Harvey Weinstein at UCLA: Hillary Clinton Benghazi Flap 'Complete Bullshit'
UPDATED: The film mogul addresses a range of issues during his keynote speech at the UCLA Entertainment symposium, including calling on California governor Jerry Brown to back stronger production tax incentives.
Harvey Weinstein revealed on Saturday that he wasn't sure how he felt about Barack and Michelle Obama when Hillary Clinton -- a longtime friend -- was defeated by Obama in the Democratic primary.
"I strongly support Hillary. When she lost, Michelle invited me back in … but I thought I was going to sit that one out," Weinstein said during his keynote speech at the 38th annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium, hosted by the UCLA School of Law.
"But [the Obamas] are definitely idealists and care deeply about this country. I was very impressed by them. And the first lady is beyond beyond," he said.
Weinstein, who has become close to the Obamas, also defended Hillary Clinton, saying it is "complete bullshit" for some conservatives to blame her for the Benghazi embassy attack. (At the same time, he added he is on friendly terms with Fox News chief Roger Ailes.)
During his conversation with veteran entertainment lawyer Ken Ziffren, Weinstein touched on a wide range of issues. There were several moments of levity, including when Weinstein said he bribed his daughters with a trip to Forever 21 if they would watch at least 45 minutes of a black-and-white movie.
"I put in Roman Holiday. They asked to watch it again and gave up the shopping trip," Weinstein said.
During a Q&A with the audience, Weinstein, 61, was asked if he's mellowed over the years.
"I can answer that for him -- yes," said Ziffren said before Weinstein joked, "The drugs are working. Even more importantly, you have four daughters and see if you don't mellow."
On a more serious note, one member of the audience asked about production incentives and whether California has to do a better job.
"There's no reason for us not to shoot here, except when you do the numbers here and when you do the numbers in New Orleans, it is much more attractive financially," said Weintsein, citing his movie Southpaw, which he said he would have preferred to shoot in Southern California but ultimately settled for New Orleans.
Weinstein urged Ziffren, who is Los Angeles' film czar, to put pressure on California governor Jerry Brown to back more generous production incentives.
Ziffren kicked off the session by asking how important television has become to The Weinstein Co.
In addition to a thriving reality business, including Project Runway, The Weinstein Co. is about to start production on the nine-hour miniseries Marco Polo for Netflix. The company is also teaming with the BBC on a War and Peace miniseries, as well as contemplating television adaptations of Rounders, Swingers and Shall We Dance, titles the company once again has access to because of its new deal with Miramax.
"Television has revolutionized our company by stabilizing it," Weinstein said.
Weinstein confessed that when he and his brother, Bob Weinstein, first launched The Weinstein Co., he tried to stay away from movies and focus on other aspects of the business.
"I found out quickly that I was the worst CEO in America, times five," he said. "I went back to movies. My sweet spot … is doing intelligent films that the studios aren't interested in anymore."
Weinstein said he had no regrets about deciding to release Lee Daniels' The Butler in August, versus during the heart of awards season.
"You go for an academy campaign, or you pay back the investors," Weinstein said, noting that the film grossed north of $175 million worldwide. "We didn't win any Oscars, but we won the Bank of America award. [The investors] got out, everybody is healthy and they made a hell of a lot of money. Some of the cast asked why we didn't get nominated, but in this situation, we made the right decision."
Weinstein said his third area of focus after movies and television is stage musicals, including the upcoming Finding Neverland.
"If you really want to do something suicidal, produce a musical. It is truly one of the most unnerving things in the world," said Weinstein in reference to the heavy union influence.
"If you say, 'Can you move that chair, it's blocking the audience?' everyone will spend four hours discussing it," he said. "But when it works, it is so rewarding."
Weinstein didn't have to think more than a second or two when asked what his favorite movie is: "Anything John Ford."