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How Harvey Weinstein Survived His Midlife Crisis (For Now)

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“I have never seen the level of emotion that exists at the Disney Company,” says a lawyer who was involved in the negotiations. “It’s a huge public company that makes its decisions based on emotion. It’s bizarre. The Fahrenheit 9/11 deal not getting done had only to do with trying to screw Bob and Harvey.”

Curiously, as part of the complex agreement that was eventually brokered, the Weinsteins were not allowed to make any more money off the movie than they would have had Miramax distributed the movie on its own. Disney, after huffily insisting it wanted nothing to do with the project, would get the rest—although it also said that money would be donated to charity. (As of the last week in September, Disney had not designated a charity to receive its share of the windfall. When will that happen? “When it’s appropriate,” said a Disney spokeswoman. When will it be appropriate? “When we deem it’s appropriate. This is a ridiculous question.” Will the interest on the money also be donated to charity? “Are you serious? I can’t believe this. Are you serious?”)

By July, things had gotten so bad that Harvey Weinstein was telling anyone who’d listen that he’d likely be gone by the end of Oscar season, if not before. He thought the future would look something like this: Bob Weinstein would stay at Dimension Films. He’d get somewhere between $300 million and $350 million a year to work with. Disney executives, meanwhile, began telling reporters sotto voce that they heard that even Bob Weinstein was sick of Harvey, that Bob was pissed that he was the one who made all the money but got none of the credit, something Bob Weinstein vocally denies.

What, exactly, Harvey was planning on doing was unclear. He’s proud—immensely proud—of Miramax’s library, which includes movies like Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, and Chicago. It physically pained him to think about leaving it behind. (Since Miramax had been bought outright by Disney, it would retain the rights to all of Miramax’s back catalogue.) And he had begun to realize that, at age 52—the same age his father, Max, died of a heart attack—he didn’t want to spend the rest of his career fighting against executives he had a hard time respecting.

So Weinstein began to consider his options. Perhaps he’d start an independent production company. Perhaps something more nebulous: an umbrella concern designed to fund Weinstein’s interest in theater (he’d helped fund The Producers), literature (Miramax’s book division is the one profitable outshoot of the Talk-magazine debacle), sports (Weinstein is a hard-core Yankees fan and has speculated idly about one day buying the Mets), and politics.

But just when the future seemed all but written—just when Harvey was saying it seemed likely he’d leave the company, maybe even by the end of September—Disney insulted Bob Weinstein. The deal Disney put on the table for Bob, according to sources close to the Weinsteins, was so paltry—he stood to make less than half of what he is currently making, maybe as little as a quarter, and was offered virtually no back-end participation—that by the time Labor Day rolled around, the Weinstein brothers decided to stick together and fight it out.

“We’d like to continue,” says Bob Weinstein in between bites of a small Caesar salad he’s eating in a back room of the Tribeca Grill, which sits on the ground floor of the building that houses Miramax’s offices. While Harvey Weinstein relishes the spotlight and travels around the world to film festivals, Bob Weinstein prefers to stay in the background, nesting in New York. People who know the Weinsteins agree that the two men seem more united than they have been in years.

“We are brothers. We’re partners,” says Bob Weinstein. “We’re not separating in any fashion. It was never a separation, by the way. It was only a reconfiguration—we were willing to say okay in this byzantine kind of setup. It was never a situation where if I made $10 and Harvey made a dollar we were splitting down the middle no matter what. It was never like, ‘Oh, Bob’s running Dimension and Harvey’s running Miramax.’

“I’m proud of my brother. He has changed a lot of the rough edges, and people have noticed it. People in the press, maybe they want the old Harvey. They’re going, ‘What’s with the kinder, gentler Harvey?’ But Harvey actually took a little self-examination and said, ‘I could probably get the same things done and be less, uh, strict.’ ”

By September 10, when Michael Eisner announced he would step down as Disney’s CEO when his contract expires in 2006, the Weinsteins, whose own contracts with Disney run out next year, had decided on a course of action. Having all but given up on working out an acceptable deal with Eisner, the Weinsteins are now hoping Disney’s board of directors will step in and force Eisner to make a deal for one of Disney’s most successful units. After all, as virtually everyone associated with Miramax is fond of pointing out, Miramax has, most years, handily beaten Touchstone, Disney’s own live-action studio, both commercially and critically. Touchstone is currently promoting the disappointing Mr. 3000 and the dead-on-arrival The Last Shot, a movie the Times said was made “for no good reason at all.” Miramax will open the highly anticipated Finding Neverland in November, which stars Johnny Depp as J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. Come Oscar time, Neverland will likely compete with Miramax’s Aviator, Martin Scorsese’s biopic of Howard Hughes, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role.

Michael Eisner insists that Miramax’s past successes count for little; indeed, he says that the division hasn’t even been profitable for three of the past five years. And he’s been telling friends and associates he has no desire to deal with the Weinsteins anymore.

“I would predict that they will have to find their home someplace else,” says Bert Fields, the Hollywood lawyer who, along with David Boies, is working with the Weinsteins in their contract negotiations. “My own feeling is, in his heart of hearts, Michael Eisner has no intention of making a deal with the Weinsteins. In my personal opinion, for years he’s followed a program based on personal animus. And he’s going to fight against the conclusion of any type of deal.”


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