Like powerful magnets that attract and repulse with equal force, film producer Scott Rudin and Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein keep coming back together to make movies -- no matter how many terrible things they've said about each other. Both have stood accused at one time or another of being demanding, cunning, grandiose, ruthless, competitive, manipulative, greedy, explosive, brilliant, aggressive, and bullying. And both are used to getting their way. But while Rudin and Weinstein may loathe one another, they have come, in one of those plot twists screenwriters love, to accept the fact that they can't live without each other.
Think of it as a classic screwball love story -- with a little Godzilla-versus-Mothra thrown in. "It's like a Japanese horror movie," says indie producer Dan Lupovitz. "It's fun to watch these two behemoths battle to the death. You don't care who wins."
The field of their latest, and bloodiest, jousting is The Hours, an adaptation of Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel in which Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf, and Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore play women in later decades influenced by Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Scheduled to open December 27, it's just the kind of project both Rudin and Weinstein are passionate about: a high-profile, literate movie targeted to adult moviegoers. It's also the kind of movie that's tougher than ever to make, because it's expensive -- the key reason Rudin and Weinstein keep ending up in bed together -- and dependent on good reviews. These films can't just be good to be successful, they have to be great.
That kind of pressure would test the best of relationships, let alone one fraught with power plays. "It's as simple as, there can only be one control freak on a movie," says director Steven Soderbergh, who tangled with Rudin on A Confederacy of Dunces, which Weinstein is now making at Miramax.
The current war of nerves between Rudin and Weinstein began during the making of Iris (their last collaborative effort based on the life of another complicated female writer). Paramount chairman Sherry Lansing pushed Rudin -- who has been based at that studio for eleven years -- into making the film with Harvey and his brother, Bob. Lansing banks on sure things and shares risk with financial partners. So when she passed on the story of writer Iris Murdoch's descent into Alzheimer's, Rudin turned to Intermedia -- and Miramax -- to underwrite the film.
Rudin needed not only cash to make Iris but Oscar magic to boost its fortunes around the world. Harvey Weinstein has turned Miramax into a virtual Oscar hit factory. Even though he hated In the Bedroom, once the drama became Miramax's strongest 2002 Oscar contender, Weinstein backed it all the way to five nominations.
If Rudin needed Harvey's marketing muscle, Weinstein was attracted to Rudin's trunk of Oscar-worthy best-sellers. A prodigious filmmaker, Rudin turns out at least three or four movies a year, from tony adult films like The Truman Show and The Firm to quality cash cows like the Sister Act and Addams Family franchises. So far, however, the Holiday Art Film event has eluded him; his Wonder Boys, Searching for Bobby Fischer, and Nobody's Fool earned more critical kudos than Best Picture nominations.
While making Iris, Weinstein flirted with backing another Rudin film, The Duke of Deception, then withdrew over casting conflicts, leaving Rudin feeling burned. They stopped talking. Rudin also wanted to adapt The Hours. He had brought onboard playwright-screenwriter David Hare and director Stephen Daldry (though Daldry's Billy Elliot producers passed on the movie).
Lansing was only willing to contribute $3.5 million toward The Hours' $21 million budget. She sent the script to Weinstein, who loved it and wanted in. Lansing brokered a détente between the two men, and a deal was struck: Paramount and Miramax would split all costs and revenues; for its $3.5 million investment, Miramax got the foreign-distribution rights (and could presell certain territories). But Rudin retained final cut, and Paramount would release the film in North America. "We take creative risks, not financial risks," says Lansing.
All this took place, however, before Rudin and Weinstein went through the torture of releasing Iris. In post-production, Weinstein wanted to add a scene that would better explain Murdoch to American audiences; as far as Rudin was concerned, the movie was finished. Rudin, accustomed to top-producer status on the Paramount lot, wanted Weinstein to spend more money.
Though the reviews were better for the actors than for the movie, Miramax backed the downbeat drama to a decent $5.6 million gross, three Oscar nominations, and a Best Supporting Actor win for Jim Broadbent. Still, Rudin accused Weinstein of dumping his movie. "Scott thought it could win Best Picture," Weinstein says. "I try my best to navigate around Scott, who's difficult when he's dealing in the reality of my world, where dollars count."
As The Hours neared production, Miramax routinely asked to see makeup and hair tests. Rudin refused, but proudly sent Weinstein a photograph of Kidman as Virginia Woolf. According to several sources, Weinstein went ballistic over Kidman's large prosthetic nose. Weinstein denies he had that reaction, insisting, "It makes me sound like a Hollywood studio chief."
The standoff continued as Rudin hired security guards and barred Miramax from the London set. "She's playing Virginia Woolf," Rudin says. "She can't look like Barbarella! I had to safeguard The Hours against a thousand opinions I didn't need."
The Hours wasn't going to be ready for the Cannes Film Festival in May, so Rudin sent a print to the Venice Film Festival for September -- without consulting Weinstein. When it landed a good slot, Rudin struggled to line up all three of his stars for the event. Then Weinstein insisted on screening the film -- without Rudin in the room. Rudin was furious, but relented. Then he learned that Weinstein had watched The Hours with New Yorker writer Ken Auletta. To make matters worse, says Rudin, Weinstein "pissed all over the Philip Glass score, in front of a guy doing a profile on him." While Weinstein strongly denies criticizing the movie in front of Auletta, he admits that he phoned Kidman to enlist her support in changing the score. He later promised her publicist, Leslee Dart (who also reps Rudin and is president of PMK/HBH), that he'd behave and support the movie.
Lansing and Rudin stood firm on Kidman's nose and Glass's score. But Weinstein refused to send the movie to Venice, on the grounds that it wasn't finished. Stewing, Rudin called Weinstein and said, "You and I are done. You skunked me. It's despicable that you pulled this stunt and damaged my movie in front of press. I don't think I could ever trust you again." He followed up by sending a crate of cigarettes to chain-smoker Weinstein with a note: "Thanks as always for your help."
"In Harvey, Scott has the studio head he deserves," says one Hollywood producer. "And in Scott, Harvey has the producer he deserves. They're cantankerous, whiny 4-year-olds in fat 50-year-old men's bodies. They ball up their fists and say, 'I want my way!' "
"We're not fighting with Harvey," points out Paramount vice-chairman Rob Friedman. "Scott is."
It is certainly in Miramax's interest to make The Hours a hit; a successful run at some Oscars could explode the movie's global box-office. "I don't want this Scott-and-Harvey stuff hurting the film," Weinstein insists. "I'm happy to help Scott in any way I can."
And for all his ambivalence verging on rage, Rudin still wants Weinstein onboard when The Hours is released on December 27. "I'd love to have his help," Rudin frets. "He has Gangs and Chicago; a tremendous amount is at stake. The Hours is not on the radar of movies he needs to work for.
"My fantasy is that I'll get with Harvey on the same page and the two of us together will do great work," he continues. "If I could just get him to stop competing and trying to mow me down in Times Square. It's the same push-and-pull relationship: He'd like to get my movies without me, and I'd like to get his talent without him."