Weinstein (pg. 3)
In the industry Harvey's competitors love to privately say he's lost his clout. But several nights after the premiere of "Sicko," Harvey looked ever the Hollywood impresario while playing emcee at the annual Amfar benefit. The centerpiece of the AIDS benefit is an auction in a tent beside a 16th-century windmill just outside Cannes. He's been hosting the event for 14 years. At one point he cajoles Australian pop star Kylie Minogue onstage for a performance that netted $100,000. The cast of "Ocean's 13" is on hand, and a kiss from George Clooney sells for $350,000. Here it feels as if not much has changed for Harvey, except that he now works for himself and investors as opposed to Michael Eisner. So which does he prefer?
"Goldman Sachs are great partners because they believe in one thing - profits," he says. "We're organically built to make money, Bob and I. And if we're not going to make money, we'll cut overhead to make money. So that's a good partner. Michael Eisner is a bad partner, because right now if I had "Sicko," Michael Eisner would be shutting me down."
He's referring to the way that Disney balked at releasing "Fahrenheit 9/11" in a presidential election year. The Weinsteins set up a separate company to buy the rights back from Disney - and the movie ended up winning the Palme d'Or, the Cannes festival's top honor. It became the top-grossing documentary of all time, bringing in more than $222 million in worldwide box office. But the episode was a coffin nail in the Weinsteins' strained relationship with Disney. Tensions flared after a December 2003 New York Times article in which Harvey was quoted criticizing Disney management. In fact, Weinstein gave the interview thinking it was for a Times writer's book and never expected to see it in the newspaper. (Eisner declined to comment for this article.)
The brothers never wanted to leave Disney. Sure, they had issues with Disney's thwarting them when they tried to expand Miramax's purview beyond films. Harvey even enlisted Al Gore to lobby George Mitchell, then Disney's chairman, to intervene with Eisner, but the Weinsteins' employment contract was eventually terminated in 2005. As recently as the New York premiere of "Sicko" on June 18, Harvey was still badmouthing Eisner, praising Michael Moore's agent Ari Emanuel for saying back in 2004 that Eisner was "full of shit." The company expects "Sicko," which cost just $9 million to make, to generate roughly $20 million in domestic box office.
If the film is wildly successful, it could mark a turning point for the Weinstein Co., so Harvey can be forgiven for playing the controversy-equals-marketing strategy he mastered at Miramax. In 1983, Harvey made a stink over the refusal of the State Department to grant Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez a visa to attend the premiere of a Miramax movie based on one of his short stories. In 1995 he set a Good Friday release date for a film about a gay Catholic priest. This time the hubbub is over Michael Moore's trip to Cuba to shoot scenes for "Sicko," and Harvey was handed a gift when the U.S. Treasury Department said it was investigating the visit as a possible violation of the trade embargo. On June 11 he held a press conference in the Manhattan office of his lawyer David Boies to tell the world he was considering taking the U.S. government to court.
The remainder of the Weinstein Co.'s slate for 2007 has a back-to-the-future feel. Bob has three horror flicks, two of them based on Stephen King stories: "1408," starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, and "The Mist," based on a 1985 short story about a small town engulfed in a deadly mist. The third is a new Halloween movie. Among Harvey's films are "Sicko;" "Grace Is Gone," picked up at the Sundance Film Festival and starring John Cusack as a father whose wife dies in Iraq; and "The Hunting Party," about several journalists searching for a war criminal in the Balkans. In Cannes, Harvey snapped up "Cassandra's Dream," a Woody Allen movie starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell.
The brothers have been counted out before. In the early 1990s they had a string of flops and faced serious cash flow issues. Then came "The Crying Game," a film that had bombed in Britain. Miramax bought the rights and turned it into a $62.5 million blockbuster in North America. "I have huge admiration for the Weinsteins. My advice would be to bet against them at your own peril," says Brad Grey, the chairman of Paramount Pictures, who got his start in the business as an assistant to Harvey in the 1970s. "They have huge skills and great taste in movies."
As the Amfar benefit wound down, Harvey, sans tuxedo jacket, his tie askew, and sweating through his shirt, sat down and snatched a few chocolates from a platter on the table. He seemed exhausted, but happy to be back in the thick of it. "You know what the best part of being back in the movie business is?" he asks. "George [Clooney] and Matty [Damon], on their way out, said, 'Harvey, let's go make some movies together.'"
From the July 9, 2007 issue