annals of communications
The New Yorker - December 16, 2002
beauty and the beast
Harvey Weinstein has made some great movies, and a lot of enemies.
Harvey Weinstein sometimes believes that Hollywood is out to get him. He believed this even before it was true. Weinstein, or Harvey--in the movie business, there is only one Harvey--believes that he is a target partly because Miramax, the studio that he co-founded with his brother, Bob, is based in New York. Mostly, he believes that the movie industry resents the success he's had in the past two decades, making movies--sometimes brilliant, innovative movies--that Hollywood wouldn't touch.
The view from Hollywood is a little different; people there say that they are repelled by his behavior, which can be spectacularly coarse, and even threatening. That may seem a curious reaction; after all, abusive behavior--starting with the casting couch--became something of an art form in the early years of Hollywood and never really went away. Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, Harry Cohn, William Fox, and Samuel Goldwyn were, each in his own way, bombastic, bullying personalities. And in today's Hollywood tantrums are commonplace. But even in this context Harvey Weinstein stands out. Those who have been witness to his outbursts, public and private, describe not a lovable rogue but, rather, a man with little self-control, whose tone of voice and whose body language can seem dangerous; at times, he appears about to burst with fury, his fists closed, his teeth clenched, his large head shaking as he loses the struggle to contain himself.
At the Cannes Film Festival last May, Weinstein, who is six feet tall and weighs two hundred and fifty pounds, spotted Barry Diller, the chief executive of Vivendi Universal Entertainment. In a loud voice, he said to Diller, who is a fit five feet nine, "Why'd you call me a bully?"
"You are a bully," Diller replied, and the two studio executives stood toe to toe on the terrace of the Hotel du Cap, as an audience of actors, directors, models, and fellow-executives watched. Diller thought that there was going to be a fistfight.
Weinstein had been provoked by an article in which Diller was quoted as calling him a thug. Diller had done so because in Los Angeles the previous January, on the night of the Golden Globe awards, Weinstein had threatened a Universal executive. Although Miramax had received three Golden Globes, its best-picture candidate, "In the Bedroom," had not won, and Weinstein was irate; the Golden Globes often presaged the Academy Awards, in March. What was more, he knew of an upcoming story in the Post suggesting that he had orchestrated a whispering campaign to impugn "A Beautiful Mind," a best-picture candidate from Universal and DreamWorks SKG. Stacey Snider, the chairman of Universal, told me that Miramax, and specifically Harvey Weinstein, was to blame. (It was falsely rumored that John Nash, the mathematician on whom the movie is based, was an anti-Semite.) Weinstein says that the Post story originated with Universal and DreamWorks. Although Snider denied this, Weinstein said, "I blamed her."
After the Golden Globes ceremony, the Creative Artists Agency gave a party at the restaurant Muse for six hundred people. Snider was exhilarated, because "A Beautiful Mind" had won several awards, including best drama. When Weinstein saw her in the crowd, he headed her way and cornered her in an alcove across from the bar. To the petite Snider, he was a fearsome sight--his eyes dark and glowering, his fleshy face unshaved, his belly jutting forward half a foot or so ahead of his body. He jabbed a finger at Snider's face and screamed, "You're going to go down for this!"
"He was in my space," Snider said later. She assured him that she had not accused him, and that they were friends. Weinstein, in one of two versions of the incident he later gave me, said, "I never raised my voice to Stacey." By saying she would "go down," he meant that her movie would get tarnished.
The next morning, Snider telephoned Jeffrey Katzenberg, the co-founder of DreamWorks. Snider said, "I felt unsure about whether or not Harvey could become reasonable," and she wanted DreamWorks--Universal's equal partner in "A Beautiful Mind"--to be aware of the threat. She also knew that in 1993, when Katzenberg was the president of Walt Disney Studios, he had engineered Disney's acquisition of Miramax. Although Weinstein and Katzenberg often fought, Weinstein considered him one of his closest friends in the business.
Katzenberg, too, believed that Weinstein was behind the campaign against "A Beautiful Mind." Over the next twenty-four hours, the two had a series of tough conversations. "I love Harvey," Katzenberg told me, and yet he recalled a warning that he had given to Weinstein: "You can't work this way. You are endangering my friendship, and you must apologize to Stacey." Today, Weinstein is contrite. "I yelled, perhaps too loudly," he said. He eventually telephoned Snider to apologize, and he later apologized to Diller, too.
"It's time to be a statesman," Snider told Weinstein when they talked; she appealed to his vanity, telling him that if he ever wanted to win the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award--named after a widely admired studio pioneer--he would have to change. Weinstein was chastened. "This year, I decided to take Stacey's advice," he told me during one of several conversations we had in his Tribeca office. "I'm going to go out of my way. It's like Ariel Sharon--you can't be a lion of the desert and then not govern properly. At a certain point, it's time for the fire-bombing to be over. You've got to know when the revolution has succeeded. Why do I have to keep fighting?"
Yet something propels him, as the director Julie Taymor discovered in March, two months after the Golden Globes party. Taymor, who created "The Lion King" for Disney on Broadway, directed "Frida" for Miramax. The film, which opened this fall to mixed reviews, is about the free-spirited Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and her marriage to Diego Rivera.
Last spring, when Weinstein saw "Frida," he decided that the pace was too slow and that the film was sometimes confusing. After a test screening at an Upper West Side theatre in March, Pauline Sealey-Kitazato, Miramax's director of market research, reported that the test audience liked the film but agreed with Weinstein. Taymor dismissed the complaints. Weinstein, standing in front of the theatre's popcorn counter and holding the questionnaire results in one hand, seemed briefly out of control. "You are the most arrogant person I have ever met," he said, ripping up the test results and dropping the scraps in front of Taymor, her collaborator and partner, Elliot Goldenthal, and other members of their production team. "I'm going to sell this to HBO," he said--meaning that he wouldn't release the movie in theatres, or that he might release it in theatres but skimp on marketing and yank it from circulation. The point was clear: this was Taymor's movie in name only. Weinstein walked away.
A moment later, Weinstein reappeared; he saw Taymor's agent, Bart Walker, of I.C.M., and yelled at him, "Get the fuck out of here!" To Goldenthal, who wrote the score for "Frida," Weinstein said, "I don't like the look on your face." Then, according to several witnesses, he moved very close to Goldenthal and said, "Why don't you defend her so I can beat the shit out of you?" Goldenthal quickly escorted Taymor away. When asked about this incident, Weinstein insisted that he did not threaten Goldenthal, yet he concedes, "I am not saying I was remotely hospitable. I did not behave well. I was not physically menacing to anybody. But I was rude and impolite." One member of Taymor's team described Weinstein's conduct as actually bordering on "criminal assault." Taymor thought of quitting or taking her name off the movie, fully expecting Miramax to abandon it--until, eventually, Weinstein called to say that he really loved the movie and wanted to work with her. Taymor stayed in the picture.
After Weinstein's blowup with Stacey Snider, and his subsequent apology, he promised that he would change--that he'd be more collegial and, several people say, consider attending anger-management classes. He says that after his exchange with Julie Taymor he promised that if he had another tantrum he would give a hundred thousand dollars to Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang camp for seriously ill children. Weinstein told me that his temper is "the thing I hate most about myself."
Harvey Weinstein believes that these flareups are simply the manifestations of a passion for movies, and, at fifty, he sees himself in the tradition of such studio greats as Thalberg and David O. Selznick. He believes that the heads of the other major studios are even more intrusive than he is, and he says, "They do it to make the movie commercial. I do it to protect the artistic integrity of an idea, and to help it be commercial. There should be creative tension. That's why I like David O. Selznick, not Harry Cohn. Cohn had no fucking taste."
Cohn's crude, abusive behavior to just about everyone is legendary. Cohn's funeral, in 1958, was crowded, and Red Skelton supposedly remarked, "Well, it only proves what they always say--give the public something they want to see, and they'll come out for it." Cohn, like Weinstein, believed that conflict produced superior work, and he made some fine movies: "It Happened One Night," "All the King's Men," "Born Yesterday," and "The Caine Mutiny," among others. Yet Weinstein, unlike Cohn, reads the scripts and books that Miramax buys, and in that way is closer to Selznick, who envisioned how "Gone with the Wind" could be brought to the screen. When I mentioned Cohn, Weinstein was not pleased. He looked down at his pack of Carltons. The top was ripped off so that he could more quickly grab a cigarette; he smokes several packs daily. He took a swig from a Diet Coke; one of his four aides always has a can ready before he sits down anywhere. Finally, he looked up and said, "Harry Cohn--that's the worst thing you could say to me. I don't think any filmmaker I've worked with, maybe with the exception of Jim Ivory"--the director James Ivory, of the Merchant-Ivory partnership--"would say that. I'm making 'Trainspotting,' 'Pulp Fiction.' I'm making calls on some of the most controversial material ever done in the movies. That's not the province of a businessman like Harry Cohn." Weinstein looked genuinely hurt.
A former employee who has thought about this comparison asks, "How can someone so crass make such good movies?" One Hollywood figure, who asked to remain unnamed, has a quick answer: "Beauty and the Beast." The producer and talent manager Bernie Brillstein said, "Passion means that you're willing to take a chance on something that's not formulaic, that you believe in the picture, not the grosses. In the long run, we'll remember the movies"--not the bullying. On the other hand, Brillstein has no business dealings with Weinstein.
In part because of the bullying, Weinstein appears to have unleashed the sort of hostility and distaste that undid the once powerful talent agent Michael Ovitz. A recurring opinion is that Weinstein's behavior has got worse as his power has grown, and that as his power has grown he has abused it--much the way studio founders like Cohn did. One Hollywood executive said that Weinstein "is on the same trajectory" as Ovitz, and added that, like Ovitz, he "has lost the ability to see things clearly," that his ego has intruded. Several senior agents at the three largest Hollywood agencies--William Morris, C.A.A., and I.C.M.--told me that they were trying to steer business away from Miramax. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, which charts the ebb and flow of power in Hollywood, observed, "In so many conversations in Hollywood, at some point Harvey's name comes up, and not always in a good way."
Weinstein, however, compares himself to Spartacus battling the Roman Empire of Hollywood--as if, apart from his occasional ill-tempered outbursts, nothing had changed. "Let me translate brutality in the movie industry: honesty," he told me. "They say it's brutal. Yeah, it's brutal to tell the truth in an industry where everyone lies."
On most days, Weinstein arrives at Miramax's office, on Greenwich Street, in Tribeca, before 10 A.M. He's driven in a black Mercedes, which has four phones and visors that flip down to become small movie screens; associates refer to the car as the Batmobile. His four assistants occupy his outer office, and one of them usually travels with him and keeps him in cell-phone contact with the world. Weinstein's office, which his wife recently remodelled, has exposed-brick walls, and everything in it seems too small for the large man who occupies it. The biggest object is a framed poster for "Nevada Smith," featuring Steve McQueen. There is no computer, because Weinstein barely knows how to use one; an adjoining room has exercise equipment, but he rarely uses it.
One day in mid-July, at Miramax's offices, Weinstein met with a dozen or so of his executives to discuss which movies to enter in the various film festivals. These events--including Sundance, in January; Cannes, in May; Venice, in August; and New York and Toronto, in September--are useful in creating favorable publicity for upcoming releases, and can also serve as early-warning systems for films in trouble.
The meeting was held in a modestly furnished, cramped conference room down the hall from Weinstein's office. On this hot day, Weinstein wore what is more or less his standard outfit: gray suit pants, a dark-gray wool three-quarter-sleeve shirt, and red suspenders. He was told that the New York festival had turned down "The Hours," a film based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Virginia Woolf. Weinstein lit a cigarette and reacted stoically to the news. "This is a worry," he said. "That movie needs help"--from critics and film festivals. He was much less stoic when he was told that the New York festival had also said no to "City of God," Miramax's film about Brazilian ghetto life. "You're kidding," Weinstein said. "This is one of the best films we ever made. It's in Portuguese. They're morons!"
Weinstein sat at the end of the conference table, perched on the edge of an Aeron chair, and pounded the carpet with his right heel. He lit another cigarette, inhaling deeply as the executives ran through several more subjects. Cynthia M. Swartz, who was first hired by the company in 1989 to work in publicity and to supervise Miramax's Oscar campaigns--sending videocassettes of its contenders to the fifty-five hundred Academy voters, scheduling regular screenings and running newspaper ads--turned the conversation to the Toronto festival. DreamWorks, she said, was considering a "huge retrospective for Spielberg," and she wanted to know whether she should counter with an effort to celebrate Martin Scorsese, the director of the Miramax epic "Gangs of New York," which is to be released this month.
"Leave it," Weinstein said. "I thought 'Minority Report'"--a Spielberg film--"was the best movie I saw this summer." He wanted to talk about Venice. "Should we play 'The Hours' in Venice or wait for the Berlin festival?" he asked, lighting another cigarette. One problem, he said, was that he hadn't yet seen "The Hours," because its producer, Scott Rudin, wouldn't screen it for him, and Weinstein wouldn't commit himself to showing it in Venice until he had. "Why don't we put our foot down on this," Weinstein said, referring to the standoff with Rudin. "Tell him, 'Harvey doesn't want to go to Venice.' It's good to scare them. Find out when he has to deliver the print to us." (Rudin insists that Weinstein "had already seen the film once in London, and had professed to like it a great deal.")
Weinstein had suggestions about "Frida": Why not create a museum tour to display Frida Kahlo's paintings? Why not do screenings for Latino audiences? Do a U.K. screening to create some buzz? He asked about "Tadpole," a comedy about a teen-ager's affair with an older woman, which he'd bought at Sundance. Miramax's chief publicist, Amanda Lundberg, pointed out that "in real life" the two female stars of the movie--Sigourney Weaver and Bebe Neuwirth--were married to or dating younger men. "Get that in the columns!" Weinstein said.
"We did," Matthew Hiltzik, Miramax's senior vice-president for corporate communications, said.
"We have to make it seem like there's a trend of older women married to or dating younger men," Weinstein said.
"New York magazine has a cover line"--on the purported trend--"in next week's issue," Hiltzik replied.
That didn't satisfy Weinstein, who wondered why the story couldn't get the entire cover. The group then reviewed the press promotion events planned for "Tadpole," and by the time Weinstein lit his fifth cigarette he was reviewing, word by word, a draft of an advertisement for the film.
One afternoon in August at Miramax's headquarters, Weinstein walked downstairs from his office to a small screening room to see "The Hours." He sat in the middle of the theatre. The seat to his left was taken by Scott Martin, the head of post-production for Miramax, who has spiked hair and wears three small silver hoops in his left ear. Martin, who is thirty-seven, joined the company eleven years ago and always sits next to Weinstein at screenings, because, Weinstein says, their tastes are similar. About two dozen other Miramax employees joined them.
"The Hours," directed by Stephen Daldry, with a screenplay by David Hare, stars Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore. It begins with Kidman, who plays Virginia Woolf, walking suicidally into a river. Weinstein and Martin, whispering together, instantly agreed that the Philip Glass score--in particular, the loud, thumping opening music--was too melodramatic, and that the film's pacing was too slow. After the movie ended, Weinstein stepped outside the screening room and told me that he liked the movie a lot, but didn't think it was ready to be shown at the Venice festival, later that month. "I never believe in taking a movie to a festival unless you're one hundred per cent locked," he said. "This movie is only ninety per cent. Great director. Great music, but it's over the top. Great acting."
Weinstein believes that some things in a movie can't be fixed--a bad performance, a mediocre screenplay--but that it's possible to do a lot with editing and music. Yet he seemed troubled by having to decide whether or not to show the film at Venice, although it is hard to resist the thought that he enjoys tormenting Scott Rudin, whom he detests. "Do I be the good Harvey or the bad Harvey?" he asked. "Do I argue to fix the movie? Do I argue that the scene where Virginia Woolf is kissing her sister is too long?" He knew that Rudin had to make the final call, but, since Miramax had international-distribution rights, Weinstein got to decide about Venice. Later, I was told, he poked his head inside the screening room and asked, "What's the consensus?" The small Miramax audience replied that the movie was very good, but not yet ready.
Rudin, like Weinstein, has made many good movies; and, like Weinstein, he has a reputation as a bully. He once sent a memorandum to Allison Jackson, who was in charge of special projects at Paramount, and who arranged the premiere of his film "The Truman Show," saying, "Be aware that the only thing separating my hands from your neck is the fact that there are three thousand miles between us." Copies of this note were sent to all of Jackson's superiors. When Rudin was told about Weinstein's decision on the Venice festival, he was, predictably, furious. "The Hours," he insisted, would open without change on December 27th.
Rudin also felt proprietary about the Philip Glass score. I had met with him several weeks earlier, and he asked me to sit in the control room while he reviewed the opening scene with Daldry; he was telling Daldry that the music needed to be more dramatic. (Later, Rudin said that if Weinstein "had said he wanted three changes in the music and talked to me about it, I would have made changes. If someone doesn't treat you as a partner, you don't behave as a partner.")
After "The Hours" was screened for an audience in Los Angeles on August 19th, Weinstein, bypassing Rudin, wrote directly to Sherry Lansing, the head of Paramount, which financed the film with Miramax: "I received the scores for last night's screening of 'The Hours' and I was very disappointed, as I am sure you were. I definitely think that not going to Venice was the best decision. . . . We can have a great movie, but the music hurts. The music is so overused, repetitive, intrusive, schmaltzy and too telegraphic. Additionally, I share your concerns about finding the right cuts and the right text to make the ending more satisfying." Ultimately, Rudin made some of the music and tempo changes that Weinstein wanted; Todd Haynes's "Far from Heaven" filled the slot at Venice that "The Hours" would have occupied. Later, Rudin said, in reference to Weinstein, "He has never been willing to discuss anything with me related to the finishing of this film."
The fight between Weinstein and Rudin was more than a battle of egos; even Weinstein's detractors say that he has a superb eye for movies and their promotion. Bingham Ray, the president of United Artists, who has been working with independent films for twenty years, isn't fond of Weinstein, but he said, "The thing I respect the most about Harvey is that he has real passion for film and great knowledge." Stacey Snider said, "Often, I have seen him do something because he believes in it, not because he's handicapping success. Look at the movies he picks."
These movies--some produced by Miramax, many bought for distribution--include Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," Jane Campion's "The Piano," Jim Sheridan's "My Left Foot," Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game," Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Blue," "White," and "Red" trilogy, Kaige Chen's "Farewell My Concubine," Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso," Michael Radford's "Il Postino," Alfonso Arau's "Like Water for Chocolate," Iain Softley's "The Wings of the Dove," Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful," Stephen Frears's "The Grifters," Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient," and John Madden's "Shakespeare in Love." "This is a guy who longs to be in the business he's in, who understands it at almost perfect pitch, and is gregariously talented," Barry Diller said.
Weinstein has been mocked for zealously promoting charming but slight movies as if they were "Citizen Kane," as he did in an unsuccessful campaign to get an Oscar for "Chocolat," in 2000. But any director or actor who has made a movie that received little support or was quickly pulled from theatres--a film like Disney's "Rushmore" or Paramount's "Election"--appreciates that level of commitment. To Anthony Minghella, who has directed three Miramax movies, Weinstein "is a bull. And a bull that, when he's charging alongside you, can be an exhilarating presence in your life. If he's charging toward you, then it's a big force to negotiate."
Yet Weinstein's involvement often goes beyond support, right to the aesthetic heart of a movie, as Martin Scorsese learned while making "Gangs of New York," which is based on Herbert Asbury's 1927 book about clashes between immigrants on the streets of nineteenth-century Manhattan. When Miramax agreed, in 2000, to back the movie, Weinstein told Scorsese to fire the screenwriter Jay Cocks, Scorsese's collaborator and best friend, who had worked on the project through more than a dozen drafts in the course of two decades. Scorsese did it, gently telling his friend that their work together was over--otherwise, Weinstein wouldn't support the movie. Cocks understood. After filming began, in September of 2000, Weinstein spent sixteen weeks on the set in Rome. He and Scorsese tried to muffle stories that they were feuding, and at one point they issued a statement about their "terrific working relationship" and how much "fun" they'd had, but for the most part the relationship was neither terrific nor fun. Scorsese's friends say that he was miserable working with Weinstein. The one friend who will say this for the record, Jay Cocks, describes it as an "awful" experience--except that, in Cocks's view, "the movie turned out so well."
I met with Scorsese recently in the small screening room of his Park Avenue office, and he praised Weinstein for being "ruthlessly honest," for his "enthusiasm," and for his ability to get things done and to manage costs. Still, Scorsese says that the description of the movie set as "fun" was "a euphemism" to "psych myself" and the actors and crew; of Weinstein he said, "I found Harvey really imposing on me." Scorsese admits that he's not the easiest person to work with. "I have to be told stuff--only I don't like to be told anything," he says. "I took two of his nine ideas. I kept telling him he should direct. He's all over the product, the grammar." With Weinstein's prodding, "Gangs," which was originally supposed to be released a year ago, was shortened from more than three hours to about two and a half.
By this fall, the Hollywood gossip was that Miramax might suffer huge losses on "Gangs," but Weinstein denies this. He says that Miramax's financial risk has been minimized: foreign rights were sold for sixty-eight million dollars; Disney's Touchstone Pictures picked up half of Miramax's thirty-two-million-dollar commitment; and when the movie went over budget Bob Weinstein induced Scorsese and one of the stars, Leonardo DiCaprio, to defer more than six million dollars in salary for a bigger share of the profits. Assuming domestic marketing costs of thirty-five million dollars, and revenues from video rentals and sales, as well as television sales, Weinstein says, "I break even if the movie grosses fifty-five million dollars" in the United States. But many in Hollywood believe that the production cost of "Gangs" was closer to a hundred and twenty million dollars (Weinstein disputes this), so Miramax would lose money unless the movie grosses closer to a hundred million dollars at the box office.
Studio executives have always reviewed copies of daily footage, which gives them some idea of how a movie is unfolding, but in the past films were edited only in a cutting room, with the editor and the director laboriously cutting and splicing actual film. Today, using an Avid video-editing machine, a studio can easily create alternative versions of a film. At Miramax, Scott Martin supervises a team of three people who prepare post-production prints of each film and sometimes produce, under Weinstein's direction, an edited version of the film; when there are differences between the director and Miramax, Weinstein often shows the Miramax version to the director. The potential for creative tension is obvious: what if Weinstein had cut his own version of "Gangs" and tested it alongside Scorsese's? Although Weinstein says he's never shown his own cut version of a film without the director's approval, filmmakers complain he has done just that with several films, including "The Shipping News," which was released last year. Sometimes Weinstein leans on directors to the point where a film is drastically altered. Often, his instincts are right; this year, Miramax released the director's cut of "Cinema Paradiso," with fifty-one minutes restored. Most critics preferred the earlier, shorter film, which won an Oscar in the foreign-film category.
Because Weinstein immerses himself so deeply in the work of filmmakers, he's been called Harvey Scissorhands. In the case of "Frida," Weinstein's team made thirty-three cuts, totalling nine and a half minutes. The cuts sound more Draconian than they appear; to an untrained eye, they might be barely noticeable--twenty-eight seconds pared from a shopping scene, eighty-one seconds from a cocktail party. "I'm not cutting for fun," Weinstein said one day in his office. "I'm cutting for the shit to work. All my life I served one master: the film. I love movies." Julie Taymor described the process differently. "When he's in an editing room and he's in a good mood, we can work together," she said of Weinstein. And when he's in a bad mood? "I'm not going there," she replied. "Harvey feels conflict is necessary to get results. I don't. I think if people are open and cooeperate you get there faster." In the end, Weinstein left the final edit of "Frida" to Taymor, who made cuts and clarifications totalling almost two minutes, which was still less than Weinstein had wanted.
One day when I stopped by Miramax's office, I found Weinstein doing one of the things he loves most: editing a film. In this case, it was a film directed by Scott Spiegel. The film, "My Name Is Modesty," was based on the exploits of the comic-book character Modesty Blaise. As Weinstein watched a tape, a production executive took notes. After a few minutes, he said, "There's another way to begin the movie, which is here in the casino." Cut, cut, cut, he told her. "Less is more. This whole scene can be played faster. You're dying here. Cut the guards out here." After speeding through the nearly two-hour tape in forty minutes, Weinstein told the executive, "You get the idea." Weinstein had a satisfied look; his editing ideas made sense. Still, the director was not present. When I asked about that, he said, "Of course, these changes are subject to the director's approval."
Weinstein tries to bring an auteur's knowledge to his work--and this, he says, is something people don't know about him. "I am a perpetual student," he said. "And I can tell you that the most enriching thing that happened to me with Marty Scorsese is that, when making 'Gangs of New York,' Marty would give me a movie to watch every Saturday night, a movie that influenced him in the making of the movie. So over three years I saw eighty films that Scorsese gave me. I wanted to call it 'Saturday Nights with Marty,' because I would see David Lean, 'Oliver Twist,' from his own library. Here I am, twenty-two years, whatever, into the business, and I am learning more than I ever learned on any movie, from Marty." This is Harvey the cineaste, and he insists that it distinguishes him from his Hollywood peers. "If you asked people in the industry, 'Name me five Francois Truffaut movies,' I don't think ninety per cent of them could even tell you," he said. "Nor do they care. Which also bothers me. I see myself as an outsider."
Max Weinstein, Harvey's father, saw himself as an outsider, too. During the Second World War, Max was an Army supply sergeant based in Cairo. After the war, he stayed in the Middle East to support the Jewish underground in Palestine. In 1950, after he returned to the United States, he married Miriam Postel, from Brooklyn. They lived in a first-floor apartment in a six-story rent-controlled, union-subsidized housing development in Flushing, Queens. Their sons were born two years apart--Harvey in 1952 and Bob in 1954. The boys argued constantly, but were reminded by their father that their models should be the Kennedy brothers, who above all were loyal to each other. Harvey was big and burly; Bob was somewhat shorter and thinner.
Max was a diamond cutter in a booth on Forty-seventh Street, in Manhattan's diamond district. It was lonely work, but when the jewelry business was good the whole family vacationed in the Catskills. When it was bad, Miriam got a job as a secretary and the boys were sent off to their grandmother's bungalow upstate for the summer.
When Harvey was fourteen and Bob twelve, Harvey had what he considers an epiphany. At the time, he says, "we'd seen every movie in the neighborhood--all the spear, sword, and sandal movies." But one day, Weinstein recalls, "we read that a movie called 'The 400 Blows' is playing at the Mayfair movie theatre--it's Truffaut, but we don't know this at the time. And we think, O.K., here it is--you know, sex movie, 'The 400 Blows.' We walked two miles to this theatre.
"We go with six friends. And this black-and-white movie starts; and at the end of it the only ones left are me and Bob, because my friends say, 'This sucks. This is shit, this isn't what we were supposed to see. Harvey, you're an idiot.' And I said, I don't know, the title sounded good, we just wanted to see, like, you know, a sexy movie. . . . I didn't know that you could make movies like that. I thought all movies were 'Hercules' and James Bond and 'The Ten Commandments,' so instead here's the Mayfair movie theatre, and the Mayfair movie theatre is paradise--that's why 'Cinema Paradiso' is an iconic movie for the company. So this theatre became incredible. Every week. Anytime I could go. I couldn't believe these movies. Fellini. Visconti. I mean, my eyes were falling out of my head."
On Saturdays, Max Weinstein often accompanied his sons to the movies, giving Harvey and Bob a sense that it was O.K. to skip the playground and to get involved in creative activities--to see films with subtitles. "Max encouraged them to be individuals," a family friend says. Weinstein said, "He loved movies, but, you know, he worked hard, my dad. And so he would sleep in the theatre, and we would watch the movie. Especially the foreign-language movies. But I do remember seeing a seminal movie with him years later, when we were in college. I saw 'Amarcord' and I took my dad to see it, and he flipped out. It was his favorite movie, he said--a Fellini movie!"
Harvey and Bob were smart enough to skip a grade, but they didn't much like school. In 1969--a year when Max Weinstein supported Norman Mailer for mayor against John Lindsay--Harvey enrolled at a college the family could afford, the State University of New York at Buffalo; two years later, Bob entered SUNY at Fredonia, also in western New York. Harvey says he chose Buffalo because, unlike most state-college towns, it was a big city with more than one movie theatre. He quickly revealed his knack for promoting talent. As a member of an arts council, he worked on bringing concerts to Buffalo. Soon, he was having run-ins with a similar group. A student named Beryl Handler, who was a member of the rival group, remembers, "There was a lot of resistance, because he wasn't popular, because he would try and bully his way into concert situations." Weinstein says that the council was unimaginative. In any case, he was determined to produce concerts, and soon after he left the organization he and a classmate named Corky Burger flew to New York and persuaded Stephen Stills to perform in Buffalo. With that event, and twenty thousand dollars that Weinstein raised, a concert company was born: Harvey & Corky Presents.
Weinstein lived in an off-campus house with Eugene Fahey and Dennis Ward, two classmates from Buffalo who were political activists. They got Weinstein to join them in opposing the Vietnam War and in supporting George McGovern against Richard Nixon. Today, Fahey is a State Supreme Court judge; Ward is a lawyer and the secretary of the Erie County Democratic Party. The three stay in close touch, and their families get together every Fourth of July at the Weinsteins' house on Martha's Vineyard. In New York in late September, I met with the three college friends and asked Fahey and Ward to describe Weinstein as he was then. Fahey remembered Weinstein crashing into opponents in pickup football games. "Even when a block wasn't necessary, sometimes he'd block," Fahey said, smiling. "There's no such thing as touch football with Harvey."
Weinstein interrupted to say, "But I think we should remember who we were picking on. I was stupid enough to challenge the football team! Were we tough? Yeah. But who did we pick on?" It was a description that might have fit his skirmishes with Hollywood.
In 1973, both Harvey and Bob dropped out of college, Harvey as a senior and Bob as a sophomore. Bob moved into a new house that Harvey, Fahey, and Ward rented, and went to work for Harvey & Corky Presents. Right away, the company acquired a run-down two-thousand-seat theatre in Buffalo, called the Century, and scheduled concerts. Bob Weinstein came up with the idea of showing three movies for the price of one on Saturday nights. "He had a formula," Harvey recalls. "At eight o'clock, he'd show a good movie," and then two less well-known films.
In 1976, Max Weinstein died suddenly, of a heart attack, at the age of fifty-two. "He was a gentler version of Harvey," said Gene Fahey, who met Max in Buffalo, where he paid regular visits to his sons. Max had had some business and health setbacks; cataracts had made it difficult to cut diamonds. He was still going to Forty-seventh Street, but he no longer owned a booth. What made Harvey and Bob especially sad, someone who knows them intimately says, was that they "wanted to make Max proud," and they never had a chance to do it. Harvey, who was twenty-four when Max died, still finds it difficult to talk about his father. When he does, a family friend says, "he talks with reverence."
By the late seventies, Harvey was a Buffalo homeowner and Bob was married to a local hairdresser. They wanted to learn the movie business, and Harvey volunteered to commute to New York City and work part time as an assistant to Julian Schlossberg, who was the vice-president of East Coast production for Paramount. Schlossberg also ran a lecture series at Town Hall on the business, and one night in 1976 Harvey and Bob went to hear Arthur Manson, who was at that time the Warner Bros. vice-president for worldwide advertising and publicity. Manson spoke about the growing importance of marketing and research; just as vital, he said, was boldness. He explained how he had helped market "Willard"--the rat horror movie--and how the ads that had rats in them drew much bigger audiences than the ads that didn't. Then, there were movies, such as "Walking Tall," that succeeded because the studio waited for word of mouth to build. Twenty-six years later, Harvey's memory of Manson's speech is still vivid. "Arthur said something I never forgot: you could position a movie by using advertising," Weinstein said. "I loved the idea that you could educate an audience for a more intelligent film. And sometimes you have to put the rat in the ad."
Harvey wanted to get out of concert promotion, so he sold his share in the business. In 1979, Harvey and Bob formed a company called Miramax, after their parents, Miriam and Max. Miriam Weinstein was the receptionist at their first office, at Forty-eighth Street and Madison Avenue; she regularly brought pastries to work, and still does, although she is no longer the receptionist. Arthur Manson was recruited as a marketing and distribution consultant, a position that he still holds.
Their timing couldn't have been better, for the studio business model was changing. In the late sixties and early seventies, studios had supported films by directors who were breaking new ground: Mike Nichols's "The Graduate," Robert Altman's "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather," and Scorsese's "Mean Streets," among others. As Peter Biskind, in his book on the era, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," put it, "It was the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work--as opposed to the errant masterpiece--work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions . . . that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily." Blockbuster films--Spielberg's "Jaws" and George Lucas's "Star Wars"--became the new template for mainstream success; and this left an opening for the kind of movies that had first impressed the teen-age Weinstein brothers.
"The easiest way to get into the business was in the art-film business," observes Tom Bernard, who was then an executive at UA Classics and is today the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics. "You could buy a small movie in Europe for fifty thousand dollars, and, if that hit, you bought more." That was the Weinsteins' idea, and although they were not then trying to build a production studio, when they tried to book their smaller films into theatres, the studios pushed them out. Exhibitors asserted that there was no audience for the movies they promoted. "We felt the coldness of that system," Weinstein said. "No one cared about the Spanish director or the Chinese movie." When the brothers made their first trip to Cannes, in the late seventies, they discovered that the Hollywood studios had booked almost every room at the Majestic Hotel; they ended up sharing a bed in a room the size of a closet.
The first Miramax releases included films that were not precisely "The 400 Blows," such as, in 1981, "Goodbye, Emmanuelle," an erotic film. At the 1981 Cannes festival, the brothers pursued Martin Lewis, who had helped produce an Amnesty International benefit featuring Eric Clapton and members of Monty Python, and who by then had given up trying to find an American distributor for a film of the gala. Lewis was happy to make a deal with Miramax, and in 1982 the company released the film, "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball."
Lewis, whose background was in public relations and marketing, knew the value of controversy. A commercial showed one of the Pythons in front of the American flag wearing a tutu and fishnet stockings and declaring that he spoke for "the Oral Majority" in objecting to the "lewd, lascivious" content of the film. Miramax submitted the commercial to several New York television stations, and they rejected it. Soon, the stations' censoring of the ad itself became news; "Saturday Night Live" built a sketch around it. The film was Miramax's first hit--and, for several years, its last. The brothers tried their hands at co-writing and directing a movie, "Playing for Keeps," about a group of rebellious high-school kids. The movie vanished quickly, and deserved to. With twenty employees, Miramax was barely alive.
Financial relief came in 1988, when a British venture-capital firm, seeing a relatively inexpensive way to get into the movie business, invested two and a half million dollars in Miramax in return for a small stake in the company. This investment allowed the brothers to open a twenty-five-million-dollar line of credit. "Up to then, it was hand to mouth," Weinstein recalled. "We didn't know if the paychecks were coming in." The money allowed them to co-produce foreign films as well as to buy them; one of the first that they produced was "Scandal," a film about the British Cabinet minister John Profumo's affair with a call girl. "Scandal" was shown on what for Miramax was a record number of screens--four hundred--and made a profit. Miramax's breakout film came a year later, in 1989: Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies and Videotape," a study of a marriage coming apart in an era of sexual liberation, which starred Andie MacDowell and James Spader. The brothers had seen Soderbergh's film at Sundance, and Harvey credits Bob with recognizing its potential. They paid a million dollars for it, a hefty sum at the time. "They didn't even own the video rights," Soderbergh told me. "I was sort of wondering, Are these guys nuts?" Soderbergh says he chose the brothers over equal bids for two reasons: their passion for film and their public-relations savvy.
There were, to be sure, other important companies and divisions interested in independent cinema. Island Pictures released Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman," which won an Oscar for William Hurt; Orion Classics was behind films by Louis Malle, Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Akira Kurosawa. There was strong competition from New Line and Samuel Goldwyn. But by the late eighties only half a dozen independent films had grossed as much as five million dollars, according to a study commissioned by the Sundance Institute. And these movies rarely attracted the sort of attention captured by "Sex, Lies and Videotape," which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and went on to gross twenty-five million dollars. The Weinsteins made two other shrewd acquisitions that year, which won Miramax some of its earliest Oscars: "Cinema Paradiso" and "My Left Foot," starring Daniel Day-Lewis, who won the best-actor award. Young agents began to steer talented clients to Miramax.
The Weinsteins' appreciation of the art of moviemaking was matched by their gift for salesmanship, and for a while Miramax was extremely successful. The company paid four million dollars for "The Crying Game," which the major studios had rejected, and fashioned a publicity campaign around an anatomical surprise in the movie. In the end, the movie, released in 1992, grossed sixty-three million dollars and was nominated for six Academy Awards (winning one). Miramax won thirty-six Oscars in the next ten years.
Success, however, did not make Miramax a pleasant place to work. An assistant hired in the early nineties to work in production lasted for only eight months. She recalls it as "terrifying," with female executives screaming and cursing like the Weinstein brothers. "I cried constantly," she said. Donna Gigliotti, a producer, worked there for three and a half years as an executive vice-president and had a desk on the other side of a wall from Harvey Weinstein's office. "I was sitting at my desk one day and thought we were hit by an earthquake," she said. "The wall just shook. I stood up. I learned that he had flung a marble ashtray at the wall." In 1993, Fortune included the Weinsteins on its list of America's Toughest Bosses.
By the early nineties, Harvey and Bob wanted to do more than buy and distribute other people's movies; they wanted to produce more films of their own to compete with the major studios. But they didn't have the resources; for instance, when they tried to keep Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot"), Universal offered Sheridan a three-million-dollar deal that Miramax couldn't match. "It broke my heart," Weinstein said. The Weinsteins decided that Miramax needed a rich corporate parent.
In the spring of 1993, the brothers sold Miramax to Disney, for between sixty and eighty million dollars (the higher figure if Miramax met certain financial thresholds). The family-friendly Disney and the quirky and independent Miramax were an odd match, but both parties got something. Miramax and the Weinsteins got financial security; Disney got the Miramax film library--which now includes approximately five hundred films. This gave Disney more weight in the rapidly expanding pay-cable and video markets. The major restrictions were that Miramax now needed Disney's corporate approval before it could invest more than twelve and a half (since raised to twenty) million dollars in a movie, and Miramax could not release an NC-17 or X-rated movie. Weinstein declared that he had no problem with the new guidelines, and press reports described a new, mellower Harvey.
Joe Roth, who succeeded Jeffrey Katzenberg as Disney's studio chief in 1994, did not encounter a new Harvey. Soon after he took over the studio, Roth flew East for lunch with the brothers at the Tribeca Grill. "I walked into the restaurant thinking I was going to help them," Roth recalled. "They were paranoid about me." The brothers were uncharacteristically quiet, eying Roth warily. Finally, Roth exclaimed, "Hey, wait a minute. I'm here as the head of the studio and I'm here to help you."
"What do you mean, 'help'?" Harvey asked.
Roth remembers thinking, What did I get into? He also saw something else that would rankle over the years: the Weinstein brothers no longer owned the company, but they still acted as if they did. Weinstein once told Variety, "Michael Eisner can't make me do anything."
Disney's money did permit Miramax to develop more movies. This turned out to be a mixed blessing: it supported the brothers' gift for picking good films, but it also invited them to make the kind of "popcorn" movies with big stars that they'd once disdained. Still, the next few years were good for Miramax. Harvey Weinstein spent eight million dollars to acquire and produce Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," which won first prize at Cannes in 1994 and grossed more than a hundred million dollars in the United States--a first for an independent film. Tarantino told me, "Nobody else in town, even with the Palme d'Or, would have had the confidence to say, 'This is going to be a smash hit. We're going to open in the biggest number of theatres we can.'Warner Bros. and the other studios would have been scared of it."
Miramax also had more money to spend on nurturing talent. The director Kevin Smith, who was trying to win backing for his debut film, "Clerks," at Sundance in 1994, was having no luck. "'Clerks' screened well four times," Smith recalled, "and there wasn't a distributor lined up to see us at that fourth screening--except for Weinstein. He took us across the street to this restaurant and he had potato skins in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other and he was telling us how 'we're going to take the world by storm, and we're going to put a fucking soundtrack to this movie and we're going to take it out to fucking theatres and put it on fucking campuses.' And we're sitting there, like, 'Fuck yes! This is a dude we can get behind. A true vulgarian--with balls!'"
Disney money also permitted Bob Weinstein to launch Dimension Films, a division devoted to the revenue-producing horror- and teen-movie market. Bob succeeded brilliantly at making money for Dimension, even if he wasn't developing the kinds of distinctive films that Miramax had pledged to make.
Harvey Weinstein, as part of the larger, richer Miramax, appreciated his own power, and at the same time he denied that he had it. He tended to view Miramax and Hollywood in the old David vs. Goliath way. But Miramax, with the world's second-largest media company behind it, had long since become Goliath.
In the mid-nineties, Harvey Weinstein was still regarded as a colorful, shrewd character, perhaps because Miramax was backing movies that few others would, and because his outbursts were seen as mere tactics. His excesses, including altercations at film festivals--with Jonathan Taplin, the sales executive for "Shine," with Tom Bernard, the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, with Bingham Ray, the president of United Artists--were somehow seen as extensions of his passion, his commitment to good films. Harvey Weinstein saw himself that way.
In 1997, Miramax released thirty-four films, which earned record-breaking revenues of four hundred and twenty million dollars, nearly half of which came from the Dimension division, with movies like "Scream" and "Scream 2." "The English Patient," in which Miramax invested about thirty million dollars, won nine Oscars. Joe Roth had approved the investment on the condition that Miramax sell the overseas-distribution rights.
During the making of "The English Patient," Weinstein fought over money with the film's producer, Saul Zaentz, and with the director, Anthony Minghella, and the crew, who were induced to defer part of their salary. The movie grossed more than sixty million dollars in the United States--almost half of which went to Miramax--yet Minghella and the crew still haven't been paid in full, and Zaentz says that he hasn't received his full share of the profits. (According toWeinstein, he has given Zaentz more than three million dollars, and Zaentz is the one who is contractually obligated to pay the cast and crew.) Weinstein says that what looks like a hit in the movie business often isn't--that, since Miramax spent an additional forty-two million dollars to market "The English Patient," the company actually lost money on it. But that does not describe the real bottom line, which in Hollywood is often impenetrable. To get Miramax's support, Zaentz gave the company worldwide rights to all broadcast, cable, pay-TV, home-video, and other ancillary theatrical revenues--which meant at least fifty million dollars more for Miramax and Disney. Weinstein, meanwhile, says that Miramax, in selling off the foreign rights, "made a mistake" and lost out on its share of the hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar overseas box-office.
"We're in the process of filing a lawsuit," Zaentz told me last summer. As of this month, he still hadn't done so, yet he called Weinstein "a liar" and said, "I can't wait to go to court." Although Weinstein insists that it is Zaentz who owes the money to Minghella and the crew, Minghella suggests that it is Weinstein's obligation. Minghella also said, "I believe that if I called Weinstein and asked for the money he would pay." Minghella is at present finishing his third Miramax movie, "Cold Mountain."
Weinstein may quarrel with producers and directors, but he pampers actors. "Harvey has a more old-fashioned approach to relationships with movie stars," Gwyneth Paltrow told me. "It's very sort of mafioso--'We're all in this together.' He looks out for me." Paltrow has made seven movies for Miramax since Weinstein cast her in "The Pallbearer," when she was twenty-two, and then in her first starring role, in "Emma." Even when she does a movie for another studio, he treats Paltrow, whom he calls "the First Lady of Miramax," like family and congratulates her on good reviews or box-office results. He cast Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love," a Tom Stoppard script that had been owned for nearly a decade by Universal. Donna Gigliotti, who had a first-look production deal with Miramax in 1998, was enthusiastic about the script, as was Weinstein. He not only bought it but bet on a relatively inexperienced director, John Madden, because he was swept away by Madden's vision for the movie.
"When push comes to shove, the talent feel he's on their side," Joe Roth says. "It's almost an animal instinct." Minghella recalled how, during the filming of "Cold Mountain," in South Carolina, Jude Law's wife went into labor and the actor asked to fly home to England to be with her. Minghella was startled when Weinstein announced that he would send a plane to take Law to England, and agreed to pay the cast and crew for four days while they waited for Law to get back. "He demands loyalty, and he gives loyalty," Minghella said. Weinstein said that the decision to stop shooting cost Miramax $1.1 million. "Ask Jeffrey Katzenberg or Stacey Snider if they'd make the same decision!" he added.
In March of 1999, "Shakespeare in Love" won seven Academy Awards, including best picture--Miramax's second best-picture winner, after "The English Patient." In the process, Weinstein alienated Steven Spielberg. Although Spielberg won an Oscar for best director, his film, "Saving Private Ryan," was eclipsed by "Shakespeare." Spielberg "was furious at Harvey," said a movie executive who listened to his complaints, because he believed Weinstein leaked stories that harmed "Saving Private Ryan" with Academy voters. Weinstein denies it, claiming that he has never leaked any story.
In fact, either directly or through Miramax employees, Weinstein shovels clippings, correspondence, and gossip to reporters. He courts gossip columnists with screenings and openings and lunches. The Post's Cindy Adams says, with affection, "He's always available for a quote, whether you want one or not." Weinstein got Richard Johnson, the editor of the Post's Page Six, to write a script for a movie, "Jet Set." The project stalled, and Johnson says, "I didn't get a penny." Roger Friedman, who later joined Foxnews.com, signed a deal to produce and narrate a Miramax music documentary. When Weinstein learned that Ian Spiegelman, who had been a gossip columnist at the Post and at New York, had a collection of short stories, Weinstein urged Miramax's publishing house to bring them out. His editors said no. (Villard plans to publish another project, a novel, next year.) In 1999, Weinstein succeeded in persuading the publishing house to give a book contract to John Connolly, a Premiere contributor who had been working on a piece about Miramax. During the 2000 Presidential election, Weinstein met with Al Gore's daughter Karenna, two witnesses recall, and advised her, "The most important thing is the gossip columnists. The New York Times gets its news from them."
Weinstein doesn't hesitate to go over the heads of reporters who write about him. Last year, when David Carr was doing a profile of him for New York, he repeatedly got in touch with executives at Primedia, the magazine's owner, and with Caroline Miller, the editor, hoping to tone the piece down. He tries to treat profiles, including this one, as if they were a Miramax movie and he were the producer. Long before a Miramax movie opens, Weinstein cultivates writers; he invites movie buffs, editors, and Hollywood reporters--among them Janet Maslin, the former chief movie critic of the Times; the freelancer Holly Millea, formerly of Premiere; Lynn Hirschberg, of the Times Magazine; Guy Flatley, formerly of Cosmopolitan and the Times; Peter Herbst, the editor of Premiere; and Graham Fuller, of Interview--to individually screen the movie and tell him what they think. They don't get paid, but they enjoy proximity to a powerful figure who happens to know as much about movies as they do, or more.
As the nineties ended, everything seemed right with Harvey Weinstein's world. In 1987, he had married a Miramax employee, Eve Chilton, who comes from a socially prominent Massachusetts family. (Harvey and Eve have three young children.) At Miramax and Dimension, profits kept rising; a stable of talented actors and directors were making Miramax films--among them Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Anthony Minghella, John Madden, and Lasse Hallstroem. Weinstein had given generously to the Democratic Party and to President Clinton, who counts himself a friend; he spent a weekend at Camp David. "Among Harvey's many endearing qualities is that he's never forgotten that he was once a middle-class kid from Queens," the investor Steven Rattner, a friend and Martha's Vineyard neighbor, says. "So he pinches himself every time he's invited to the White House or when he realizes he can call the President on the phone." Rattner remembers that, during the visit to Camp David, Weinstein, who was hungry for two days because he couldn't stand the processed-ham sandwiches in the Navy mess, called Jeffrey Katzenberg for advice. Katzenberg told him about a Wendy's nearby, and Weinstein directed a Navy driver to take him there. When I asked Clinton about Weinstein's sometimes compulsive behavior, the former President said, "Something happens to you when you're a child and makes you feel that if you really want to have an impact in life you have to be in a hurry. And you can't be a milquetoast. And I don't know much about his life before he got involved with politics, but there's something there that planted a deep yearning in him that would let him define the work of his life, at least in part, by how much he got done how quick. And I think that guys like him--and me--if you're not careful you miss a lot of the other things in life."
In the summer of 1998, Weinstein lured Tina Brown, then the editor of The New Yorker, to start a new magazine, which would be called Talk. "I always thought it would be cool to have a magazine," Weinstein said. "I'm a magazine and book junkie. I don't know that Harry Cohn read magazines! I thought Tina was the best editor in America." He believed that the magazine could promote his movies and that his movie stars would pose for the covers of the magazine and that writers for Talk would generate movie ideas--it would be a model of synergy. He neglected to tell Michael Eisner about this venture, however, and the Disney C.E.O. was angry. "Michael definitely didn't want me to do it," Weinstein says. At the time, Disney was selling off its magazines.
Weinstein hired Ron Galotti, the publisher of Vogue, and persuaded Hearst, the nation's third-largest magazine company, to become his partner. He also announced the start of Talk Miramax Books, which would be overseen by Brown and owned by Miramax. When Talk was launched, in August of 1999, Weinstein and Brown invited fourteen hundred guests to be ferried to Liberty Island to mingle with celebrities ranging from Madonna to Henry Kissinger.
But, if the nineties ended triumphantly, the new millennium began miserably. During Weinstein's annual Christmas vacation in St. Bart's with his wife and children, he came down with what was said to be a serious bacterial infection. He was evacuated by private plane and hospitalized for more than a month, under another name, at a New York hospital, with no one but family members and old friends, such as Gene Fahey and Dennis Ward, allowed to visit. For two months, his only business conversations were with his brother.
To protect her family's privacy, Eve Weinstein refuses to grant interviews, and she insisted that Harvey say nothing about his illness. "It was a bacterial disorder" was all that Weinstein would say when I asked him about it. "I'm fully recovered." Michael Eisner and Disney were told no more. "I just know what you know," Eisner said. But, because Harvey and Bob have a personal-service contract that requires medical examinations for life insurance, Eisner says, "we asked that we be given assurances of his health. We got that."
Weinstein came out of the hospital forty pounds lighter. He quit smoking. But when he returned to work he seemed more frenetic, and his brawls became more frequent. Talent agents were angry when he called clients directly. Studios were angry when he tried to share the profits but not the risks, as Miramax and Universal had with "Shakespeare in Love." Weinstein seemed to want to change the rules. For example, he wouldn't release John Madden from a two-picture contract to direct for Universal and Working Title unless Miramax was made a partner and also got domestic distribution rights to "Bridget Jones's Diary." Weinstein told Premiere that he saw this as a way to "do big movies with no risk." To a senior movie executive who was involved in these negotiations, it sounded like "extortion." Weinstein had similar battles with Sony Pictures over "All the Pretty Horses" and with DreamWorks when he refused to release Lasse Hallstroem to direct "Catch Me If You Can." He says that everyone in Hollywood does the same. "Every time Steve Spielberg has gone up to the plate and said, 'I want to direct a movie,' the same people who criticize me go and get half the movie."
To be sure, every studio feels possessive about its talent; signed options with actors and directors are a return on investment. But Weinstein is different, one studio head told me, in that he will use an option "in a punitive way." Weinstein doesn't want to share the costs of the movie or trade half an interest in a Miramax film; instead, his partners, this studio head said, feel "raped"--a word often invoked by those dealing with him. The executive continued, "In the many years I have worked in this business, I never once stopped an artist from doing a project. Harvey does it all the time."
Weinstein even fought with Disney. When he lost a bid to buy the movie rights to "Ghost Soldiers," the best-selling book by Hampton Sides about the Second World War rescue of American soldiers from a Bataan P.O.W. camp, Weinstein decided to make his own movie, based on a similar story, which he'd owned since 1999. Spielberg, who was to direct the film for Marc Platt, at Universal, who had won the "Ghost Soldiers" rights, dropped the project, and Platt sold "Ghost Soldiers" to ABC as a miniseries--which meant that Disney was, in effect, financing two competing movies.
Weinstein took on Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter, the co-founder and co-editor of Spy--a magazine that had made fun of the Weinstein brothers. When Carter was leaving the Atlantic, a restaurant in Los Angeles, and passed Weinstein, Weinstein called out, "I hear you're doing a story on me?"
"No, we're not," Carter recalls saying.
"Well, I hear you are," Weinstein said.
"We're not--I would know," Carter said.
"I could do a story on Spy and all the drugs used there," Weinstein said.
"Not true," Carter replied, with a laugh, adding that Spy didn't pay enough money to buy drugs.
"I have my own magazine now!" Weinstein said, and they glared at each other. "Let's take this outside," he added.
Carter, like Barry Diller, imagined a fistfight. Instead, he said, "the second we hit the outside air, he put his arm around me and said, 'Graydon, you're a great editor. I just want you to know that. I hope my magazine will be half as good.'" Carter was unimpressed: "It was all for show. To look good. To intimidate me." Weinstein insists the exchange was civil, adding, "We went outside to take a walk."
At a book party for a friend in New York, Weinstein got annoyed at a reporter who insisted on asking him about a Miramax film project. Weinstein eventually began to berate her; when another reporter, Andrew Goldman, of the New York Observer, tried to intervene, Weinstein turned on Goldman, who was recording the exchange. In words captured on Goldman's tape recorder, Weinstein can be heard declaring, "You know what? It's good that I'm the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town." The altercation moved outside, whereupon Weinstein grabbed Goldman in a headlock. Goldman announced that he might file a harassment complaint against Weinstein. A Miramax spokesman later said, "Nobody acted like Albert Einstein, including Harvey." Photographers took pictures of the fracas, but the pictures never appeared anywhere. Goldman never filed charges.
Weinstein got deeper into politics. He was not only a friend of President Clinton's; he supported the Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer, in 1998, and Hillary Clinton, in 2000. He co-chaired a Radio City Music Hall fund-raising event for Al Gore's Presidential candidacy. Long before 9/11, Weinstein arranged for Talk Miramax Books to sign a three-million-dollar, two-book contract with Rudolph Giuliani and a nearly one-million-dollar contract with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Miramax employees contributed $45,500 to Hillary Clinton, according to records at the Federal Elections Commission. Weinstein's reach also extended to Republicans; this year, he raised around two hundred thousand dollars for Governor George Pataki, of New York. All in all, between 1998 and 2002, according to Weinstein, he and his wife gave candidates a total of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars and raised fourteen million more.
A fifty-third-birthday party and fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton at Roseland, in 2000, became a Weinstein obsession, and he spent hours helping arrange it. Nathan Lane was the master of ceremonies, and Weinstein wanted a run-through of Lane's jokes. "Harvey was concerned about the propriety of some of Nathan's material, and they got into an argument about it," the actor and director James Naughton, who directed the entertainment, told me. (At the fund-raiser for Al Gore, Weinstein had been upset by some of John Leguizamo's material, which was politically embarrassing.) Suddenly, Weinstein screamed at Lane, according to several witnesses, "Listen, you'll do what I tell you or you're off the show!" Lane declined to comment; Weinstein denied that this happened. One witness, a friend of Mrs. Clinton's, said of Weinstein, "He's the most volatile man I've ever met."
Last summer, I accompanied Weinstein to an unlikely venue: the Red Hook Container Terminal, in Brooklyn, where Senator Schumer wanted to call attention to a nuclear-security bill that he planned to introduce. Somebody had the idea of getting Ben Affleck to appear with him; Affleck had just starred in "The Sum of All Fears," in which he fights terrorists intent on smuggling nuclear devices into the United States. So, Schumer said, "I called Harvey," who agreed to call the actor on one condition, that Schumer see the movie. Schumer did, and Weinstein called Affleck.
The three of them--Weinstein, Schumer, and Affleck--arrived separately in Red Hook on a sticky, ninety-five-degree day. Schumer and Affleck wore dark suits and ties; Weinstein had on his usual three-quarter-sleeve wool knit shirt and a light-gray suit. Six TV cameras--no doubt, six more than Schumer otherwise would have lured to Brooklyn--recorded Affleck describing himself as a citizen and a New Yorker who learned from talking to experts that "no one thought it was difficult to smuggle nuclear devices into this country."
Schumer, standing beside Affleck, nodded. Weinstein nodded, too, but he stood behind the cameras, unrecognized by reporters. When Schumer called out his name, Weinstein continued to stare straight ahead, his jacket hooked over a finger, a Carlton lit, sweat on his forehead. "You don't want to get bigger than your movie stars," Weinstein said when I asked about his modesty.
Weinstein jumped into last fall's mayoral election, supporting the public advocate, Mark Green, a Democrat, who had defeated Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president, in a bitter primary. On the day before the election, Weinstein, without telling Green, arranged a "unity summit," and invited Ferrer and the Reverend Al Sharpton, hoping that they would embrace Green. Weinstein says he believed that Green's advisers supported his initiative, but when Green learned about the meeting he was furious; he didn't want to be seen as surrendering to Sharpton. Weinstein confirms that he shouted, "Fuck you guys. You don't know what you're doing. You don't know how to deal with blacks and Latinos. I can save the city." That night, Weinstein endorsed the Republican candidate, Michael Bloomberg. Green says, "I asked Harvey's people one question to ask Harvey after he endorsed Bloomberg: Would Harvey have given me final cut on 'Shakespeare in Love'?"
Weinstein was center stage after 9/11, when he threw himself into organizing a fund-raiser for the victims--"The Concert for New York City," at Madison Square Garden, which raised nearly thirty-five million dollars. Weinstein recruited as his co-chairmen James L. Dolan, the president of Cablevision, which owns the Garden, and John Sykes, the president of Infinity Broadcasting. He also brought in Paul McCartney, whom he knew from his rock-promoter days in Buffalo. Weinstein arranged with the hotelier Ian Schrager for the cast to go to the Hudson Hotel for a party after the concert. At around 3 A.M., people tried to coax McCartney into performing. Weinstein went over and wheedled, charmed, almost physically propelled McCartney onstage. The band began playing a Lennon-McCartney tune, "I Saw Her Standing There." Weinstein says, with satisfaction, "I never had a night like that in my life."
Weinstein admits that, with his political and other activities, he lost focus. "All of a sudden," he says, "I was, you know--the Senate race, the Presidential race . . ." He paused briefly. "Maybe it's the mortality you feel coming out of the hospital, you feel there are things that are more important." While he was ill, he made a vow to support Scorsese's "Gangs of New York"; but, because the film eventually cost at least a hundred million dollars and featured stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, it was cited as evidence that Weinstein and Miramax had abandoned their roots. This theory was reinforced when Miramax signed up a number of big-budget movies--"Captain Corelli's Mandolin," with Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz; "Serendipity," with John Cusack; "Kate & Leopold," with Meg Ryan. None of these were typical Miramax fare.
Miramax was shut out at the 2000 Oscars, although it received ten nominations, while other independent-film companies, often affiliated with major studios, were thriving with the kind of movies that had once been Miramax's signature: USA Films with "Traffic," Sony Pictures Classics with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and Paramount Classics with "You Can Count on Me."
When Weinstein is unhappy, he doesn't hide his emotions; as a result, the Miramax staff suffers from something akin to battered-spouse syndrome. Amanda Lundberg, who started at the company in 1988, left in 1992, and came back to run the movie-publicity department, says that Weinstein "can be over the top," but she also defends him: "When you're talking to Harvey and having an argument, he wants to know what you think. He will hear you." Staff members at Miramax often rise through the ranks and are encouraged to speak their minds and shout back; many think of themselves as part of a family. But it is a decidedly patriarchal family.
Weinstein was spending more time with Tina Brown and Talk, which had yet to generate much talk. This created strains among the Miramax staff, who often found themselves waiting for meetings while Weinstein was distracted by the magazine. There was also evidence of business friction between Bob and Harvey. Although the brothers insist that the shift was unrelated to Harvey's outside activities, in 2001 Bob moved his office to another floor. He began to concentrate more on Dimension Films, which generated sixty-five per cent of Miramax's profits that year. Bob told Time last spring that for the past six years Dimension had been the major breadwinner, adding, "I'm very focussed on the movie business," and implying that his brother was not. Often, staff members noticed Bob rolling his eyes at a Harvey project, though he never spoke badly of his brother.
Bob challenged Harvey's decision to cooeperate on this story. At a test screening of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," in Edgewater, New Jersey, Bob looked at his brother and at me, and said, "This is crazy!," before walking away. ("Confessions," directed by George Clooney, is based on a book by the game-show creator Chuck Barris.) Although I made regular requests to Bob Weinstein through his brother and through his spokesman, it took about three months to arrange an interview--and he finally agreed because I'd asked about the company's finances. When the hour arrived, Bob said that he would talk only off the record and only about Miramax's business. When I objected to these ground rules, he threatened to leave; Harvey was called in, and eventually persuaded Bob to chat. After twenty minutes or so, I asked about Max Weinstein. Bob erupted, screaming at Harvey for talking to me about their father, and insisting that Harvey knew he was writing an essay of his own about Max Weinstein. He calmed down, politely apologized, and left. Weeks later, Bob--who Harvey said had submitted his essay to Vanity Fair, where it will be published--was still yelling at his brother for betraying him, and Harvey was pleading with me to avoid mentioning their father.
No one believes that the brothers are going their separate ways. Not a chance, according to Michael Eisner. "They are extremely loyal to each other," Eisner told me. "They may fight, but if someone comes in between they close ranks. A lot of other families are dysfunctional. There is no loyalty. I love it when one defends the other when he knows the other is wrong."
There was nevertheless stress, probably exacerbated by the weakened economy, and press reports in recent weeks have said that the company will be in trouble if Miramax's movies falter this Christmas. According to a top Miramax official, profits, although down twelve per cent, were a hundred and forty million dollars for the fiscal year that ended September 30th. Disney does not break out its profits by division, but a senior Disney official says that the Miramax figure "is not in any way accurate"; still, he says, Miramax is comfortably profitable. (Miramax's accounting rules do not conform to Disney's.) In any case, the current fiscal year is only in its first quarter; among the films that Miramax is counting on in the coming year are "The Human Stain," from the Philip Roth novel, starring NicoleKidman and directed by Robert Benton; Kevin Smith's "Jersey Girl," starring Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck; and Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill."
Last January, Weinstein shut down Talk (though not the book division). "It was very natural," Cathleen P. Black, the president of Hearst Magazines, says. "Harvey might have wanted to stay in longer, but as we looked at the vital signs of the magazine we just didn't see a big enough turn in the magazine so that it would be a significant competitor to Vanity Fair." The magazine had losses estimated at fifty-five million dollars, half of which were charged to Hearst.
Publicly, Weinstein has been gracious, praising his publisher and editor and saying of himself, "I didn't do a great job, because I didn't understand the business." Privately, Weinstein made sure that the story wouldn't become ugly; as he often does when getting a business divorce, he made generous payments to Brown and Galotti, on the condition that they sign elaborate confidentiality agreements not to publicly disparage Weinstein or Miramax or to reveal company secrets. Last spring, Miramax laid off fifteen per cent of its worldwide staff of five hundred.
Harvey and Bob were also feuding with Disney, not only because both Miramax and ABC were going ahead with competing versions of the P.O.W. movie but because of a proposed audit of Miramax. One senior Disney executive said Eisner wanted assurance that Miramax's books were transparent and that the Weinstein brothers had engaged in no "creative accounting." It particularly rankled Disney executives that Miramax's accounting rules inflated the Weinsteins' personal compensation, which is based on profit-sharing. Eisner downplayed the audit. "Whatever audit was going on is a normal audit about how you account for a personal-services contract that relates to Bob and Harvey," he said. The brothers saw it as an attack on their independence, and hired two well-known litigators, David Boies and Bert Fields, to challenge it.
In August, Eisner talked to the entertainment attorney John Eastman. In the course of the conversation, Eastman mentioned that he was having breakfast the next day with his old friend Harvey Weinstein. "Perhaps you can bridge the gap between Harvey and the company," he remembers Eisner saying. After the breakfast, Weinstein phoned Eisner and promised, "I'm going to be a good corporate citizen." Within days, Disney had downgraded the audit to what it called a routine "analysis," and ordered ABC to terminate "Ghost Soldiers."
Weinstein started chain-smoking again last January, and his weight ballooned. But, even if he had reached a truce with Disney, it no longer seemed possible for him to arrange a truce with the rest of Hollywood; the fights, the shouting, the interference, the physical intimidation--all of it was catching up with him. Bingham Ray, of United Artists, believes that Weinstein has violated the spirit behind independent filmmaking. "He orders reshoots of some of the finest filmmakers and has redrafted countless scripts," he said. "We're dedicated to releasing other people's films. I've never allowed myself--or an employee of mine--to put myself on as an executive producer. It's disgusting. We're not the filmmaker."
Brad Grey, who also attended SUNY Buffalo, worked for Harvey & Corky Presents, and is now the C.E.O. of Brillstein-Grey, a talent-management and production agency, said with a smile, "Harvey and I have been friends for twenty-five years. He and I both know that the secret to our friendship continuing for a twenty-sixth year is the discipline of our doing as little business together as possible, and communicating at a minimum."
A senior Disney executive, anticipating Harvey Weinstein's downfall, observed, "In Hollywood, they don't root for you until they hear your cancer is terminal. This is a town that smells blood. When they smell blood, they circle like sharks. In Harvey's case, there is a sense that his streak has waned, that the magic may be gone." One powerful agent, who has championed Miramax since the late eighties, now says of Weinstein, "He was on track to be one of the greats of this business. The degree of narcissism and the number of people he's alienated has caught up with him. What was once charming is now seen as reprehensible. I told him this. Harvey's life in show business is going to be a great book. I hope Harvey in the end is closer to who he was at the beginning."
Few people in the movie industry will say this to Weinstein. Instead, one begins to hear what Jay Cocks calls "the weird tonal vocabulary of Hollywood." People go to screenings and snicker that the movie is awful, then, when the lights go on and they see the director, they say, "Your movie is wonderful." And it is true that some of the people who helped bring down Michael Ovitz are after Harvey Weinstein, though not often openly. Some executives will, in describing Weinstein to a reporter, characterize him as Mob-like, and then telephone him to say that they tried to be generous but doubted the motives of the reporter. Jay Cocks, who was a movie reviewer for Time before becoming a screenwriter, says, "They are all so busy being polite to each other that they forget how to be honest to each other. That leaks over to their movies, which is why there is so much synthetic emotion in films."
Weinstein doesn't doubt that the Hollywood establishment wishes him ill, but he doesn't think it's personal. "I think Hollywood's long knives are out for everybody," he told me. "That's sort of a way of life out there. If somebody's held in high esteem, based on, you know, hits, or something like that, then five minutes later everybody's got a knife out for them. It's the way of life."
Some people, like Gwyneth Paltrow, remain loyal to Weinstein but also understand what his detractors feel. "I love him very much," Paltrow says. "He's very passionate about what he does, and he's very competitive. The mistake is that it's very personal to him. He can't separate it."
Meryl Poster, who joined the company in 1989 and is now Miramax's co-president of production, is, next to Bob, Harvey's closest movie adviser. Poster, who considers him "a genius," says, "Harvey doesn't like to say no. And I think he gets into trouble sometimes that way--because he says things off the top of his head, instead of thinking them out. He says things all the time that he means at the moment, but can't financially work, and then it has to be rescinded, retracted, and changed. It's the instant gratification with him. That's why he's fat. He doesn't say no to food or cigarettes." The brothers have invested in plays and half a dozen restaurants, and want to do more. Harvey Weinstein says that a high priority is launching a Miramax cable channel to tap Miramax's film library. He plans to acquire and sell DVDs more aggressively. He wants to direct a film of a favorite novel from his youth, Leon Uris's "Mila 18." He's also writing a screenplay based on a children's book, and an autobiography. He says he'd love to own the New York Mets.
The Weinstein brothers were thrilled when, in October, the British Film Institute awarded them its highest honor for contributions to the industry--the first time in the organization's long history that studio executives had received the award. But the brothers know that it's not a great time for Miramax. Not only was there just one Oscar victory last year out of fifteen nominations; 2002 also had a fair number of costly flops, including "The Four Feathers," "The Importance of Being Earnest," and "40 Days and 40 Nights." Weinstein is betting that his two big Christmas releases, "Gangs of New York" and a movie version of the musical "Chicago," which preview audiences appear to like, will be winners. But musicals are always iffy, and early audiences have not been noticeably enthusiastic about "Gangs."
Miramax still produces movies in the old tradition: Atom Egoyan's "Ararat," which explores Turkey's role in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians nearly a century ago, released last month; and Peter Mullan's "Magdalene Sisters," about the mistreatment of "morally deviant" young women by nuns in Ireland, to be released next year. Weinstein still believes that he is different from most studio executives. "My loyalty is to the audience," he says. "I'm still the kid who walked into the Mayfair movie theatre."
Whether or not Harvey Weinstein has changed, the world around him has; his imagined enemies have become real. "Because of his success, the industry expects more of him, and wants him to relax his style," Marcy Granata, who was president of publicity and communications at Miramax for seven years and was one of his closest advisers, says. "But here is the rub. He's defined himself as the last angry man. He thrives on being an underdog who comes out the top dog--the winner--time after time. Anger is an ally, a tool. When he's winning, he stays angry to keep his edge. When he's losing, he stays angry to get back on top." Granata, who respects Weinstein, goes on, "He wants to go down as another Thalberg--and in the big picture he's held himself to that standard. He will always be this push-me, pull-you creature seducing industry people with his charisma, intelligence, authenticity, conveying a passion that has no rival--and scaring the shit out of them at the same time. His mojo is to harass until he gets perfection. If he were organized, buttoned down, mannered, and in control, it would be the end of his success. And he knows it. Much as he tries to adopt 'that other guy'--to let that guy take over completely would be the end of him."(c)