The fashionably revisionist biography of Chairman Mao, the one billed as Mao’s “unknown story,” was sitting on Harvey Weinstein’s oddly uncluttered desk. Weinstein had been reading it, puzzling over it, perhaps with an eye toward adapting it as a movie for the new Weinstein Company, where he and his brother Bob were now co-chairmen. But he wasn’t seeing it yet.
“I don’t believe Mao was totally the monster they’re making him out to be,” he was saying. “There must have been some charm or else who would follow this guy?”
Weinstein was looking debonair in a navy-blue Armani pin-striped suit with cuffed trousers and black suspenders, ready for his morning marketing meeting. USA Today and the New York Times’ “Arts & Leisure” section were in a heap next to his suede Tod’s driving shoes, the kind soled with fragile rubber buds and generally worn by those who travel by chauffeured Mercedes. Not that Harvey hadn’t been getting some exercise lately: A canvas tote bag in the vestibule was labeled HW GYM SUPPLY 11/11/05, like a commemorative Howard Hughes urine specimen. A wooden scale was visible through the doorway of his executive washroom.
No longer was Harvey carrying his weight like a Chicago meatpacker. After heeding a low-carb regimen custom-designed by the Euro-fabulous Downtown Cipriani kitchen, he was now a kind of handsome, his chin smudged by the salt and pepper of a beard, his teeth planed to a wide Teddy Roosevelt smile that was more in evidence these days.
This was Harvey Weinstein after his big, noisy Hollywood divorce. He and Bob had lost Miramax Films to their old employer Disney—lost the studio they’d named after their parents, Miriam and Max, and the enviable $700 million-a-year allowance that had them releasing 30-plus films annually all over the world. But the Weinsteins were open for business, their own bosses once again.
“Financially, we’re happier. Corporately, the company is happier. Physically, personally—everything. It’s just a weight has been lifted,” said Harvey. “That’s what we feel. And it’s exciting.”
And so begins the next chapter of the Brothers Weinstein: Harvey, 53, whose sumo showboating had so offended Disney’s super-suits, and Bob, 51, the quieter but no less canny back-office brainbox. No one had played the game as relentlessly: They’d break the rules, and then those would be the new rules.
But what had begun as a boutique operation had morphed into a mini-major, making films that cost $79, $100, $110 million. In 2002, Disney began to complain that it was losing money on the Miramax deal. A poster at the entrance to Harvey’s office seemed to offer no apologies: HELL’S ANGELS. HOWARD HUGHES’ THRILLING MULTI-MILLION/DOLLAR-AIR SPECTACLE WITH JEAN HARLOW—from the good old days, when what Harvey likes to call “painting on big canvases” was actually celebrated.
The idea that Bob and Harvey were Disney “cast members” (which is how Disney’s Michael Eisner liked to address his troops) nauseated Harvey, who wouldn’t hesitate to bare his teeth at Eisner in the press to get his way. But when Disney finally decided enough was enough, all Hollywood believed the brothers had taken four aces and somehow managed to lose.
The brothers courted the other studios, but no one wanted to share an umbrella with the famously difficult Weinsteins on their famously generous terms. So Bob and Harvey shopped themselves to Wall Street. By October, they had almost $1 billion of financing in the bag and announced the brave new launch of the Weinstein Company. But things had changed since the old days, with lots of new competitors using the Weinsteins’ own playbook. And the stand-alone studio business these days is not for the meek. Could the Weinsteins avoid the fate of DreamWorks—the other stand-alone built on hatred of Michael Eisner—which was finally absorbed last month by Paramount Pictures? “DreamWorks did succeed ultimately, and every investor on Wall Street will tell you,” said Harvey.
His is a different business model anyway, with an emphasis on acquiring finished movies at festivals (at Sundance last week the Weinsteins nicked Factory Girl away from Sony for $2.5 million), and building a library that lives on through DVD sales and pay-TV deals. That the Weinsteins’ operation has been busted down a degree is a sensitive subject. They’ll be releasing twelve to eighteen films a year. “So, fewer than before?” I’d asked Bob.
“And why specifically are you asking that question? Why is that question so important to you?” asked Bob, who would only say that the brothers “have more money to work with than we had before.”
But there is added pressure to adjust to a medium that is mutating at sci-fi speed. With box office flatlining, the payoff is in the video-DVD bins and foreign-rights sales. Production and marketing costs have gone up, and cable and TiVo make it harder for TV commercials to hit their targets.
At the marketing meeting, Harvey sat deep in his high-backed leather chair, stroking his fuzzy chin, as Gary Faber, his new marketing co-head, popped a commercial in the VCR for Hoodwinked, a CGI-animated retelling of Little Red Riding Hood Harvey had bought at Cannes.
As a spot, it was pretty all over the place. “It’s not me,” said Harvey tenderly. He wanted some screen time for Little Bo Peep, thought a turtle joke was slowing things down. Faber dragged out posters for The Matador, a buddy picture starring Pierce Brosnan as a hit man who’s lost his nerve. Harvey wondered whether Roger Ebert could change his quote from “It’s Sideways with death instead of wine” to “It’s Sideways with guns.”
“Or is he really fanatical about his words?” asked Harvey.
On to Mrs. Henderson Presents. Not enough weeklies had reviewed it, and Harvey announced that the meeting was now a real one just as it became obvious it was not.
Judi Dench had been turned down as a guest on the Today show, Good Morning America, and The View. “They said that she didn’t fit their demographics,” Harvey complained. “I told that to my mother, who was pretty fucking offended. I mean, whaddo they think—25-year-old people can’t watch 70-year-old people? The insanity of youth. It also assumes none of us like our families.” He grandly considered writing a New York Times op-ed.
What happened to Harvey’s storied leverage? When Miramax was at its height, Harvey had struck an inspired deal with the Today show for its book division: Hand over some stars, and a certain number of Miramax authors could slip under the barbed wire. Inviting editors and book reviewers to premieres also had a funny way of lofting Miramax books to the top of the pile.
“It’s like Paris being liberated from the Nazis.” —Quentin Tarantino
Harvey smiled and looked fidgety. “Unfortunately, in the new administration, in the new life, we play much more fair than we used to. We’re trying to clean up Dodge City now. We drink milk. I used to yell and scream, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, and say, ‘What are you talking about, Mr. Today Show? You’re an idiot!’ But I think anger can motivate you differently.”
These days, the motivation is all about the IPO. It’s what all his investors are waiting for. It’s what Harvey and Bob are waiting for. “We own 51 percent of a billion-dollar company,” said Harvey. “That’s $510 million. No matter how many bonuses I earned at Disney, they’d be dwarfed by the amount of money we can make on this deal. Disney did us the biggest favor in the world.
“Most of the executives who left Disney—Meg Whitman, Steve Burke, Joe Roth, Jeffrey Katzenberg—have all gone on to create wealth for themselves,” said Harvey. “Hopefully, Bob and I will follow in that tradition.”
At a theater just off Union Square, the Weinstein Company was test-screening Hoodwinked. Cablevision CEO and Weinstein pal Jim Dolan, bundled into a seat beside Harvey, was looking hollow-eyed and vulnerable; weeks before, he’d undergone a bypass. Harvey sent him four get-well goody baskets from Downtown Cipriani.
The Weinstein Company has five other CGI projects on the stove, an up-yours to Disney the way Harvey’s joining the board of Six Flags theme parks was last month. It’s part of the brothers’ new life, with lower budgets, a more commercial outlook: Family films sell more tickets than adults-only or kids-only films. “Harvey’s going to be doing some romantic comedies in the Bridget Jones vein—and a couple of upscale thrillers, too,” says Bob with no small amusement. Even so, this next year stands to deliver Kevin Smith’s nervy Clerks sequel, a Quentin Tarantino–Robert Rodriguez double feature, a stylish Anthony Minghella set piece about relationships, and at least one Michael Moore documentary.
Harvey laughed and looked over at Jim Dolan when Little Red’s granny snowboarded across the screen. The fairy tale had been recast as an Agatha Christie–style investigation of the Goody Bandit, who was after those recipes in Little Red’s basket. As with almost every movie on the Weinsteins’ slate, some figment of the plot seemed to shadow Harvey’s real-life obsessions—in this instance, the Bandit, a self-styled genius entrepreneur who thinks he’s “never going to answer to anyone, ever again.”
When the lights went up, only four raised hands in the focus group rated Hoodwinked “excellent.”
From deep inside Harvey’s person, there issued a seismic rumble of concern: Unnnnnhh.
Though one mother commended all the grown-up jokes, “the story’s kind of thin,” said a thumbs-downer. “I mean, stealing recipes?”
“The one thing I wondered was, Where are her parents?” whinnied an aisle seat.
“This is what made me lose part of my hair,” said Harvey. Some kid pegged the animation far superior to that of Chicken Little and Madagascar, which was heartening, because it was so obviously untrue. Hoodwinked was made in Manila, cheap goods to the practiced eye.
“It’s because the script is good, they think it’s better. And there’s an emotional ending,” said Harvey. “Emotional endings are great.” The movie went on to do good business.
After some merry back-and-forthing out on the street, knocking around some favorite subjects—Michael Eisner, kung fu, Michael Eisner, and Harvey’s three daughters, who had lately been making him sit through Hilary Duff movies—Harvey suggested that he and I might be headed for an emotional ending.
“When it comes to business, you can rip us apart,” he said for the second time that evening. “I don’t care.”
Of course he did, but a born conflict junkie, Harvey doubtlessly enjoyed the spectral image of me at least trying.
In 1979, two guys recognized independent film as an opportunity to make wildly profitable movies and not just have them check into a creaky art house, pick up a review in the Village Voice, and then be swept away with the Junior Mints on the floor. A pop-and-pop shop, Miramax grew its own executives, made them sign stiff non-competes. Harvey and Bob sometimes threatened to sue if they left. Sometimes it worked: After Dimension president Cary Granat started work elsewhere on The Chronicles of Narnia, Disney, which wanted to co-finance the project, tossed Harvey about 11 percent of its own share of the profits so the Weinsteins would back off.Bob and Harvey Weinstein sold Miramax to Disney in 1993 for more than $70 million. That year, Bob started the company’s Dimension offshoot, tackling sci-fi, horror, and comedy. It was mainly Harvey’s films that accumulated those 249 nominations, the 60 Oscars. But it was Bob’s films that were soon floating Harvey’s tab.
Disney escalated the budget in 2000 to $700 million, and Harvey, who had just started Talk magazine and a jumped-up books division, and was making forays into Broadway and television, escalated the costs of his own productions accordingly, often barreling past the Disney credit limit. “It wasn’t real if it came from the Disney treasury,” says a source close to Disney.
Disney had the contractual right to take Miramax away if the Weinsteins did anything contrary to the greater corporate good. But “there was a period of profound weakness in the company, four or five years when Eisner was under the gun,” says the source. “Harvey and Bob started threatening that they were going to walk.”
The Weinsteins were chewing nails because in 2003, Disney tried to reverse out of an outmoded budget-and-bonus structure for the brothers that was making it no money. In eleven years at Disney, Harvey and Bob received as much as $250 million in bonuses; some years, they were the company’s highest-paid executives after Eisner himself. Bonuses also drove the brothers to a bit of foxy legerdemain. Last November, Disney was obliged to announce a $313 million fourth-quarter write-down traced mainly to nine Miramax films the brothers had shelved so, as some speculated, they wouldn’t count against their bonuses, bombs that as part of their settlement were finally dropped in the theaters.
At the end of the renegotiation, Disney made a final offer to the brothers: $9 million, plus a slice of profits—petty cash after years when they’d find $50 million in their envelope. So they walked.
Harvey and others believed Michael Eisner had been punishing him for his friendship with Quadrangle Group managing partner Steve Rattner and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who were behind Comcast’s $54 billion hostile takeover bid for Disney in 2004.
Harvey also thought Eisner was gripped by a need to be Disney’s alpha mogul, out there waving the biggest paycheck of them all. “Steve Jobs and I both buoyed ourselves with some good phone,” says Harvey. (Michael Eisner declined to address any of these issues individually, issuing a statement wishing the Weinsteins “nothing but the best.”)
“I want to go on the record, okay? I couldn’t do a cable channel, couldn’t do any outside financing, I couldn’t make Lord of the Rings. I couldn’t buy 1 Times Square with Robert De Niro for $80 million,” says Harvey, who, ever the impresario, pictured a ball-drop tourist attraction. Eisner also forbade him from buying Artisan Entertainment, which was then sold to Lions Gate. When he was invited to join the YankeeNets board, Harvey says Michael Eisner vetoed it. “George Steinbrenner had to call Michael and say, ‘I’m going to sell my Disney shares unless Harvey is on the board.’ ”
Now Harvey and Bob are free to act on all their entrepreneurial impulses. “It’s like Paris being liberated from the Nazis!” says Quentin Tarantino.
“They’ve had Michael Eisner shooting arrows at them for the last ten years,” says someone close to the deal. “Revenge is a big motivator.”
The liberation was not without its complications. In the fall of 2004, Harvey engaged Pete Peterson at the Blackstone Group as his adviser. At first, the Weinsteins wanted to release their movies worldwide (instead of selling off foreign rights) and start their own home-video operation—costly propositions, says a potential investor who saw an early version of the plan.
Movies that lost money, like the $79 million Cold Mountain and the $100 million Gangs of New York, were omitted. Both films were considered symptomatic of some serious overreaching. “Cold Mountain will eventually break even—it’s minus $16 million now,” Harvey says. He points to Disney films that had suffered staggering losses and the many profitable Miramax films that had followed Cold Mountain. “So we had a loss. Big shit,” says Harvey. “So we had a loss. Who caaares?”
Plans were then shown to Goldman Sachs and the Quadrangle Group, and Goldman suggested recasting the numbers; individual films were no longer being displayed. As for the Weinstein Company’s projected slate through the end of 2006, some snickered at how every single movie showed a profit, though two-thirds of all movies break even or lose money. The plan projected the studio to be profitable by 2007, generating close to $1.8 billion in annual revenues five years from now.
“For us to raise the money wasn’t difficult,” says Harvey, “because who else is going to fight like crazy to protect the investors’ money?”
Regardless of the figures, anyone who invested did so because he believed Harvey and Bob are just better at picking films, better at making them, better at selling them. It might not have been the most rational reason to invest, but it was a reason.
At the pitch meetings, Harvey would fire up a cigarette, talk about big-picture multimedia stuff, and flash his Disney battle scars. Harvey’s irritation with Eisner was Ahab-like, a quenchless feud that was highly entertaining to hedge-fund managers more accustomed to deals for telecom towers and cable-TV systems. Harvey always told the story about the time he and Bob presented at a Disney board meeting and so impressed Warren Buffett that Eisner never invited them back.
Bob would stress Miramax’s financial discipline. In L.A., studios threw away millions planting vanity billboards on Wilshire: “We never spend a fuckin’ dime on that.”
Harvey had been hoping Blackstone would put up about $200 million. But when it didn’t, Harvey fired Blackstone from the deal, paying Peterson about $1 million after he complained. Harvey and Bob refuse to comment specifically on what happened, but “everybody who was pitched did not respond,” says Bob. “Warren Buffett heard Microsoft’s pitch and thought it was crazy. He’s come on the record to say it’s one of the dumbest decisions he ever made. So the fact that people pass on something doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong.”
Harvey entertained pitch meetings with tales of his Ahab-like feud with Eisner.
It didn’t help that Michael Eisner was telling people the brothers had spent $7 million one year in travel and entertainment expenses—private planes Harvey’s staff referred to as The Flying Ashtray, suites at the Peninsula. “That’s just completely ludicrous,” says Harvey. “You were up at our offices. Does it look like we spend that kind of money?”
In March 2005, Harvey threw in with Goldman Sachs. Harvey’s relationship with Joseph Ravitch at Goldman Sachs had begun in 2001, when Harvey came looking for cash to save Talk magazine (where I happened to work until it was put out of its misery the following January).
Ravitch—whose father is former MTA head Richard Ravitch and who helped broker the sale of MGM to Sony—now offered to write a check for $45 million if Goldman could take over as adviser. Harvey and Bob considered naming the company Maximom or Mad Max, as Clive Owen had suggested. (“Let’s just say intellect prevailed over emotion,” says Harvey.)
Harvey was smoking at the pitch meetings, and some privately expressed concern about his health. (Harvey’s father died of a heart attack at age 52.) They were told he was “in a serious relationship” and “he’d lost some weight.” And if they could just make movies for the next three or four years, the brothers would create a library worth the money everyone was investing—and more.
“I think people recognized that Harvey and Bob were clearly guys who understood how to make money,” says Ravitch. “There was an extraordinary amount of financial rigor with the decisions that they made.”
That they always handled their own distribution was a big selling point: Joe Roth doesn’t sit there strategizing which theaters their movies should play at and when.
Goldman’s private-equity group had also been interested in putting in all the capital for the studio, but that notion was abandoned after Harvey balked at the controls they demanded. Kirk Kerkorian also met with the brothers, but he, too, wanted more power than the Weinsteins would grant, wanted them to take on Chris McGurk as COO, their onetime Disney minder on his way out as vice-chairman at MGM, who would have insisted on making movies, too.
The Weinsteins have sequel and remake rights to about fifteen franchises, and their plan particularly played up sequels to the highly successful Spy Kids, Scream, and Scary Movie series. But when I spoke with Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez, he mentioned that Spy Kids was finished (“There’s certain ones you want to just keep pure”), and he said Scream was over, too.
And could Tarantino honestly be prevailed upon to make sequels to Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction? Disney retained the right to co-finance the more promising sequels 50-50, splitting profits, too. Still, there are new franchises to be launched, like Zach Braff in Fletch Returns. “A man can dream is all I can say,” says Harvey
In the end, the money came from respectable hedge funds and investors like Fidelity and Wellington. Also: Georgia’s carpet king, Julian Saul.
As a group, Harvey’s individual backers have in common a certain outsiderishness. Masayoshi Son, the Korean head of Softbank in Japan. Israeli investor Vivi Nevo, who owns a chunk of Time Warner. Tarak Ben Ammar, a producer of sand-and-sandals pictures and adviser to Rupert Murdoch who has promised to introduce Harvey, who describes himself as “a staunch Israeli,” to the pro-Palestinian prince Al Waleed Bin Talal. Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, who run 2929 Entertainment, HDNet, and the Landmark Theater chain out of Texas, both tossed in about $10 million apiece; via e-mail, Cuban says he did it because “Harvey is almost as competitive as me. I love the fact that he and Bob will run through walls to get the job done.”
In bed now with a platoon of 22 new partners, Harvey is reminded of Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged, which he read as a kid, where all the mavericks went into self-imposed exile, “a Utopia, with pirates and railroad kings and everything, where there’s a kind of network, if you will, of people who move the dime.”
The cap on the company’s investment in a film is now $40 million, but Bob promises most pictures will be in the $5 million to $20 million range. The new company will focus less on prestige pictures than Miramax did. “The thing that I have to do to earn my keep, besides making classy movies, is also to help orchestrate these deals, grow the company that way,” Harvey says. “Bob hit double digits annually; it was insane.” Then, so there wouldn’t be any confusion as to who is the classier filmmaker, Harvey adds with studied nonchalance, “By the way, Bob just acquired the Piranha franchise.”
Terminal 4, International Departures. Bob Weinstein was on the Kennedy-airport set of School for Scoundrels, the new Billy Bob Thornton–Jon Heder comedy.
Todd Phillips, who also directed Starsky & Hutch, is a onetime Miramax intern wearing a backward baseball cap. “I can do the best Bob impression,” he said out of the big guy’s earshot: “Phillips, we got moah money for our waugh chest.”
Bob is like a bookie when it comes to calculated risk. (“He’s got a million theories,” Harvey says.) Last year, Dimension released Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, a gritty cult comic book brought to life; black-and-white, an anthology chain-linked by voice-over, it’s all the no-no’s, but it managed to gross $159 million worldwide.
Bob strolled over in a neat navy suit, several shirt buttons undone, an audible zing of aftershave in the air. “I wish Todd had a 50-picture deal,” he said with gusto. “I consider him in the league of Rodriguez and Tarantino.” Bob looks like an accountant, but he does enjoy talking the talk, his accent more Queensy than Harvey’s.
He expressed concern over the way, “as Quentin Tarantino puts it, journalists adjectivize words. They’ll write, ‘He lumbered into the room.’ ”
Derailed was just out, the Weinstein Company’s first release, a commercial thriller shot in London, dressed down as Chicago, for tax purposes and starring Jennifer Aniston and some foreign actors choking on their American accents. At the New York premiere’s after-party, Harvey was walking around asking people, “What did you think? You can tell the truth.”
The Times had called it a “glossy but risible bit of trash,” but obviously it didn’t affect business, said Bob, who added, “I’m overjoyed we made a profit.”
Bob reminded me that Sling Blade got stinky reviews. “At Marty Scorsese’s mom’s wake, Nora Ephron comes up to my brutha and says, ‘You guys have a wonderful movie.’ I swear to you, we left there enuhgized. Look it up. Billy Bob’s got the statue, thank you very much.”
Billy Bob Thornton was smoking on the steps of his trailer, unrecognizable in a pin-striped suit, clean-shaven and feminized by a slap of makeup. Some trailers are nice, but this was like something your aunt and uncle would vacation in, he said, his eyes drifting across the muddy floral upholstery as he folded himself into a chair. Translation: The brothers are cheap bastards, ain’t they?
But Thornton is a fan. “Some people can’t stand them. Because they’re dealing with them,” he said. “When you deal with a studio, there are so many people between you and them. But if you make a movie with Bob, he’s the guy you talk to every day and he’s the guy who pisses on your grave and he’s the guy who saves your ass.”
Bob didn’t crap out on Billy Bob’s movie Bad Santa, either. “We were all saying either this is going to be one of the greatest comedies you’ve ever seen, or we’re all going to be out there looking for fucking food somewhere,” he continued. Bob smartly positioned it as “the nastiest fucking Christmas movie you’ve ever seen in your life. And it was the biggest comedy of the year.”
On the other hand, just thinking about Harvey made Billy Bob reach for a packet of Emergen-C, which he now proceeded to empty into a glass of water. “I gotta say, I’ve never been berated by Bob. But Harvey and I have called each other every kind of sonuvabitch you can call somebody.” When Harvey was after Billy Bob to cut All the Pretty Horses, they threatened to kill each other. “It was like GoodFellas. But we’ve laughed about it since,” said Thornton.
Bob climbed into the trailer and bent one leg underneath him like a teenager as he grabbed a seat beside Thornton’s tropical papaya pills.
“We were at some sort of cocktail extravaganza in L.A.,” Billy Bob continued. “I made the mistake of saying to Bob, ‘Yeah, I think it’s really cool the way you guys work together. Harvey’s the guy out there making the movies, and you’re right behind the scenes handling the business.’
“Bob goes, ‘Let me tell you something! Let me tell you something, you little prick!’ ”
Bob [annoyed]: “I didn’t say ‘you little prick—’ ”
Billy Bob: “He didn’t say ‘you little prick,’ but he got so pissed off at me. I realized, okay, I like this guy, because he was basically offended that I insinuated he was a business guy—”
“I’m selling art,” said Bob without sounding all pompous about it. Bob has been itching to move away from the P&L statements for years. Dimension gave him “a chance to go out and see honestly, wow, I was missing a piece of myself,” he said.
Billy Bob finished the thought. “When Dimension came along, also, you knew there were going to be a couple of movies a year at least that made money just in case one of those with all those fuckin’ English people didn’t work out! Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.”
Bob chuckled, too, doing nothing to correct the impression. Miramax employees sensed the brothers blamed each other for the Disney endgame. But that was in the past. Bob compared working with Harvey to “checking in with the wife,” before heading into town in his own black Mercedes.
Paranoia is the salt on their popcorn, and Harvey and Bob have many enemies, real and imagined. Harvey wonders why his peers have been such playa-haters. Perhaps it’s because he’s so visible, tinkering with Marty Scorsese’s masterpieces, pressuring exhibitors who didn’t want Hoodwinked in their theaters for Christmas.
“In the new life, we play much more fair than we used to. We’re trying to clean up Dodge City now. We drink milk.”
A little more than a year ago, Harvey went public with his adult-onset diabetes, blaming some of his scarier outbursts on eating too many M&M’s. The M&M’s is like the Nuremburg defense, say ex-employees. Harvey continues to rage (and some say Bob has been worse, hurling profanity and personal insults). As the Disney turnover approached, the atmosphere turned Nixonian as the brothers’ top lieutenants headed for the exits; one pod of employees tried to form a production company called Freedom.
“Having kids has made me much more mature,” says Harvey. “The anger is gone. There’s a sweetness there.”
“Harvey’s evolving,” says his former co-head of production Meryl Poster.
Harvey was looking forward to working with Disney again in some capacity, now that Eisner had been run out of town. Disney’s new CEO, Bob Iger, “disagreed with the bad decision to take the Miramax name away, and he called us after the board meeting to say so,” says Harvey. “He’s a class act.”
“I think Harvey sees the importance of getting along,” says Jim Dolan.
Harvey’s divorce from his wife of seventeen years came through in December 2004, and he has relocated to a $7 million Soho loft. As of August, he has been living here with the 29-year-old daughter of a British coffee magnate, Georgina Chapman, an old-style mogul-starlet romance, as the former dandruff-shampoo model may be seen in bit parts in Bride & Prejudice and Derailed and in the BBC’s Sons & Lovers, as well as accompanying Harvey variously at Mr. Chow’s and Elaine’s, and in the front row at Paris fashion shows, which makes sense because she’s also an aspiring designer; her Marchesa label is partly backed by Giuseppe Cipriani and named for the Marchesa Luisa Casati, a socialite of the twenties with a rage for fame who wore live snakes as jewelry and was photographed by Man Ray.
Harvey has been spending more time in London, and in late 2004, he was named a commander of the British Empire at the British consul-general’s New York residence, a ceremony heavily attended by his bankers. He’s also quit cigarettes for the umpteenth time. Some of the weight’s back on, but Steve Rattner says he can’t remember when he saw Harvey this happy: “He feels like he’s gotten his life back, and he’s got this great opportunity to knock the cover off the ball.”
“I’m done. I’m a nonsmoker. It’s over,” he says, adding under his breath, “and I’m a Scientologist.”
The brothers take a cash salary with no bonus. Their overhead, and traveling and entertainment expenses, are capped. Now, when they fly private, they’ll reimburse the company. “We’re much more fiscally conscious and happy to be so,” says Harvey.
There are no side deals. If Harvey and Bob as individuals want to invest in Broadway or further in publishing, they’ll need permission from the board.
The brothers also need board approval to jump the cap on movies (even if the board is currently stacked with Friends of Harvey). But hurdles remain. The brothers will need to build up Genius, the little video-distribution operation they partnered with. And they desperately need pay-TV slots; it’s the gaping hole in the plan ever since a deal for slots with Sony Pictures Entertainment head Michael Lynton was scuttled after Harvey got into a shouting match with him.
“I think Goldman did an extraordinary job for Harvey,” says Rattner, echoing the thoughts of many. “They put the full muscle of the firm behind him, they turned over every rock and raised capital in amounts and on terms that I don’t think anybody, including myself, thought was possible.”
Strategic partnerships were struck with the ad-agency conglomerate WPP and luxury-goods purveyor LVMH, which were seeking new product-placement venues. “My dad was one of those guys who had always talked about somebody’s invention or concept,” says Harvey. “Someday, I’d like to create a product out of this company.”
Like, for example?
“Women’s dresses,” jokes Harvey, whose conference room was until recently filled with them.
Harvey urges me to get my hands on a biography of handsome, courtly MGM studio head Irving Thalberg, and to read The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s homage to Thalberg, while I’m at it. And be sure not to miss that line on the first page, the one about the few men who ever lived who are “able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads.”
Harvey has his own memoir, a work in progress that’s gone through a few hapless writers and seems to rev up anytime somebody threatens to write Miramax’s unknown story: One flew to Cannes and didn’t get to meet with Harvey the entire trip. James Kaplan was hired to jump up a rewrite because Harvey had admired the way he handled anger-management issues in John McEnroe’s as-told-to. That version was completed in plenty of time to beat Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, but Harvey, a tireless consumer of biographies on Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, captains of industry, and others who present well in marble, thought it—and, perhaps, he—didn’t measure up. Says one person who’s had a look, “Harvey never could accept that to make this work, he’d have to go to the dark places.”
“The Biskind book plays as if you hired a bad actor to overact Harvey,” says Tarantino with a helium giggle. “Harvey has no sense of humor about it at all.”
Soon heading into paperback is Rachel Pine’sTwins of Tribeca, a send-up of life working for Harvey and Bob by a former Miramax publicist, bought by Miramax Books. In June came a Daily News story purporting to unmask who’s who in the book. “You have to put the kibosh on it!” Harvey was shouting, say ex-employees. “How can we keep that book out of the stores?” Pine kept her Today show booking later that month—after which Twins was suddenly tracking within 150 books of the New York Times’ best-seller list. That’s when Miramax’s PR efforts mysteriously died down.
Of course he’d read Twins, Harvey says. “How could we, who made Scary Movie, not spoof ourselves? But pegging us to the publicity was the wrong way to go. Me and Bob, as we found out, don’t sell books.”
But if a parody of Harvey and Bob’s life was almost a best seller, that would appear to bode well for their real story, which will all be righted after the IPO, after the crazy wealth arrives—that emotional ending—and the Weinsteins have cruised into history in their respective black Mercedes.