Swimming with Sharks

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Swimming With Sharks
A man towering over another shouting, the words Swimming with Sharks filling the background
Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Huang
Written by George Huang
Music by Tom Hiel
Cinematography Steven Finestone
Distributed by Trimark Pictures
Release date
  • September 10, 1994 (1994-09-10) (TIFF)
  • April 21, 1995 (1995-04-21)
Running time
93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $700,000
Box office $382,928

Swimming With Sharks (also known as The Boss and Buddy Factor) is a 1994 American comedy-drama film written and directed by George Huang and starring Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley and Michelle Forbes.


Buddy Ackerman, an influential movie mogul, and Senior Vice President of Production at Keystone Pictures, hires Guy, a naïve young writer, as his assistant. Guy, who has just graduated from film school, believes that his new job is a golden opportunity. Despite warnings from Rex, the outgoing assistant who has become hardened under Buddy's reign, Guy remains optimistic.

Buddy turns out to be the boss from hell; he treats Guy like a slave, subjects him to public verbal abuse, and has him bending over backwards to do meaningless errands that go beyond just his work life. Guy is humiliated and forced to bear the brunt of his insults just to keep his job. Guy's only solace is his new girlfriend, Dawn, a producer at Buddy's firm, and the possible promise of a promotion. Buddy also takes Guy's credit on a major film being produced by Dawn, getting himself promoted to President of Production at Keystone. When Buddy apparently fires Guy in a phone call, Guy snaps and takes Buddy hostage in order to exact revenge. He ties Buddy up and subjects him to severe beatings, torture and mind games. It is later revealed that due to a botched call waiting function on Buddy's home phone, Guy heard Buddy and Dawn arranging a rendezvous at Buddy's house, and Guy kidnapped and tortured Buddy as revenge for him "stealing" Dawn.

Once under Guy's power, Buddy reveals for the first time a human, vulnerable side. He tells Guy that his wife had been raped and murdered on Christmas Eve 12 years prior, and reveals that he, too, was once a bullied assistant to powerful, tyrannical businessmen and spent a decade putting up with such abuse to become successful himself. He also reveals that abusing Guy was his way of teaching him that he must earn his success. Dawn arrives at the scene to find Guy aiming a gun at Buddy, and insists that she had only agreed to see Buddy as a way of helping Guy's career. Dawn pleads with Guy to put down the gun, but Buddy tells Guy that he has to pull the trigger in order to get ahead in the business. After a moment's indecision, Buddy screams at Guy to shoot, which he does.

The climax of the film reveals that Guy killed Dawn (who is blamed for kidnapping and torturing Buddy), and was subsequently promoted. In the final scene, Guy coldly tells a former colleague to find out what he really wants and then do anything to get it. During this speech, Buddy passes by his office, makes eye contact with Guy and silently gestures to call Guy into his office for a meeting. Guy excuses himself and goes into Buddy's office. The movie ends with Buddy shutting his office doors as other staff members pass by.



George Huang decided to write the script after having a conversation with Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez was in Los Angeles after his film El Mariachi brought him to the attention of Sony Pictures, where he befriended Huang. Huang told Rodriguez of his frustrations with filmmaking when the director encouraged him to quit his post at Sony and pursue writing full-time so Huang could produce a script to direct himself.

Huang's resultant script, "Reel Life", was picked up by Cineville executive Frank Evers, who brought in financing from independent investors, and significant production support from Sony Pictures Entertainment. The film was subsequently sold to Trimark Pictures (later assumed by Lionsgate in 2000). Cineville produced the film with Steve Alexander overseeing production.

Although writer George Huang himself worked as an assistant for Barry Josephson, who was the Senior Vice President of Development at Sony Pictures at the time, some have suggested that Buddy's character was inspired by real life movie mogul Scott Rudin, while others suggest he is based on producer Joel Silver with Guy being based on Alan Schechter, Silver's assistant in the early 1990s.

The director Buddy hires in the film, Foster Kane, is named after Orson Welles' character in the 1941 film Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane.


The film was met with positive reviews. At Rotten Tomatoes, Swimming with Sharks holds a score of 80% of positive reviews by critics, based on 35 reviews; the consensus states: "Swimming With Sharks is a smart, merciless Hollywood satire that's darkly hilarious and observant, thanks to Kevin Spacey's performance as ruthless studio mogul Buddy Ackerman."[1]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Stage adaptation[edit]

A stage adaptation penned by Michael Lesslie had its world premiere at London's Vaudeville Theatre in October 2007. The play starred Christian Slater as Buddy, Matt Smith as Guy, Arthur Darvill as Rex and Helen Baxendale as Dawn. Academy Award nominee Demian Bichir opened a Spanish version of the play in Mexico City on January 2012.

A Singapore theatre company, PANGDEMONiUM!, opened the play in Singapore at Drama Centre from 20 September to 7 October 2012.[3] The play starred Adrian Pang as Buddy, George Young as Guy and Janice Koh as Dawn.


External links[edit]