“We started the whole thing. And we were so busy working on these movies-these smaller movies, these foreign-language movies-that we never had time to look at it and reflect,” said Meryl Poster.
Ms. Poster, a production executive at Miramax Film Corp., had less to do that day than you might imagine an executive at the most important independent film company in New York would. She was sitting behind a mahogany desk in the Miramax offices, Franklin Avenue visible through the windows to her left.
Down the hallway, Harvey Weinstein’s office sat in silence.
Miramax, the film company that stoked itself with public effluvium and Oscars and rose on the bully shoulders of its combustible and occasionally notorious bosses, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, was on the brink of being cleaned out by the behemoth that bought it, the Walt Disney Company.
But the anomaly was this: It was late February, a week from the Oscars. Miramax had its winter release, The Aviator, up for 11 Academy Awards, and Finding Neverland, its bittersweet biography of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, up for seven.
“That’s what strikes me so much, in the past couple of weeks or months, is that … people are talking about it in a historical fashion,” Ms. Poster said.
As in history-the past.
But the question, needless to say, is: What of the Weinsteins’ future in New York moviemaking?
Through a spokesman, Harvey Weinstein had only this to say: “The only thing that matters this weekend is celebrating all the nominees from The Aviator and Finding Neverland and all the other great films this year. It’s always an honor to have worked on projects that will retain their value for years to come. And we’ll be celebrating Miramax’s 25th anniversary, and we’re very proud of the extensive library and value we’ve created for Disney shareholders.”
As he should be. In James B. Stewart’s extraordinary new book on Michael Eisner’s tenure at Disney, DisneyWar, Mr. Stewart goes inside Harvey Weinstein’s head to respond to Mr. Eisner’s assertion that “we don’t want any of our executives to stand out.”
“Except one,” Mr. Weinstein is purported to have thought, meaning Mr. Eisner. So now, like Barrie’s Peter Pan, Harvey Weinstein will fly free. To where?
Steven Rattner, the co-founder and a managing principal of the Quadrangle Group and a close friend of both of the Weinsteins, said that “investors are going to look at his business plan, as well as the assets that he brings beyond simply his own and Bob’s enormous talents. They’re going to want to see who the rest of team is, what are the projects in development, what are the other types of talent who have agreed to be associated with them, who they are, and so on. As with any investment, they’ll make a judgment as to whether they want to participate or not.”
But then he added, “I certainly would like to invest with Harvey and Bob, because I think they’re superstars. But whether there’s an appropriate way for us to do that, I think, remains to be seen.”
Some things, however, seem evident about the Weinsteins’ future company: It will be an independent production company that will more than likely have a distribution arm. Many industry insiders believe that another partnership with a large studio for distribution is unlikely, considering their tumultuous relationship with Disney. Their financing-which will probably come from a Wall Street backer, or several-will be big enough so they can continue to finance pictures like Gangs of New York, Cold Mountain and The Aviator, while acquiring foreign and small independent movies.
It may not be Miramax, but it will be close enough to be Maxamir.
As for the Weinsteins themselves, they are hell-bent on being Katzenberg-like Disney oustees-heading off to DreamWorks-rather than Ovitz-like oustees, heading off to Hollywood purgatory. As they struggle with a settlement agreement-negotiating for content and franchises to take with them-the two Weinstein brothers continue to be extremely active. After all, the projects they bring along will be key in their ongoing bid to raise money and secure distribution; the aim is to provide a slate of committed directors and finished projects that brings investors and partners to their knees.
They will also serve as the foundation of this new venture. They want to take some of the acquisitions they’ve made recently on behalf of Miramax, as well as projects that they have in development. Industry observers took note of the brothers’ aggressive buying spree this winter: $7.5 million for The Matador, starring Pierce Brosnan; about $10 million for Stephen Frears’ Mrs. Henderson Presents; $3.5 million for an Australian indie horror film, Wolf Creek. In the case of The Matador, last month sources involved in the negotiations told The Hollywood Reporter that assurances were made “both ways” that Harvey Weinstein would be involved with the project-either at Miramax after he leaves, or by taking it with him.
The acquisitions are a signal that the Weinsteins will continue to traffic in smaller pictures, even as they try to put together big-budget productions.
Other projects in development include an unnamed Quentin Tarantino film and Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Liz Jensen’s novel, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax. Outside Miramax, Michael Moore is researching his health-care-industry polemic, Sicko.
These are all directors with whom Harvey Weinstein is personally close, and has been cultivating for years. Another one is Robert Rodriguez, who has two films being released this year with the Weinsteins.
Mr. Rodriguez’s agent at International Creative Management, Robert Newman, said that Mr. Rodriguez would be following the Weinstein brothers wherever they went. “They have been great friends and great partners to many clients of our agency, for a decade in particular with Robert. So we as an agency-and our clients-always have been and always will be looking for new opportunities to be in business with them. They have been incredibly loyal to the artists with whom we work, and that loyalty works both ways.”
Another film whose fate is uncertain is the thriller Derailed, starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, which is now in post-production without a release date set. For the remaining seven months of their contracts, the Weinsteins will be marketing completed Miramax and Dimension movies like Mr. Rodriguez’s Sin City; Hostage, an acquisition starring Bruce Willis; Proof, with Gwyneth Paltrow; and The Great Raid, with Benjamin Bratt. The New York Times also reported that the brothers have agreed to reduce the Miramax budget by more than half of its current $700 million for those months. Right now, there are 14 remaining films scheduled to be released by the studio this year. In some ways, it’s a last opportunity to leave a pleasant taste in their directors’ mouths.
Meanwhile, Miramax has no movies currently in production. John Madden’s adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel Killshot is casting, but no production start date has been announced yet, while Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering is supposed to start shooting in April, presumably after a deal has been reached.
So Miramax’s production staff members have been going out to see movies in the afternoons. Between August and September, 25 percent of the company’s 485-person workforce was laid off. Management wanted to reduce overhead and increase profitability. The film company closed its Beach Street offices in the fall. The publicity staff was split up and relocated to two other New York offices-the flagship on Greenwich Street, just above the Tribeca Grill, and another on Hudson Street. By January, with contracts expiring and people leaving due to the precarious nature of the company’s future, there were roughly 200 people working for the company-big by New York standards, but like Mr. Weinstein’s current physique, a shadow of the glory that was Miramax.
Most of the employees remember fondly a tradition at Oscar time: On the morning the nominations were announced, they would pile into a conference room at their Beach Street office. Bagels, muffins, orange juice-the works-would be waiting when they arrived at around 8 a.m. The beleaguered staff would await the news. The lucky ones secured chairs; the rest would find room on the floor or on top of the table.
Around 8:00 a.m. on Jan. 25, 2005, the day the Academy Awards nominations were announced this year, the entire New York publicity department of Miramax Films gathered in a roomy office on the fifth floor of their Hudson Street offices. A box of Dunkin’ Donuts had replaced the large spread.
Everyone in the room fit on one couch.
Things have changed. “Now I have had a little bit of time, because I haven’t been as active,” said Ms. Poster. “I worked on the first Oscar campaign. It was 11 years ago. It was the year of The Grifters and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.”
“Longer ago than that, Meryl,” said Matthew Hiltzik, Mr. Weinstein’s spokesman for more than five years. Mr. Hiltzik had a soft, soothing voice. He was sitting on a nearby couch.
“Longer than that?” said Ms. Poster.
“It was 14 years ago.”
“But that was the first year we sent out tapes,” said Ms. Poster, of the year when Miramax first got started in the Oscar-tape campaign rush that caused all the trouble in Hollywood. “And I worked with a temp to find everybody and make friends with the guys who were in charge of post offices across the country.”
Between then and now, Miramax has had its triumphs- Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Chicago-and its signature disasters, in which Harvey Weinstein was perceived as trying to bully pictures to Oscars that never should have been there.
But now, that part of the saga is almost done.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, Miramax will celebrate its 25th anniversary as an independent film company at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. Oscar time has always been a kind of holiday season at Miramax-the cocktails and skits at the Beverly Wilshire the day before the awards, an A-1 press event, the Oscar post-party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the toughest party to crack in Hollywood during its most important week.
But this Sunday, Oscar night, Feb. 27, Harvey and Bob Weinstein will have reached a melancholy landmark in their lives: the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times both reported on Tuesday, Feb. 22, that the Weinsteins are close to reaching what amounts to a separation agreement with Disney, and it was an arrangement that would fundamentally sever them from the company that they’d made synonymous with their parents’ names, Miriam and Max. For over two decades, the brothers had waged a sweaty revolution against the czars of Hollywood as they reestablished New York as America’s second film capital. In the end, their company dovetailed with that of the other quintessential New York lover of films, Martin Scorsese, as they targeted their co-production, The Aviator-a lavish, epic piece of filmmaking-squarely at the Academy and won 11 nominations. But there was a sense from the beginning of The Aviator’s path that it would be the sunset of their company, despite Mr. Weinstein’s thrashing fury at Disney’s C.E.O., Michael Eisner, and that its destiny would in some part determine the brothers’ future.
No matter what, Oscar night will hurl them into the next chapter of their moviemaking lives.
“They’re like lame-duck Presidents for this month,” said Bernie Brillstein, the veteran Hollywood manager. “They can’t be commissioning new things.”
“If it is so happens that they leave the company that they founded, it will be bittersweet,” said Bob Osher, regarding how the duo will feel if The Aviator or Finding Neverland wins Best Picture. Mr. Osher was the co-president of production at Miramax until he left in May to oversee business affairs at Columbia. “It will be a crowning moment before the departure. They take a lot of pride in what they do. And I know that their Oscar success has been a point of pride for them. And you always like to go out on top, right?”
For many of the stripped-down crew of publicists and marketers that have brought the company this far, Sunday night will bring with it a certain amount of closure. As Miramax was dismantled around them, they found themselves Hollywood’s underdog once more. And it’s clear that the hope to elevate Miramax one last time and create an ascent for themselves is the Miramax family’s endgame. They are a veteran team of dynastic proportions, true believers who will have to entertain moving to the dreaded L.A.-enemy territory-like many of their already departed counterparts.
Some will stay, but the loyalty among the Miramax crew is pretty intense-despite all the reported Weinsteinian psychodrama, the longtime employees report an office of professionalism and support-and their siege mentality has been prolonged. For those who are leaving, it is clear that while Miramax may have paved the way for a plethora of smart little indies to follow in its wake, it did not leave a classy New York successor (although there are some stirring around, Focus Features and Blueprint foremost).
Nevertheless, thanks to the taste and showmanship of the Weinsteins-their ability to create themselves as protagonists and antagonists, to generate copious press (remember, these are the boys who brought you Talk Magazine) and to make themselves instant punch lines-they were able to produce a truly formidable roster of first-rate movies, as well as to purvey the notion of the literate, personalized and yet commercially profitable picture back into the moviegoers’ lexicon. Once the Weinsteins are swept out of there, it will be a little like David O. Selznick moving out of his beloved mansion in Culver City. And a chapter of New York’s movie history will have come to an end.
“Miramax was pretty huge,” said Matt Brodlie, who worked at the company for a decade and only recently left to help Columbia build TriStar Pictures. “And it just seems like it was always part of the scene of New York. It’s losing a studio, and there isn’t another one.”
Miramax will either dissolve into just another small distribution outlet, or else Disney will hire some impressive management to replace the Weinsteins. But no one doubts that Harvey and Bob will be around for a long time to come. “He has a consistent eye for talent and good stories no one executive seems to have,” said Tony Angellotti, a film publicist, speaking about Harvey Weinstein. “He’s Jack Warner, Harry Cohn, [Louis B.] Mayer all rolled into one. That’s what this business was founded on, and he’s the last remnant of it.”
This track record, which also includes Bob Weinstein’s incredibly profitable Dimension, makes the duo eminently bankable. Potential investors in “New Co.”-the nickname that people inside Miramax have coined for Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s potential post-Disney venture-will be echoing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes: “Show me the blueprints.”
They will want to see a business plan.
“It’s interesting,” said Mr. Brodlie. “Everyone keeps expecting them to die. But yet, in terms of acquisitions at Sundance-and just now, before Berlin, they bought something else-they’ve been very active. Their tenacity for indie films has continued. And that has just shocked everybody.”
“The sad part was having helped build the dominant independent production and distribution company in the business and then, for whatever reasons-internal and external forces-to see it unwind,” said Rick Sands, who worked with Harvey Weinstein for 14 years, left in January and is now the president and chief operating officer of DreamWorks. “We took risks that other people wouldn’t or didn’t take. And sometimes they paid off, and sometimes they didn’t. It was always, we thought, a smart thing to do. Now how do you measure smart? If you want to measure profitability, that’s one thing. But smart is taking risks with new directors and movies that, really, a lot of other people wouldn’t have done.”
The Miramax publicists, however, have started a new tradition: Going-away parties are becoming reunion dinners. “We were calling them like calendar girls: ‘You’re Miss December.’ ‘You’re Miss January.’ It was literally once a month that it was somebody’s going-away party,” said one veteran publicist. “Well, this is ridiculous,” she remembered thinking. “What are we going to do when the last one is gone?”