If that’s true, Disney could lose out on the services of a number of high-profile stars. “Those two dudes, they built their company from scratch, man,” says Kevin Smith, who signed a contract with Miramax after his 1994 hit Clerks. “I for one am glad they’re digging in and staying—that just means the world to me. Those dudes have been my role models. They’re very serious about what they do. Of course, it’s business, so they like to earn a buck. But they’re dedicated to forwarding American film and cinema.
“Without Harvey and Bob, there’s no Pulp Fiction. Quentin is still working in a video store. Truly Madly Deeply is Anthony Minghella’s best-known film. And Robert Rodriguez is stuck making mariachi flicks at Columbia.”
Back in 2002, when Disney began to grumble about Miramax’s bigger-budget projects, the Weinsteins approached Wall Street financiers and investment banks and inquired about setting up an alternate line of funding. Goldman Sachs offered the Weinsteins $500 million in capital, enough money to help fund a three-year slate of films. The debt was so cheap, according to a Goldman banker, it would have been cheaper than Disney’s own cost of capital. But Disney wouldn’t let them do it.
“If Harvey left Disney tomorrow and he wanted to raise a billion dollars in equity, me and every other banker on Wall Street would jump to do it,” says a Goldman executive. “If you look at all of the historical returns of all of the major studios over the past seven years, Miramax is in the top two.”
That, at least according to Bert Fields, isn’t going to matter. “In my opinion, Michael Eisner has followed a policy of vindictive, punitive actions toward Bob and Harvey. He has created this terrible feeling of rancor and bitterness.” So, will Bob and Harvey end up elsewhere? “I would think they’d consider all their options,” Fields says. “They could raise a sizable amount of money on their own, but look: Time Warner would work very nicely. They could fit in very nicely at the corporate culture at Fox. Murdoch’s a guy who appreciates profit. So’s Dick Parsons. They could fit in at the new, expanded Sony.”
That, says Fields, wouldn’t be the Weinsteins’ first choice. “For some time, the Weinsteins have been pressing to bring their position before the board. They offered to buy Miramax back at any reasonable price and pleaded with Eisner to bring that to the board. So far as we know, that never happened.” Indeed, Eisner has told friends that if Miramax were valued at $2 billion, he wouldn’t sell it back to the Weinsteins for anything less than $3 billion.
Even if the Weinsteins end up leaving the company whose name is a blending of Miriam and Max, the Weinsteins’ parents, they likely won’t be short on options. “We know this company well,” says Pete Petersen, the chairman and co-founder of the Blackstone Group. “There’s no question in my mind they can finance a new business if that’s what they decide to do.”
Eisner, meanwhile, has to be thinking about his own mixed legacy. He unquestionably rescued the moribund Disney after taking it over in 1984—at the time, Disney’s market cap was $2.8 billion. Today it’s $58.4 billion. But for the past decade, Disney’s stock has often struggled. Attendance at the company’s theme parks is down, ABC is so mired in third place that it has seemingly found a permanent identity as the worst-performing network. This past March, Disney stripped Eisner of his chairmanship after 45 percent of shareholders delivered a stunning vote of no-confidence.
Back at the Stanhope, Weinstein is finishing up breakfast. He’s obviously pleased with the changes he says he’s been able to make in his behavior. Indeed, as he’s fond of pointing out, it’s been over two years since his last public explosion, a March 4, 2002, incident that was recounted in Peter Biskind’s book Down and Dirty Pictures. The occasion was a test screening of Julie Taymor’s film Frida at the Lincoln Square Theater at 68th and Broadway. The film tested well. Standing in the lobby after the audience had filed out, Weinstein asked Taymor what she thought of the audience’s response. “They enjoyed the movie,” Taymor said. “The film succeeded.”
This, apparently, was not the response Weinstein was looking for. “You are the most arrogant person I have ever met!” Weinstein screamed, spittle flying out of his mouth. “Go market the fucking film yourself!” Weinstein turned to Taymor’s agent, Bart Walker, and told him to “get the fuck out of here.” He then turned to Taymor’s companion, Elliott Goldenthal. “I don’t like the look on your face. Why don’t you defend your wife, so I can beat the shit out of you.” Finally, he turned to a group of Miramax executives and picked them off, one by one. “You’re fired. You’re fired. You’re fired. You’re fired.”
Incidents like that, Weinstein insists, are all in the past, simply the result of spiked glucose levels and poor nutrition.
“Now I’ll look at the movie and say, ‘This is boring,’ and instead of saying ‘You asshole, fix it,’ I would say, ‘All right, guys, this is boring. How are we going to fix it? How should we do this? Do you guys realize this is not moving the way it should?’ or ‘It doesn’t have the power of the scene’ or ‘That’s the wrong actor in a casting session.’
“And I find that I’ve been able to make the same points, but I just say it in a calmer way because I feel calmer. In other words, I don’t have that anger button. It doesn’t hit me. So I think so much of anger management might fortunately be related to one’s physical diet, and I began to preach it, which is odd for me, because I don’t preach anything except getting rid of George Bush, you know, which is my mantra.
“All that self-control stuff, I tried all that stuff from analysts. I went everywhere to these guys, every kind of anger-management, psychologist, psychiatrist. ‘Get rid of my temper, get rid of my temper.’ And there was only one guy who just said, ‘I don’t think this is related to, uh, issues. I think there has got to be something wrong.’
“My pop used to always take us—my dad would say, ‘All right guys, we had a tough day today’—we were only 10 years old—‘let’s go to the pizza place,’ because my dad was overweight, so we would read magazines and eat pizza at Angelo’s Pizza on Main Street, so that was the reward. Or we would go and have a chocolate egg cream with that, so it was always sweets-related. ’Cause Dad was overweight, and my relationship with sugar has been the worst relationship of my life, but now I’ve tamed it.
“Here’s the other thing, and it has never been said by me,” Weinstein says. “And I will go on the record with this.
“When Bob and I started Miramax, the idea that we always had was, first, it’s all about the love of movies, and taking the risk to do a good movie that no one would think possible is to bring quality to the industry. But on a business level, what I always said was, we will build Disney an asset. You almost have to compare Miramax to a real-estate company. You buy buildings; you don’t get the money back on the buildings right away. But pretty soon you turn around and you have 100 buildings and that’s what building a 660-some library is.”
Weinstein looked at his watch, signaled to Emily Feingold, and popped up out of his chair. “We have to go.” As he gathers up his stuff, Weinstein talked eagerly about Aviator, which he would screen that night for a handful of Miramax executives. He opens the door and turns to face Hiltzik.
“You working on those fucking Kerry spots? I want to see those spots.” Hiltzik, who took time off from Miramax to work for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, has been doing some volunteer work for Kerry. He explains to Weinstein that he’s almost done.
For an instant, the old Harvey seems about to burst in. “You have time to read that fucking Joe Namath book but you don’t have time to do this?” Weinstein says to Hiltzik, an edge in his voice. “This is your country. This is the future of your country we’re talking about, you know?”
It’s a habit, a performance he’s done many times. But change is possible. Weinstein turns, looks at me, and stops.
“Let’s just do it. Okay? Okay. Good-bye.”