Harvey Weinstein took a break from campaigning for this year’s slate of Weinstein Company award hopefuls to take part in a Masterclass at the still underway Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland, where his company is screening Ryan Coogler’s Sundance sensation “Fruitvale Station,” Weinstein’s 10th film with Colin Firth “The Railway Man,” and the upcoming inspirational drama “One Chance.”
In a candid and lively 45-minute conversation, Weinstein dished on how he got into the business, this year’s awards competition and much, much more. Below are the highlights from the freewheeling convo.
How he got into film.
Weinstein recounted how he got into film through books. “The real thing that inspired me to make movies was an eye injury I had a kid,” he revealed. “I couldn’t go to school because I looked liked Quasimodo from ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ A woman who was next to me was a librarian and she got me reading from a very young age. Television was not like it is today. Instead I went into the world of books. Going back to school I had read most of the Russians, understood Tolstoy, didn’t understand Dostoyevsky (I still don’t). But reading Checkov, similar things, fired up my imagination about telling stories.”
He will direct a feature one day.
“I will make that movie, sooner rather than later,” Weinstein said of his long-gestating directorial effort “Mila 18,” an adaptation of Leon Uris’ WWII novel. “The script is finished. I have so many directors who say they’d produce the movie. Martin Scorsese said he’d do it, but cut three hours and make it a ten-minute short.”
He’s got a beef to pick with Switzerland.
Weinstein joked that he’d never come to Zurich before now because he had a beef to pick wit the country. “I thought you didn’t like me,” he said to a lot of laughs. Weinstein said he was bummed when Switzerland didn’t properly thank him to helping the country win the 1991 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for “Journey of Hope,” despite it pulling off the remarkable feat of beating France’s entry, “Cyrano de Bergerac.” “Everybody expected ‘Cyrano’ to win,” he said. “The Swiss government didn’t say they’d give me a Swiss army knife or watch,” he joked. “When ‘My Left Foot’ won in Ireland, we closed every pub in Dublin.”
He says he delayed “Grace of Monaco” because it just wasn’t ready.
When asked from an audience member why “Grace of Monaco” was pushed back to 2014, taking it out of this year’s awards race, Weinstein simply said the film wasn’t ready and, as a result, didn’t get any festival traction. “It’s hard to get into an Oscar race without at least some festival exposure,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough race this year. If you’re not ready, don’t get into it.”
There is no greater filmmaker alive than Quentin Tarantino.
“Quentin is a genius,” Weinstein said of the filmmaker. “There is no greater filmmaker in my opinion than Quentin. I love him like a little brother. It’s the best relationship I’ve ever had in the movie industry.”
What a film needs to have in order to get him interested.
“I like stories about outsiders,” he said. “I felt like one when I was a kid.” He also added that he likes films that are “educational without being medicine.”
He’s urging his brother to make “Scream 5” happen.
Weinstein said that he’s urging his brother Bob, who heads Dimension Films, to make “Scream 5” happen. “Everyone lived in ‘Scream 4,” he said. “I’m begging him to do the movie and just end it. We’ve milked that cow.”
He really likes “Prisoners.”
“I will tell you that outside of the movies that we made this year and we acquired, I saw the movie that’s the best film I’ve seen this year which is ‘Prisoners,'” Weinstein said. “It is is such an extraordinary work of art. Why I should be promoting a Warner Bros. movie when they tortured me on ‘The Butler’… Even I have to say it was painful, torture. Nonetheless they made a great movie and they’re good guys. Hugh Jackman and Jake [Gyllenhaal] are amazing in it. It’s incredible.”
Not acquiring “La Femme Nikita” was the biggest mistake he’s made.
When asked to list his biggest regret, Weinstein was quick to say it was not grabbing rights to Luc Besson’s “La Femme Nikita.” He said that he’d shown up to the screening ten minutes into the film and didn’t see what the big deal was as a result. “If you see me ten minutes early at screenings, you now know why,” he said.
He urges aspiring writers/filmmakers to use material available to them.
Weinstein ended the talk by offering his advice to aspiring filmmakers. “If you think you have to buy the number one bestseller, don’t. Go back in time, find a book that was written in 1940 that is great. Bernhard Schlink’s detective novels are damn good and most of them haven’t been made, somebody with a vision could do those. Easier than that is that Jane Austen is in the public domain, anybody can make ‘Emma.’ We made it but maybe you can make it again, make it better. Chekhov short stories, Tolstoy novels, they are there waiting for you. Get great material, the writing is so important.”