Sydney Pollack, the longtime producer and actor who has happily done business with Weinstein, says Harvey hasn't mastered the art of being on top.
"I think that people are angry at his success. He is not a humble person. There is in Harvey a kind of confidence that people construe as arrogance. People want you to be a little humble about your success, and he doesn't do that," says Pollack.
Weinstein's tendency to physically menace people on occasion hasn't always helped matters. Jonathan Taplin met an enraged version of Weinstein at Sundance after he sold Shine to Fine Line. (Weinstein denies he ever laid a hand on him.)
"It was very unpleasant to have this guy strangle you in a restaurant, but I give him credit for being passionate enough about Shine to hunt me down and confront me,"
Taplin recalls. "He was totally out of control and had to be thrown out of the restaurant, but you would have to put me down on the side of people who are passionate and crazy about movies."
Bingham Ray once ran October Films, one of a number of "the next Miramax" indies that didn't make it out of the nineties, and is now heading United Artists, the specialty-film unit of MGM. "What frustrates me is that they are still able through his craft and genius to spin Miramax as this little, small, underdog independent company when everybody and his uncle knows that this is a major studio," Ray says.
Tom Bernard, co-head of Sony Pictures Classics with Michael Barker and Marcie Bloom, who scored big with Crouching Tiger, credits Weinstein with buying film in bulk, nothing more: "The main goal is to market the brand, and he has forced the rest of the world to take out bigger ads to be recognized, profits be damned. He has made the cost of doing business catastrophic, and because of that, a lot of independents have gone out of business."
Weinstein points out that more small films are playing to big audiences than ever before. Listening to a litany of complaints from his competitors during a 90-minute interview at the Rihga Royal, Weinstein starts to smile. "It always reminds me of the scene in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when the three banditos burst in on Eli Wallach and he's in the tub," he says, his eyes narrowing.
"He's got soapsuds on him and they come in," he says, hands beginning to float above the table. "So just imagine, Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, and Ismail Merchant, the three of them, they walk in and they see Eli Wallach and he's playing Tuco, he's the ugly. And they go, 'Tuco, you bastard,' in dubbed Italian. 'You killed the neighborhood, you shot up this guy, you got our gold, you got our this, you got our that, you got everything . . . You have to die. You will die now.' "
Weinstein pauses to make sure he has my full attention. The hands form pistols.
"And then they reach for their guns, but he comes out of the bathwater with the gun and he shoots all three of them and says, 'When you talk, you talk, when you shoot, you shoot,' " his revolver-shaped hands cracking off round after round.
"These guys are busy talking like old ladies about 'What is Harvey going to do? What is he going to do?' " he says. "While they are talking, I am shooting."
Harvey, as I've taken to calling him, is working Dave, as he's taken to calling me. I hate the name Dave, but I've never figured out a way to politely tell someone that. Stylistically, we aren't all that differentbig, noisy guys who bully people into liking them or hating them. It's just that he can okay a $100 million film with a flick of the wrist and I type for a living, a business Weinstein knows well.
"Harvey is all about content, he responds to great content. He has a fantastic eye for things that are culturally interesting," Tina Brown says in a phone call. "He is very much of a polymath. He's Joseph Papp crossed with Max Perkins crossed with Samuel Goldwyn."
When the must-have editor got hitched to a marketing behemoth, everybody expected it would explode into a publishing juggernaut. But Talk magazinewhich is owned in partnership with Hearstall but capsized after a huge launch, beset by editorial cluelessness and a dearth of ads.
By his own admission, he's $40 million in, and Talk's second year is going off in the midst of a hellish storm of cratering ad spending, heinous distribution quandaries, and, as is always the case with Tina, costs beyond what had been hoped. The magazine has picked up editorial momentum, but it remains a long way from profitability.
"It's been a hard road for the magazine," he says. "I think it's making progress slow and steady."
Weinstein has been stunned by the costs, and he's not always pleased with the editorial execution. He took the reconfigured postSeptember 11 issue home, and, when his wife reportedly didn't think it properly reflected the gravitas of the time, the magazine was torn up at the eleventh hour for yet another redo.
According to someone who was asked if they'd be interested, Hearst is shopping their half of the magazine. Calls for comment from Hearst went unreturned, but sources at the company say that "everything is on the table" given the current publishing environment. Reports that publisher Ron Galotti was seen at Condé Nast, his old employer, were written off as social engagements, but sources at Condé Nast say that the company has made it clear it would love to have him back. Editors of other titles at Hearst are always bringing up Brown's party budget when they are asked to hack jobs at already lean titles. And it's hard to picture Disneywhose stock price has dropped from $35 a share to $20 in just the past six monthslining up for a bigger share of Talk.
Talk-Miramax Books has had the opposite trajectory, debuting to low expectations and growing in credibility with each passing book. It's one thing that Weinstein and Brown can agree on. The imprint's most recent get was a two-book deal from Rudy Giuliani, a Weinstein antagonist who nuked his effort with Robert De Niro to build a studio in Brooklyn. "You'd certainly have to put me in the top ten of public figures who have had fights with Rudy," says Weinstein. "But I think he's done a remarkable job for New York. Remarkable."
Before Giuliani became Saint Rudy, back in August, Weinstein was reportedly nickel-and-diming him about the $3 million, two-book contract. A source close to Giuliani says that the argument heated up and that threats flew on both sides. Giuliani reportedly felt that his contract seemed like small potatoes next to Hillary Clinton's $8 million, while Weinstein felt it was a lot of money to be paying to a washed-up mayor who only made headlines when his marriage came up.
Brad Grey, CEO of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, negotiated the deal on behalf of Giuliani and says that no such throwdown occurred. "I was involved in every element of the deal, and I don't recall any conversation that was basically relooking at the deal," he says.
Weinstein doesn't always have to be front and center to be happy in a business. He is a substantially silent partner in both his Broadway endeavors and the restaurants he's partnered in. "I think that theater fits very well with his metabolism," says Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn, principal producer for The Producers. "You can go from a reading to a show within a year."
Both of the plays Weinstein put money onthe other was a revival of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thingcame in. "I do think he has a warped view of the business, making the money back in six months," Landesman says, laughing.
Weinstein laughs at this, too, although not for the same reason. "Well, I'm a guy who's got ten Best Picture nominations in nine years," he says, dropping the humility like a used napkin. "Rocco might not quite understand who he's dealing with."
We're riding in from a screening in new Jersey in the back of a Mercedes. I'm not exactly drunk on Weinstein, but I'm feeling a little tipsy. Tonight, there's no Gwyneth, no Nicole, just a test screening of director Walter Hill's Undisputed, a palooka of a movie that's going nowhere big or fast. Hill had his fifteen minutes back when he made 48 Hrs. and has been mostly skidding his way through various genre flicks since. Undisputed will not change that trajectory, but Weinstein seems completely content to be out in Jersey finding a way to make this dog hunt.
"I think it's an amazing experience watching a movie with an audience . . . the laughter, inappropriate beats, the groaning, everything you can sense and feel," he says after we pile into the car for the trip back through the tunnel. "Irving Thalberg used to take movies out to Santa Barbara and test movies and have people fill out cards. Four hundred strangers in the dark are a lot more honest than your friends who are always telling you how great it is," he says.
It's plenty dark as we head back to the city. What scant light there is comes from the glow emanating from the commercial strip lining the highway. I like this guy, the one who schleps out to Jersey to see a crappy movie. I mention that it seems like pretty small potatoes for a big-deal movie guy.
"God, if I have dominion over New York, I don't understand how the days begin so early and end so late. That doesn't seem like a king's life to me . . . It's not like I'm going to Moomba or fucking Veruka every night. I mean, I don't go anywhere."
And just about the time I'm ready to hop into his lap and tell him what a misunderstood genius he is, the other Harvey shows up, dropping names left and right while excusing his own behavior on the grounds that he's surrounded by other maniacs.
"People say, 'Are you tough?' I say: Facing Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, you know, Steven Spielberg . . . Why the hell would you have to be tough in this industry to survive? Those guys are just a walk in the park? Martin Scorsese says never to use irony in interviews, but the basic concept is, people are tough in our industry."
We're in the middle of the Lincoln Tunnel, and the car is instantly suffused with light. It's late, but his eyes are very much alive. It's beginning to feel a little tight in the back, even though it's a big-ass Benz.
"I'm preparing to direct a movie about the Warsaw Ghetto. About Jews killing fucking Germans in great numbers," he says with enthusiasm.
True to the cliché, what Weinstein would really like to do is direct. He plans to get behind the camera for Mila 18, Leon Uris's epic portrayal of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto who used guile and ruthlessness to attack much better-armed opponents. Scorsese and Spielberg may executive-produce. Look for Matt, Ben, Gwyneth, all his pals, to clear out their calendars. There's a line in the Weinstein-backed Producers that suggests "it's good to be king." It's even better to be Harvey Weinstein. Just ask Harvey.
"You know what happened?" he says. "The outsider came inyou know, he rode into town. And he sized up the town and said, 'You know what? This town is corrupt.' The studios are all in bed with each other . . . and some New Yorker comes in and levels the playing field."
Harvey Weinstein believes this. To be Harvey Weinstein, you may have to believe it.
I've parked my car in midtown, so we pull to a stop at a nondescript corner somewhere on Tenth Avenue near the tunnel outlet. We finish with a little man-on-man talk, off the record, no bullshit, just us guys. I shake his hand quickly, step out onto the street, and wonder which way to go.