With The Weinstein Company’s announcement that it will file for bankruptcy, films starring Joaquin Phoenix, Nicole Kidman, and Benedict Cumberbatch hang in the balance. For the producers who have dozens of works in development, so does their peace of mind.
For the last five months, after allegations against co-founder and former co-chairman Harvey Weinstein threw the studio into chaos, they’ve been watching helplessly as the company collapsed — and potentially taking their projects with it. An estimated 40-plus TWC projects for film and television are in limbo, including a Sylvester Stallone TV series, a Judy Garland biopic, and a movie based on Hasbro’s Furby line.
While Quentin Tarantino escaped to Sony, he’s the outlier. Several producers told IndieWire that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit “blew up” their hopes of retrieving work “stuck” at TWC. “I don’t know if anyone can pull anything out of there,” said a staffer at a production company with a TWC adaptation hanging in the balance. “It sucks.”
Over Easter weekend, Universal will debut “Mary Magdalene” starring Joaquin Phoenix in many international territories. In North America, Garth Davis’ follow up to “Lion” is mired in TWC, where it has no release date.
Shortly before the TWC crisis began, “Hidden Figures” director Thodore Melfi wanted to find another home for his adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel, “Every Exquisite Thing,” which he set up at TWC in 2014. He’s finished the script; in 2016, Elle Fanning was attached to star. “And then the implosion,” he wrote IndieWire over email. “And now the project is tied up there. I’ve asked a few times how I could buy it out of there or move it … and they are reticent to make any such deals until they have their business figured out.”
While producers have been anxious for months, hopes began to collapse after Schinderman’s lawsuit. One source close to the deal said that Schinderman wanted to discuss the deal with Maria Contreras-Sweet weeks ago, but she was then under a non-disclosure agreement from TWC that prevented her from discussing the negotiations with outside parties.
On February 21, Contreras-Sweet and her fellow investors (including Ron Burkle) finally met with Schneiderman to discuss her reported $500 million bid for the 12-year-old company. The proposed deal — which called for a victim’s compensation fund and a female-led board — had the blessing of women’s-rights attorney Gloria Allred, who is currently representing multiple victims of Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. Part of the meeting focused on raising the victim’s fund price tag from $10 million to $40 million.
Ben Cawthra/REX/Shutterstock, Billy Farrell/BFA/REX/Shutterstock
The talks may have been too little, too late; at this writing, the deal is off. “I was surprised to read in a publication a letter from The Weinstein Company (TWC) representatives that they were terminating our negotiations to purchase the assets of TWC,” Contreras-Sweet said in a February 26 statement. “Based on our discussions, it was my understanding that we were close to signing the transaction documents in a couple of days. Regrettably, it appears that this transaction has now ended.”
The accuracy of that statement is still subject to debate. On the afternoon of February 27, Variety reported that TWC still hoped to hammer out an 11th-hour deal and stave off bankruptcy.
Robyn Sokol, a bankruptcy attorney and partner at Brutzkus Gubner, believes if TWC did file, it would be Chapter 11, as Chapter 7 would remove all control from the officers and the board. Ms. Sokol also believes that the best result for any bankruptcy would stem from selling an active business.
“If TWC seeks bankruptcy protection, the goal will be to get as much money for the assets as possible,” she said. “And the best way, in my opinion, to do that is to sell the business as a going concern, with the employees intact and all the assets including licensing rights, production rights, and financing intact.
“The pending action filed by the state of New York against TWC has made selling TWC as a going concern a bit more complicated as the Attorney General has made certain demands on the proposed buyer, and to a certain degree, the seller,” added Sokol. “A bankruptcy filing may impact the leverage of the Attorney General to broker a resolution that dictates how the buyer runs the purchased business. If the assets are sold through a bankruptcy case, the issue will be what’s best for the bankruptcy estate: How can we get as much money as possible into the estate?”
At this writing, it’s unclear whether TWC can avoid bankruptcy. But if and when it does file, producers would be all but helpless in the face of the bankruptcy courts as all TWC assets would become property of ‘the estate,’ which includes all contract rights.
“It will be more costly [to get a film back],” said Sokol. “The bankruptcy filing will not alter the terms of a written agreement, but if TWC files, the non-debtor parties to agreements will be stayed from enforcing their contract rights if a breach has occurred without first obtaining bankruptcy court approval to do so.”
That’s why, as one producer said, “People are starting to — across the board — shit their pants.” He counts himself among the “group of survivors” who have no choice but to wait and see. “We all talk to each other, all the people that have projects through there, and we’re all completely flummoxed and confused… We don’t know what’s happening, and trust me, we’re trying.”
Kristin Callahan/ACE Pictures/REX/Shutterstock
Selling their films to international territories provides little comfort. The upcoming overseas release of “Mary Magdalene,” which was co-produced by Universal, is the exception; most of those deals can’t happen until the film has a domestic release. Said one producer, “Everyone’s [waiting to release and] watching what’s happening to TWC. I think a lot of these movies have holdbacks, where they can’t release it within a certain window before the movie comes out. So it’s frozen, it is truly frozen.”
Added another producer with a string of lost release dates, “It’s been frustrating because I assume that they’ll never release it. It’s hard to get any straight answers.”
Here’s a list that highlights some of the titles currently held hostage.
- “The Current War”: Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon play electricity pioneers Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the latest film from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” also a two-time Emmy nominee for “American Horror Story”). The film lost December and November release dates after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it earned a grade D from IndieWire’s David Ehrlich.
- “The Upside”: This remake of the 2011 French comedy “The Intouchables” stars Bryan Cranston as an affluent paraplegic, and Kevin Hart as his assistant with a criminal past. Featuring a supporting turn from Nicole Kidman and helmed by Neil Berger (“Divergent”), the film was once slotted for a domestic release on March 9. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn awarded the film a C out of the Toronto International Film Festival.
- “War With Grandpa”: Adapted from Robert Kimmel Smith’s best-selling 1984 children’s book, the feature stars Oakes Fegley (“Wonderstruck”) as a young boy who pulls pranks to get back his bedroom, which has been taken over by his grandfather (Robert De Niro). Uma Thurman and Christopher Walken co-star. The film’s first release date (of three so far) was in April 2017.
- “Fahrenheit 9/11”: Michael Moore sued TWC in 2011 for denying him profits to “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the highest-grossing documentary in history. Still, the studio picked up sequel distribution rights in May 2017. In late November, Deadline reported that TWC was battling Moore to maintain the rights.
- “Hotel Mumbai”: Filming took place in Australia and India for this look at the 2008 terrorist attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, inspired by the documentary “Surviving Mumbai.” Dev Patel and Armie Hammer lead the cast.
- “Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland”: Film and stage rights for Gerald Clarke’s biography of the late triple-threat were optioned by TWC. As early as 2009, it was reported that Anne Hathaway would play the lead; on a 2014 “Howard Stern Show” interview, Harvey Weinstein prematurely predicted that the “Les Misérables” Oscar-winner would begin shooting that summer.
- “The Senator’s Wife”: In that same radio interview, Weinstein provided details about this film, a look at how the NRA defeated post-Sandy Hook gun legislation reforms. Meryl Streep was once set to star.
- “Omerta”: It was reported in Spring 2016 that Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) would direct and executive produce this Sylvester Stallone-led television series, based on the final novel by “The Godfather” scribe Mario Puzo. A representative for Fuqua said he detached from the project prior to news of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misconduct.
- “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock”: This film was supposed to be Channing Tatum’s directorial debut; he has since left the project.