Harvey Weinstein Explains Recent Movie Release Shifts, TV Growth and Oscar Prospects (Q&A)
The Weinstein Co. co-founder and COO David Glasser refute claims that the company is having money troubles, instead saying the independent studio is worth $700 million or $800 million "in a worst case scenario."
What's going on at The Weinstein Company? The House that Harvey and Bob built recently postponed two of releases, moving The Founder, starring Michael Keaton, from Aug. 5 to Jan. 20 (following a December Oscar-qualifying run) and Tulip Fever, starring Alicia Vikander, from July 15 to Feb. 24. Those moves, analyzed in the print version of The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday, raised the question of whether the company is experiencing cash-flow problems. In true impresario fashion, co-chairman Harvey Weinstein (along with COO and president David Glasser), wanted to respond to the story in their own words. So THR spoke to the duo about the company’s current financial status, its growing television business and its awards season prospects. An edited transcript is below:
How would you characterize the financial health of the company?
Harvey Weinstein: That is one of the most ironic questions I have ever had. As [Disney CEO] Bob Iger would tell you, people would say the same thing about [Weinstein's former Disney-owned company] Miramax. There is a method to what we do, which is to accumulate big library projects. At Miramax, we had 660 films that we either acquired or produced. Disney sold Miramax after paying Bob and myself hundreds of millions of dollars. They sold the company [in 2010] for $660 million to Tom Barrack and Ron Tutor, the Colony Capital deal. Then they filipped it to Quatar [Investment Authority] and only Colony stayed in. And they flipped it again to BeIN [Meida Group]. And we heard all sorts of numbers on the third purchase, we heard between $400 and 500 million. So the game plan for me on how you can get financially healthy is build the biggest library you can in the shortest amount of time. The end game for a company like ours is the library.
How big is the TWC library now?
Weinstein: We have 515 films. I was well on my way to doing 19, 20 movies a year — theatrical movies, VOD movies, movies that are sold straight to TV. Because the bigger and better the library is, the more power and clout you have on a global basis. Six years ago, [Weinstein friend and former TWC board member] Jim Dolan gave me incredible advice and said go into television, and we have hit it out of the ball park every year, with returns 20 percent, 30 percent. And it’s not just TV. We play TV like it’s a ten-hour movie, and we have merchandising and animation. Scream is a TV series for MTV. Spy Kids has been bought by Netflix for two seasons. They are shooting Steven King’s The Mist now for Spike. Scanners is in development for Cinemax. So [Bob] taken his [Dimension label's] film library and done that. I’ve done it a little bit differently with Marco Polo [for Neflix]. Co-producing Peaky Blinders and Gomorrah. Seal Team Six, the movie, now Seal Team Six, the show. Four Project Runways. It’s like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Reports about my death are very premature.
You were in negotiations to sell your TV division to ITV in 2015, but those talks collapsed. How close are you to a sale now?
David Glasser: The TV sale is being handled by Moelis and Company. We are actually out with a brand new deck on the company. It’s been out for three months with Moelis, CAA and [attorney] Skip Brittenham on the deal. There are multiple, multiple bidders at the table already and the upfront on the deal will actually go higher than the original ITV deal was. And the TV numbers this year will surpass the estimates that we have already. The reason we are selling is one, financial opportunity and two, we are looking for a strategic partner who can help us build and grow the business together.
How much credit does TWC have on hand at the moment?
Glasser: We’ve had a $500 million credit line for five years, in place with 14 of the biggest banks in the world, led by Union Bank. The movie business, at the end of the day, could be a break-even business, but the way the TV business is for this company, and all the other ancillary businesses, even if we were break even in the movie business, all the other divisions of this company are profitable and healthy. This company, unlike the other companies you’ve seen who’ve had problems recently, this company is not layered with a ton of mezzanine debt, we have a borrowing base, a fully secured credit line with a ton of availability. It just gets very frustrating to constantly hear about the woes of our company.
Weinstein: The TV company is worth $500 million, $400 million at the worst. There is no debt. If we let go tomorrow, selling the library and selling the TV, the company is worth $700 million, $800 million in a worst-case scenario. And there is no debt.
This year at Cannes, it looked like you were cutting back by operating from a friend’s yacht rather than offices at the Majestic.
Weinstein: The boat rental was 150,000 Euros for the ten days, plus extras and tax. We thought it was better for our distributors, more convenient for us and had all sorts of efficiencies, because we entertained there every night.
How about charges that the company is slow to pay its vendors?
Weinstein: Thirty years in the business, and I have said this before, we only have one problem. We load up our movies on the fourth quarter. Based on the taxes and how we have to show the money, we always have an after-Oscars cash flow problem. But every bill is paid. I’d like to go faster. There are years we go faster and years we go slower. This probably was a year when we went slower, because we are plowing our own money into our own growth. But we’ve made a decision. We don’t have to do 30 movies next year. We don’t need to. We’re ready to monetize the library. We are ready to monetize the TV company. We’ll put four or five movies out on my side, Bob does three or four, that’s eight movies, that’s all we’re going to do. There’s not going to be any late pays. There’s only going to be cash in. Because that’s what happened at Miramax. We cashed in. Disney cashed in. The guys who bought it from them cashed in. The library sets the tone. When you do 40 movies in one year like we did last year — TV movies, Radius movies, VOD movies, martial arts movies — no more. Some of the complaints are legitimate, but every bill has been paid in 30 years. And quite honestly, great companies like HBO and Showtime pay quickly and on time. There are other companies that take four years, like Netflix, and that’s the way they’re built. And we have to go along with it. Even though they are generous and great, it’s a timing issue. That’s when we decided no more 40 movies a year, the library is big enough. On the film side, though, TWC has had a tough year at the box office.
Glasser: Your graphic [in the story] says we had ten theatrical releases when six of them are day-and-date video and limited [theatrical] releases. I don’t know what picture you are trying to paint. Regression, Macbeth and Shanghai were Amazon partnership releases together. And Clown was a day-and-date VOD release. And Jane Got a Gun was a service deal for [producer] David Boies [the attorney who has represented TWC in the past]. The only real theatrical releases there are Hateful Eight, No Escape, Sing Street and Carol.
Weinstein: For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Sing Street isn’t [performing like 1991’s] The Commitments. It’s a great movie, and we rereleased it. The world is changing. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu. Those adult movies that don’t have Judi Dench or Helen Mirren in them, you have to be awfully good to get an audience today. Otherwise you are watching Bloodline on Netflix or Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon. Habits have changed. There is a readjustment problem for all of us. We’ve always had 8 or 10 A projects, and we’ve always had 20 B projects, 30 C projects. We believe in volume. It worked once. It will work again. But here’s the difference. At Miramax, we didn’t have a robust TV division. We have 15 series on the air, another four or five orders, another 20 in development. And we’re not deficit-financing any of them, not one of them. We own a library. We have 15 seasons of Project Runway, 12 shows a season, 180 hours of Project Runway. We have 20 hours of Marco Polo, 8 hours of War and Peace, we have 25 hours of Scream right now, 10 hours of The Mist coming up. So you have a healthy TV company, with the kind of EBITDA that no independent film company ever has. We’re not stupid. We’re not losing money on the movie side. We may not be making as much as we’ve made in other years. But we have [the boxing movie] Hands of Stone coming out. Bob has [the adventure film] Gold coming out at Christmas. Gold’s got an amazing performance by Matthew McConaughey. And next year will be hot. Lion will be good. The Founder in a different position will be good. If Tulip Fever breaks even, we’re all happy. We have The Untouchables in the works with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, we’re making The Boys in the Boat directed by Peter Berg, Richard Pryor, The Current War with Benedict Cumberbatch directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
So why did you decide to move The Founder so late in the game?
Glasser: We moved The Founder for a very specific reason. The Jan 20 date is a much better date. The Olympics look like they are tracking to be much bigger, and we would have been opening on the opening night weekend of the Olympics. This is a tour de force performance by Michael Keaton and he should be heavily into the Oscar and Golden Globe races for the movie. And thirdly, when you look at Suicide Squad and how it’s tracking, we made a very smart decision between that and the Olympics to move the movie. Everybody was fully supportive. The producers, [Filmnation’s] Glen Basner, director John Lee Hancock.
But it was originally scheduled for November before you moved it to August.
Glasser: November was not the right decision for that movie because November is so packed as it is already. And then, Tulip Fever, we had no partners on Tulip Fever. We produced, financed and made the movie. We made the right decision. [Alicia Vikander] has got two movies [with Jason Bourne opening on July 29]. And [the move] is the right thing to do for the project.
TWC has Lion, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, now scheduled for Nov. 25 and an Oscar-qualifying run for The Founder. But that’s not as many awards prospects as you’ve had in past years.
Weinstein: You have to look at the records. We have more Oscars than some studios that started in 1900. I’d like to have 42 Emmys next year and 27 Golden Globes for TV. I think Lion will set a new streak for us. Lion could get nominated for eight or nine Academy Awards. McConaughey gets [a nomination]. Nicole gets one or supporting actress because she’s amazing in Lion.