Why Michael Sued Harvey
On Feb. 2, Michael Moore and Harvey Weinstein were chatting on the phone about possibly working together again. The most successful documentary filmmaker in Hollywood history and the iconoclastic indie mogul, who had collaborated on such successful films as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko, hadn’t been friendly since Weinstein passed on backing Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore’s 2010 look at the U.S. financial crisis that flopped in theaters. But while Moore had for months been complaining that Weinstein shortchanged him on profits from Fahrenheit, the two men were discussing a new deal for Moore to direct a narrative feature — his first since the 1995 comedy Canadian Bacon — as well as another nonfiction film.
What a difference a week makes. The relationship has exploded into litigation, as Moore caught Harvey and Bob Weinstein off-guard with a blistering lawsuit filed Feb. 8 claiming they owe him at least $2.7 million and probably much more from his 50-50 share of Fahrenheit, money Moore says was hidden by “Hollywood accounting tricks” and “financial deception” discovered during an audit of the film’s books. “This is the first time Michael Moore has ever sued anyone in his 20-year career as a filmmaker,” Moore’s lawyer Larry Stein says. “That should be some indication about how serious this is.”
But some wonder why Moore, who already has made nearly $20 million on Fahrenheit, would lash out against the men who backed the film when others wouldn’t. The Weinsteins’ Miramax, then owned by Disney, financed the explosive documentary after its initial supporter, Mel Gibson’s Icon Prods., got cold feet. Then Disney refused to release the film, prompting the Weinsteins to create an entity called Fellowship Adventure Group to release it themselves. Fahrenheit caught the 2004 zeitgeist, as the public’s frustration with the Bush administration drove box office to more than $222 million worldwide, still the highest-grossing documentary to date. With DVD and TV, revenue is said to approach half a billion dollars.
Those close to the dispute say Stein and Moore’s agent, WME’s Ari Emanuel, had been discussing a settlement with the Weinsteins for about six months. Harvey and Bob recently offered to mediate the dispute privately, but Moore refused, and when Harvey put a lowball offer on the table Feb. 4, Moore pulled the trigger to file the lawsuit.
The Weinsteins suggest the timing of the lawsuit — Harvey is in the middle of an Oscar campaign for The King’s Speech and learned of the suit as he was preparing to attend the Academy Awards nominees lunch — is not a coincidence. “This was clearly designed to generate press attention at a specific time,” Bert Fields says, adding that “Mr. Moore should be ashamed of himself.”
Insiders say the relationship between Moore and Harvey has been destroyed. But Hollywood has a history of forgiving legal tussles if there is a good deal to be made. And Harvey should take note: Moore owns a movie theater in his home state of Michigan and, despite the fracas, at midweek it was playing King’s Speech.