Watch Out British Helmer Richard Ayoade, Harvey Scissorhands May Be Back
Admittedly, we might be behind the times and some of us just started parsing Vanity Fair‘s fairly massive Hollywood Issue tome. Written by Bryan Burrough, (the author of ” Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34″ which spawned Michael Mann‘s 2009 movie) the thesis of the article is essentially what you see in its (and our) headline: Harvey Weinstein is back. Maybe a slightly more mature, warm and fuzzy Harvey Weinstein with 70% less temper tantrums and outbursts, but one that still knows how to make noise and get his hands dirty with his films for better or worse.
Here’s a few things we learned and a distillation from the lengthy article of the things we found interesting. It’s a piece we recommend you read.
1. Sundance/Indie Fans Watch Out. Harvey May Recut Richard Ayoade’s “Submarine” Film For The U.S. Market.
According to VF, a New York test audience’s reception to Richard Ayoade’s buzzed about coming of age U.K. film was “disappointment, subdued at best, sullen at worst.” After the screening, Weinstein apparently comes into the lobby and barely makes eye contact with the film’s director. “It’s amazing, the humor just doesn’t translate,” Weinstein fumed. “In Toronto they were on helium they were laughing so hard. These people, they don’t get it. They don’t get it. I just don’t get it. It’s like they need permission to laugh.” Burrough then recounts how Weinstein “riffs through changes he can make to the film,” which include a potential “place card” to establish the Welsh setting and oddly, perhaps toning down some of the heavy British accents. “We’ll take down some of the dialogue, like we did in ‘My Left Foot.’ Anyway, there’s a problem with the film. This is the process. I’ll fix it,” he says.
We say to Harvey, having not seen “Submarine” (at least this writer hasn’t but you can read one of our Sundance reviews here), the Toronto Film Festival and a New York test audience are two drastically different beasts. Apologies to our Toronto brethren, but TIFF audiences can be an army of trained seals lapping up any moment of any marginally funny film (we’ve seen it far too often) not to mention they’re all — starfuckers aside — film lovers, while test audiences are essentially the worst audiences ever. Meet someone in the middle Harv and adjust your expectations on what you should be a niche indie film (you do know what you bought, yes?).
2. According To Weinstein Himself His Eyes Were No Longer On The Movie Prize For A Few Years In The Mid Aughts
“I think I took my eye off the ball,” Weinstein said. “From about 2005, 2006, 2007, I was out of it. I thought I could oversee movies and have it done for me, so to speak.” The portrait painted is one of Weinstein desperate to be free of Disney’s control and perhaps having simply having too much control. A be-careful-what-you-wish-for boomerang. After Bob and Harvey left Miramax in 2005 to start The Weinstein Company, Harvey’s dreams of being a larger multimedia juggernaut — something he felt Disney prevented — started to swell. He heavily invested in a Facebook for the rich (a web-site called A Small World), he bought a stake in the television company Ovation, and he bought Halston, the fashion house. Weinstein was spreading himself too thin from the get-go.
3.Weinstein Lost His Passion For Filmmaking And It Started With ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ & The Divorce From Disney That Cost Him His Miramax Namesake (the company named after his mother and father).
Michael Eisner refused to allow Disney to release the film. After a protracted dispute, the Weinsteins eventually spent $6 million of their own money to buy the picture back and then released it themselves. Disney was the same company that would not let Miramax make the massively successful “Lord Of The Rings” films because they felt they would be too expensive and would never profit. Micheal Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/1” would go on to gross $200 million and become the most successful documentary of all time. But that headshaking struggle took its toll on Harvey. “The whole thing,” he said, “it was just disastrous.”
4. Weinstein Admits He’s Good At One Thing And One Thing Only: Making Movies. All His Other Failures Were Out And Out Disasters That Almost Bankrupt TWC.
“The trouble was I tried to make money” with the Web site, Weinstein said about his ventures into the Internet. “That was absolutely the wrong decision. You have to be able to lose money in these things for a long time in order to make a better product. But I was just fascinated by this stuff. I thought it would be fun and have fabulous payoffs. I thought it would take me in a whole new direction. But I was terrible at it. Terrible.”
5. How Disinterested Was Weinstein In Moviemaking? Completely.
“When I first got there, in 2008, the focus was not on movies,” TWC’s president David Glasser said. “Harvey was focused on Internet and fashion and the global media picture. I had expected I would see this unbelievable guy cutting trailers till three in the morning, but he wasn’t. He was just in board meeting after board meeting—Six Flags, Halston, all these things. It was a very different company than I expected. And for Harvey, taking his finger off the pulse was not a good thing. I remember a moment where we kind of sat down, and he started saying, ‘Look, I know what I need to do.’ It was just getting back in touch.”
6. By 2008, TWC was verging on bankruptcy.
In the summer of 2008, TWC had gobbled up almost $450 million of their $500 million credit line given to them by gold-plated investors. Interest payments wracked up to $40 million a year which surpassed their total overhead. Between 2006 and 2009, The Weinstein Company bought and released more than 70 films. More than a quarter of them failed to earn even $1 million at the box office and thirteen of these films grossed $100,000 or less. “Bob and I had never done debt,” Weinstein said shuddering at the memory. “The investment bankers would say to us, ‘Debt is cheap money.’ No, it’s not. Debt can be the most addictive thing in the universe, and it can kill you. You get used to living high off the hog. It was intoxicating. And so in 2008, I just woke up and said, ‘This is crazy.’ ”
Fast forward to 2011. TWC’s “The King’s Speech” is nominated for twelve Oscars (more than any other film this year) and has somehow bumped “The Social Network” out of the way to be the surefire contender for Best Picture. How did he turn that ship around, especially after months of critical swell over David Fincher‘s Facebook drama? Hell, that’s another story completely, but if Harvey does pull it off and ‘King’s Speech’ takes Best Picture (not to mention the Best Actor Prize Colin Firth is likely to nab), Weinstein’s comeback theme will officially begin to play.