Miramax Regroups

The public face of Miramax Films is and always will be Harvey

Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein loves this dirty town. He loves barreling through its

corridors of power, politics and social ambition, uniting, usurping and

generally proclaiming his existence. He is Burt Lancaster in an inflatable

suit.

But despite all the noise that Mr. Weinstein, 50, makes in this

city, he is only the co-chairman of his company. He shares the title with his

younger brother, Bob Weinstein, a man who is all but invisible to the naked

eye.

Occasionally Bob, who’s 47 and recently married, can be spotted,

looking intense and nervous, at Elaine’s or some Miramax premiere party, but

mostly he lets his brother have the spotlight.

Yet in the wake of Miramax Films’ biggest bloodletting in its

22-year history-approximately 75 staffers by the company’s count-it is Bob

Weinstein’s name and the very successful division of the company that he

oversees, Dimension Films, that keep rising to the surface. Perhaps it has

something to do with the fact that for the first time, Miramax has had to put

the cold, hard facts of finance before its love of filmmaking. As one Miramax

insider pointed out: “Harvey understands money inside-out. But Bob is always

the one who’s made it his responsibility to look out for the bottom line.”

And after years of getting great mileage out of brother Harvey’s

mastery of perception, Miramax, for the moment, seems to be steered by Bob’s

cold fix on reality.

The company’s new reality is this: Dimension Films, which has a

dedicated staff one-fourth the size of Miramax-although sources within the

company point out that many executives are shared-managed to earn both plaudits

and revenues with five films in

release. Its first critical hit, the Nicole Kidman thriller The Others , grossed over $97 million

domestically, although some people thought it was one of Harvey’s pictures the

way Bob’s big brother was steering Ms. Kidman around town. Spy Kids turned into a surprise blockbuster, grossing almost $113

million, and the Wayans Brothers’ spoof sequel Scary Movie 2 grossed $71 million in the United States.

And Miramax? Well, according to a Miramax source, Bridget Jones’s Diary did approximately

$72 million domestically, Chocolat

did more than $70 million in 2001, and Serendipity

grossed $50 million. But then there was Captain

Corelli’s Mandolin , a co-production with Universal, which cost $57 million

and pulled in just $26 million. Two Christmas turkeys didn’t fare much better: The Shipping News cost $35 million and

made $11 million, while Kate &

Leopold nearly broke even on its $48 million price tag.

Then there was the magazine called Talk . That one was Harvey’s baby-one that bled the company for $25

million in the three years of its existence, all the while breeding resentment

within the ranks of Miramax because Tina Brown and her minions got swanky new

Chelsea offices, and Miramax staffers had to work out of three different

locations.

And so in the weeks before Miramax’s March 15 announcement, as

rumors of the cuts swirled and there seemed to be an awful lot of meetings

involving Bob Weinstein, Miramax executives and staffers became convinced that in the right-brother/left-brother equation

that rules the company, Bob, whom one insider called the “ka-ching” side of

Miramax, was asserting himself.

Indeed, within the company there was speculation that

Miramax-which hired a new chief financial officer, Ross Landsbaum, late last

year-was contemplating revising its methods of accounting in ways that would

hold Miramax Films (the releasing division, not the umbrella company) more

accountable for its successes and failures.

Elizabeth Clark, executive vice president of publicity for

Dimension and a senior Miramax executive as well, denied that this was

happening. Miramax and Dimension have always had their earnings reported as one

company’s, and Ms. Clark told The Transom that “we are not changing the way

that Miramax accounts for its business, which includes both the Miramax and

Dimension labels as one entity.”

This doesn’t mean that some perceptual shifts aren’t taking place

at Miramax. As one insider put it: “It’s not about accounting; it’s about

drawing the line.”

In her role as Dimension’s mouthpiece, Ms. Clark would not say

that Bob Weinstein was laying down the law at Miramax. “Harvey and Bob discuss

every aspect of the company together,” she said. “It’s not Bob mandating. They

jointly decided this was the best thing.”

But Ms. Clark also said, “Bob is proud that he had a good year.

He’s proud of it, and he’s not going to shy away from that.”

Meanwhile, Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik told The Observer : “One of the great things

about Miramax as a whole is the diverse slate of films. The incredible

commercial success of Dimension has allowed the company to continue Bob and

Harvey’s commitment to bringing independent and foreign films to the screen.”

Though neither Ms. Clark nor Mr. Hiltzik would acknowledge it,

sources within the company said the March 15 downsizing cut into Miramax’s

payroll far deeper than Dimension’s and demonstrated a long-awaited

acknowledgment of the fiscal structure of the companies.

One Miramax executive familiar with the situation said that

Dimension wasn’t spared from the cuts, even as it faces summer with a schedule

that includes Spy Kids 2 and Halloween: Resurrection . Its

15-position publicity division, for example, cut two people and eliminated two

slots that were waiting to be filled. But in the last month, Dimension has also

made at least one major hire, former PMK/HBH publicist Jennifer Glaisek.

Sources said Ms. Clark hired Ms. Glaisek to ensure that her division will be in

good hands when she goes on maternity leave-but given Ms. Glaisek’s previous

employer, one of the true heavy hitters in the celebrity P.R. business, she

didn’t come cheap. Indeed, PMK managing director Lois Smith said she wasn’t

able to match the salary that Dimension offered Ms. Glaisek, “and I would have

loved to have matched it,” she added.

Meanwhile, a source at Miramax said that their summer schedule

includes A View from the Top , with

Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate and Mark Ruffalo, and

possibly-monumentally, at long last-Martin Scorsese’s hugely budgeted Gangs of New York , with Leonardo

DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz. But PMK’s Ms. Smith, who

represents Mr. Scorsese, said she’s heard a range of potential release dates

for the film between summer and Christmas 2002. “I’m just hoping they’ll let us

know,” she said, “so we can plan accordingly.”

According to the New York

Times March 16 article about the cutbacks, the majority of the dismissals

were in the publicity, marketing and production departments. “It should have

been a good year at the company,” said one source. But, according to sources

familiar with the situation, Miramax also eliminated three of six

post-production positions, its four-person exhibitors’ relations department and

its Chicago office. Mr. Hiltzik would not confirm the layoffs in

post-production or exhibitor relations.

Mr. Hiltzik said the layoffs were an effort to streamline the

company back to October 2001 levels. A Miramax source said, “This is setting us

back five months, not five years. Sometimes you need to take a step back and

consider whether you are operating at your highest efficiency. There were

changes that needed to be made.” The source also said, “We grew too much too

fast.”

As the bad news was delivered on March 15 at Miramax’s Tribeca

office buildings on Greenwich Street, Beach Street and Hudson Street, company

sources said that security guards, whom one staffer described as “thugs,”

escorted the newly unemployed out of the building. Robin Jonas, a veteran of

Miramax’s publicity department who was laid off, was seen crying at her desk.

E-mails bearing the subject line “MiramAXE” zigzagged between

employees as the dismissals took place. Each time an employee was seen packing

his or her belongings, their name was added to the list.

Miramax sources said that the employees in Miramax’s Chicago

office were part of the tally of dismissals-75-that the company released to the

press. But on Monday, March 18, some of those employees seemed to be unaware of

their fate. An assistant who picked up the phone said that she “hadn’t heard

anything about” the possibility of her office being shuttered. Gene Gibbons,

who ran the office, would not comment on the situation. An hour later, Miramax

spokesperson Mr. Hiltzik acknowledged that “as part of the process of

streamlining our operations, we are following the industry trend and closing

our Chicago office.”

Elsewhere in the company, Miramax co-president of production

Meryl Poster, who was responsible for conveying the bad news to employees in

several departments, lost one of her two assistants. A number of other

employees were unplugged: assistants, the Special Events director, various

creative executives. Sources said that the Dimension publicity staff huddled in

a separate meeting on Friday afternoon after the bloodshed.

Strangely, Talk/Miramax Books, the surviving publishing arm of

Talk Media, had to trim its small staff of 10 by three people. Run by Tina

Brown and Jonathan Burnham, is often trumpeted as the wholly owned and truly

successful remnant of Harvey Weinstein’s venture into publishing, the company

is about to release books by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Queen Noor of Jordan

and Madeleine Albright. 

“Last year doesn’t define me,” Mr. Weinstein told the Observer at last year’s Oscar pageant.

And maybe this year doesn’t either. Or maybe it defines a new, more streamlined

and quieter Miramax. The company still garnered 15 Oscar nominations, including

a Best Picture nod for In The Bedroom ,

a film that it distributed but did not produce.

But the announcements of the cutbacks come at a time of the year

when Miramax has been used to putting its best foot forward, attempting to crow

“King of the World!” but in a nice way: Oscar Time. 

Win or lose, Harvey Weinstein likes to be the Sunshine Boy of the

Oscars, dispensing gruff wisdom and insouciant comments as he trails a conga

line of Hollywood’s new hot things and some old ones as well. Show business is

tough, and it doesn’t seem very long ago that Mr. Weinstein practically wore a

toga and an olive wreath as he won for

Shakespeare in Love . It was a great moment by anybody’s standards.

The March 15 announcement probably won’t hurt this year’s Oscar

chances any. According to sources within the company, none of those let go were

working on Miramax’s Oscar campaigns. And every company in Hollywood has had to

take some kind of economic hit in this terrible economy: Disney alone, let go

of 4000 employees in the last year and a half, and on March 18 announced that

it was laying off 250 of its animators.

Nevertheless, some company sources contend the announcement was

timed so that the majority of Academy votes-which were due by March 19-would

have already been cast. But it does mean that Harvey Weinstein is going to land

in Tinseltown with a whole lot of industry people and wretched journalists

wondering what’s up with Miramax. At a time when he’d probably rather be

celebrating and exhibiting his usual gruff, volcanic exuberance, he’s going to

have to be answering, or dodging, questions about Miramax, as well as the now

yearly kerfuffle over dirty publicity campaigns. This year, Washington Post reporter Sharon Waxman

has all but accused Mr. Weinstein of masterminding the plot to discredit Ron

Howard’s A Beautiful Mind , which is

in competition for the Best Picture prize with In The Bedroom. 

It’s probably going to mean that jubilant, irrepressible Harvey

Weinstein is going to be a whole lot quieter this time around the Oscar

carousel. Internalized, suppressed and responsible. Like his kid brother.

Run for Your Life!

Ben Gazzara, muse? It’s hard to imagine the Run for Your Life actor in

La Belle Noiseuse mode-especially with that 5 o’clock shadow he never seems

to be without. But that was definitely the impression Mr. Gazzara gave at the

March 14 opening of Julian Schnabel’s Big

Girl exhibit at Larry Gagosian’s Chelsea gallery.

As rock artist David Bowie, actors Al Pacino and Adrien Brody,

fashion designer Helmut Lang and Mr. Schnabel’s mother and father checked out

the artist’s work-giant canvases depicting the faces of girls whose eyes were

obscured by a kind of streak or blindfold-Mr. Gazzara stood by Mr. Schnabel

nursing a drink and occasionally reaching out to pat the hefty artist’s cheek.

Although Mr. Gazzara professed that “I know nothing about

painting; I know about love,” he does follow Mr. Schnabel’s career-closely, it

turns out.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I have to. I hang out while he paints,”

Mr. Gazzara said. “He’s painting these enormous paintings, and I sit with a

bottle of wine and I watch and kibitz with him while he paints.

“I drink the wine, I look at the art, I suggest what color he

should use, what brushes- naaaaaah ! Ha

ha ha!” Mr. Gazzara let out a raspy, staccato laugh. Then he went for The

Transom’s cheek.

-Elisabeth Franck

Urine Trouble

At the entrance to the Jewish Museum’s current exhibit, Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art -described

in its catalog as “the most daring exhibition ever mounted by the Jewish

Museum”-museum director Joan Rosenbaum has posted a question on the wall: “What

are the limits of irreverence?”

For museum brass, the line apparently gets drawn at golden

showers.

Although the show includes such controversial and much-debated

works as fake Zyklon B canisters made of Chanel and Hermès wrappings, and a

fake Diet Coke ad featuring emaciated inmates at Buchenwald, the show’s curator

asked artist Roee Rosen to remove the text depicting the aforementioned

activity from his installation Live and

Die as Eva Braun (1995).

The work, which appeared in a 1997 exhibit at the Israel Museum

in Jerusalem to considerable scandal, has never been altered before. “The

museum director seemed to have felt that parts of the text were too sexually

explicit and may be found too offensive,” Mr. Rosen said from New York, where

he was visiting. “The sensitivities were heightened, and they didn’t want to

add any unnecessary offenses.”

“The Roee Rosen [piece] was abbreviated in the exhibition from

what appeared in Israel,” a museum spokeswoman said. “A big part of the reason

was space. There were other reasons as well, and I’m not going into that.”

Live and Die as Eva Braun

consists of a series of images and text that invites museum goers to imagine

themselves as Adolf Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, in the final moments of the

Third Reich.

Walking through the installation, museum goers view, in

chronological order, images meant to represent Ms. Braun’s worldview at the

time: seemingly naïve and childish imagery mixed with perverse or morbid

elements, all depicting a mental space where, according to the catalog, “moral

judgment is suspended and brutality becomes seductive.”

At the Jewish Museum, however, the first text banner for Mr.

Rosen’s installation warns its viewers that parts of the text have been omitted

at the request of the museum.

Mr. Rosen said that initially he’d spoken with curator Norman

Kleeblatt about shortening some of the text in his work because, “in terms of

installation in a group show, it’s a little burdensome.”

But several weeks before the New York opening, Mr. Kleeblatt

contacted Mr. Rosen again and asked him to excise a scene that dealt with Eva

Braun giving her lover a golden shower.

“This was not about

accommodating the viewer anymore, but about avoiding offense,” Mr. Rosen said.

“That was more difficult for me …. To me, respecting the audience means

treating them like adults. But I didn’t feel assured, because it’s a different

sensitivity and the American audience is more puritan.”

So, after what he described as a series of sleepless nights and

long conference calls, Mr. Rosen agreed to cut the writing, on two conditions:

The omission had to be signaled at the beginning of the piece, and the book

cataloging the entire installation had to be placed at the end of the piece.

“At least they’re abiding by my conditions,” Mr. Rosen said. “I

think they were, all in all, fair; I don’t want to vilify them.”

Indeed, Mr. Rosen praised the museum and Mr. Kleeblatt for their

courage in hosting the exhibit. “To condemn them for their cowardice and

censorship would be strange,” he said. “I don’t think these pieces would have

been picked up by many other curators. The [artwork] is volatile, despite the

importance of the topic it tackles.”

Still, Mr. Rosen said that he

doesn’t stand by the piece as it’s currently on display at the Jewish Museum.

Now viewers freely walk from “Scene 4-The Bed” to “Scene 6-Tears,” many of them

probably not realizing that “Scene 5-A Dream” is missing. The text inviting

them to imagine themselves as Eva Braun peeing in her lover’s mouth isn’t

there; neither are several sexually explicit images, including one of a naked

woman being approached by an indescribable, but clearly sexually aroused,

beast.

“I know Norman wanted the text in,” Mr. Rosen said. “If he came

to ask me a month before, the pressure must have been immense.”

-E.F.