroaches.

Gary Foster and his friend Eileen Coskey Fracchia are launching an organization called Humanity on Set (HoS) to train leaders and create a positive, inclusive environment on set.  This sounds like a positive step forward in eliminating on set bullying and abuse.


Studios have clear instructions for reporting sexual harassment that’s outside the chain of command.  The same reporting should apply to abusive, bullying behavior on set.

Studies show that this behavior has real health consequences for those subjected to it.  It’s time the problem is taken seriously on set, and there’s adequate training for all concerned and consequences for the offenders.  The film industry will better for it.






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