Hollywood hit maker Weinstein Company fights for survival

Twilight on a career: the accusations have cost Harvey Weinstein his job and most likely spell the end of his time as a Hollywood power broker © FT montage / Dreamstime /AP

With the Hollywood career of producer Harvey Weinstein appearing to be over with his dismissal this weekend, the prospects for the company he founded with his brother Bob are coming under scrutiny.

Before he was accused of decades-long sexual harassment of women, Mr Weinstein was best known for revolutionising independent cinema with a no-holds barred approach to the production and distribution of movies stretching from Sex, Lies, and Videotape to The English Patient and last year’s Oscars contender Lion.

The question facing his colleagues and employees is whether The Weinstein Company can continue to prosper without its influential co-founder.

“Personal relationships make a big difference in Hollywood with respect to securing rights to projects and then developing, producing and packaging them,” says Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research. “When an individual who has a significant number of those relationships is gone that would tend to hurt the company.”

Mr Weinstein had close ties with Hollywood’s elite — and enjoyed the loyalty of those whose careers he helped. Dame Judi Dench once revealed a fake tattoo on her rear reading “JD loves HW” — to thank Mr Weinstein for plum roles in Mrs Brown, Chocolat, Iris and Shakespeare in Love.

Dame Judi Dench, pictured in the Weinstein-produced ‘Shakespeare in Love’, described the accusations as ‘horrifying’ © Alamy

On Monday, she said: “Whilst there is no doubt that Harvey Weinstein has helped and championed my film career for the past 20 years, I was completely unaware of these [matters] which are, of course, horrifying and I offer my sympathy to those who have suffered, and wholehearted support to those who have spoken out.”

Mr Weinstein tried to activate his network of contacts over the weekend as he fought to keep his job, sending an email to several top executives asking for their support.

“We believe what the board is trying to do is not only wrong but might be illegal and would destroy the company. If you could write this letter backing me, getting me the help and time away I need, and also stating your opposition to the board firing me, it would help me a lot. I am desperate for your help,” he wrote in the email, which was seen by the FT. “Just give me the time to have therapy. Do not let me be fired. If the industry supports me, that is all I need.”

Do not let me be fired. If the industry supports me, that is all I need

The task of repairing, maintaining and developing critical relationships now falls to Bob Weinstein and David Glasser, the company’s president and chief operating officer. In Mr Glasser, the studio has an executive with the savvy and connections of his former boss. He was on the verge of leaving two years ago, tendering his resignation and attracting interest from rival companies, only to agree a new deal six weeks later.

But restoring the company to glory will not be easy. “Its participation in awards season has diminished over the last three or four years,” says Janice Min, a media strategist with Eldridge Industries and the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a company built almost entirely on winning Oscars . . . without that it’s just another struggling movie company.”

Harvey Weinstein films

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The Weinsteins’ dominance of independent film has been superseded by the deep pockets of Amazon and Netflix, which have become key buyers at festivals including Sundance, where Mr Weinstein once reigned supreme.

Bob Weinstein has a quieter, much lower public profile than his brother. The two have clashed in the past and “it really ramped up over the past couple of years”, according to one person close to the company.

The lack of recent hits has also hurt the finances of the privately owned group, which counts WPP, the world’s largest marketing group, Goldman Sachs and Fidelity among its investors. “They have had a lot of financial problems, and I think this may be why some people were emboldened to speak out against Harvey,” Ms Min says.

The Weinstein Company has released six films and taken in $122.6m at the US box office so far this year, according to Box Office Mojo. Its most successful performance was in 2013, when it grossed $463m domestically, led by the $116m brought in by Lee Daniels’ The Butler, featuring Oprah Winfrey.

Bob, left, and Harvey Weinstein have clashed increasingly in recent years

“There is no Weinstein Company without [Harvey]. So they either rebrand and define a clear path forward or they close up shop,” says Chris Allieri, founder of Mulberry and Astor, a PR consultancy. “They have clearly had a string of misses. It’s going to be harder for them to get backers on future projects over the short term. And the lack of a clear, widely known successor doesn’t help matters.”

Life was much simpler for the Weinstein brothers back in 1979 when they founded Miramax. They started their entertainment career as rock promoters in Buffalo but branched out into movies with The Secret Policeman’s Ball, a filmed concert benefiting Amnesty International.

They would go on to shake up independent cinema with a string of hits in the 1980s and 1990s, proving niche films could deliver commercial success.

Miramax was acquired by Walt Disney in 1993 for $60m. But although the acclaim kept coming — the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love was among the movies released after the Disney deal — the brothers chafed at Disney’s constraints. They clashed with Michael Eisner, then Disney’s chief executive, when they released Michael Moore’s 2004 Iraq war documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

The Weinsteins would leave Disney a year later, launching The Weinstein Company with $1bn raised by Goldman Sachs.

It was a difficult return to independence. Taking directorships with other companies and dabbling in publishing and other ventures, Mr Weinstein neglected his biggest talent: finding and distributing movies. In its first three years, The Weinstein Company struggled to land a hit, money was running out and Hollywood was abuzz with talk that Mr Weinstein was finished. “It had reached the point where I didn’t want to do it any more, not in the same way, anyway,” he told the FT.

Disney sold Miramax in 2010. The Weinstein Company was among the bidders but was trumped by the $660m offer from Tom Barack’s Colony Capital and Qatar Holding. They eventually sold Miramax to BeIN Media Group, the Qatari broadcaster.

With Mr Weinstein now out of the picture and four members of The Weinstein Company’s all-male board resigning over the weekend, it now falls to others to script the studio’s next act.

Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar in a Weinstein-produced role, called those who spoke out ‘our heroes’

Actresses praise Weinstein’s accusers

Many in Hollywood were hesitant to speak publicly about Harvey Weinstein in the tumultuous days following a New York Times investigation into almost three decades of sexual harassment allegations against the influential producer.

But a handful of stars and producers offered support for his accusers, who include the actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan.

Perhaps the most prominent voice to weigh in was Meryl Streep, who won an Academy Award for the Weinstein film The Iron Lady. On Monday, Ms Streep put out a statement saying she was “appalled” by Mr Weinstein’s “inexcusable” behaviour.

“The intrepid women who raised their voices to expose this abuse are our heroes,” she said. “Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.”

Rumours about Mr Weinstein’s conduct had been circulating for years. But Ms Streep added that “not everybody knew. Harvey supported the work fiercely, was exasperating but respectful with me in our working relationship, and with many others with whom he worked professionally. I didn’t know about these other [matters].”

Julianne Moore, who is starring in a TV project co-produced by The Weinstein Company, applauded the “bravery” of the women who have alleged harassment by Mr Weinstein. “Coming forward about sexual abuse and coercion is scary and women have nothing to be gained personally by doing so,” she said.

Jessica Chastain, who appeared in the 2014 Weinstein Company film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, called on men to add their support. “[I’m] sick of the media demanding only women speak up. What about the men? Perhaps many are afraid to look at their own behaviour,” she tweeted.

This post originally appeared on Financial Times

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