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John Cameron Mitchell Vowed Never to Work With Harvey Weinstein After Seeing Him Scream at Another Filmmaker

Mitchell talked to IndieWire about how he avoided the executive — and the only filmmaker he knew who stood up to Weinstein's bullying.

John Cameron Mitchell attends a screening of Sony Pictures Classics' "The Seagull" at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, in New YorkNY Special Screening of "The Seagull", New York, USA - 10 May 2018

John Cameron Mitchell

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

John Cameron Mitchell occupies a unique place in show business. Described as a “glamrock multi-hyphenate,” he is as charismatic a stage performer as he is a visionary filmmaker. From “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” to “Shortbus” to “Rabbit Hole,” his films rarely fit into one succinct genre or tagline, but always reflect his unique point of view. His latest film, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” is a teen romance between a punk and an alien set in 1970s Britain. Based on the short story by Neil Gaiman and featuring an eye-popping ensemble clad in matching latex bodysuits, Mitchell called it “The midnight movie that I grew up with, the one that I wanted to see.”

Never one to compromise, Mitchell often wrestles with the creative dilemma of working in a medium that requires so much outside financial support to come to fruition. ““I’m a money launderer, that’s how I see myself,” he said in a phone interview. “If you pass it through my system, I will take your ill-gotten gains and make something useful, hopefully. Which is why I’ve actually taken money from people that I didn’t necessarily wanna hang out with to make my films.”

There is one major Hollywood producer he made sure to avoid: Harvey Weinstein. “I saw him screaming at a brilliant filmmaker,” Mitchell said, guessing the time frame was sometime in the 2000s. “I thought, ‘I’m never gonna work with that guy. I don’t know anything about him, except that he’s a bully, and that he seems to destroy people’s lives.’ So I said to myself, ‘I would rather a film of mine didn’t come out if he was the only distributor interested.'”

When asked if he could remember the name of the filmmaker, Mitchell said: “I think it was actually Pedro Almodóvar, who’s no pushover, that he was screaming at. I feel like it was at The Plaza or something. I don’t know why I was there. It’s not one of my usual hangouts.”

A representative for Almodóvar told IndieWire: “Pedro doesn’t remember to have been screamed at by Harvey Weinstein ever, [or being] with him at the Plaza.”

While Mitchell never had a direct offer from Weinstein, he said the producer did express interest in Mitchell’s work. “Harvey kinda [said], ‘You’re a very talented filmmaker,'” Mitchell said, calling it “a kind of seductive come-on line … a distributor come-on line, thank god it wasn’t any other kind of come on. He set himself up as the arbiter and the great Jabba the Hut of of independent films. But everyone I knew who worked with him were casualties. I knew a number of friends whose films were gutted. I didn’t know about the sexual stuff, but it didn’t surprise me. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Mitchell knew himself well enough to know it would not have been a good match. “I would have wilted, I would have crumbled,” he said. “I wouldn’t have given in creatively, but I would have emotionally crumbled under that kind of power mongering. I would have a nervous breakdown or something, if I was working with him. So I avoided it. Not that I was getting any offers, but I actually vowed that if it was gonna happen, I would avoid it all costs.”

The filmmaker did note that some filmmakers managed to withstand Weinstein’s influence. “The only person I [knew] who could stand up to him creatively was Todd Haynes,” he said. “And he always had final cut, which was unheard of.” The last Haynes film released by The Weinstein Company was “Carol,” but Haynes was asserting himself against the mogul as early as 1998, while working on “Velvet Goldmine,” which was distributed by Miramax. “He didn’t buckle under them, and Weinstein dumped it,” Mitchell said. “Didn’t promote it, just dumped it in theaters. But Todd didn’t back down and re-edit. Not too many people had final cut with him. I think maybe Tarantino and a couple other people. I just am glad I never had to deal with that.”

A24 will release “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” in theaters on May 25. 

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