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Revenge of the Weinsteins

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“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.”


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