Sundance: Weinstein Co.'s David Glasser on Buying Plans, Miramax Deal Impact (Q&A)
This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Never mind the movies. There's no shortage of drama at The Weinstein Co., whose 2013 was filled with epic battles (two with Warner Bros. alone over The Butler title and The Hobbit profits), a war of words with Grace of Monaco director Olivier Dahan over final cut and splashy deals including a 20-year pact with Miramax that allows the company to dip into the 750-title library that the Weinstein brothers built. Though Harvey Weinstein grabs most of the headlines surrounding the privately held, 184-employee company -- which generated more than $300 million at the box office from 16 films released in 2013, with much more from home video and other businesses -- COO David Glasser is the quiet power behind much of the dealmaking. That's particularly true on the festival circuit, where the company is feared by competitors for its relentless approach. A native Angeleno, Glasser, 42, hails from a showbiz family. His uncle Paul Baker was a founder of PR firm BWR, and his father, Richard, started as a Motown recording artist and worked in the music publishing business (he now works alongside his son as the head of music at TWC). And though Glasser is more mild-mannered than Weinstein, he can show flashes of the same mercurial streak as his boss (he admits to hitting high decibels when lied to). The avid skier -- downhill and water -- has been married to Michele, a stay-at-home mother, for 21 years and has three children, ages 19, 16 and 10.
TWC has several films in the awards-season hunt, including Philomena, Lee Daniels' The Butler, August: Osage County and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. As Sundance approaches, Weinstein and Glasser are considering 2014 acquisitions, and the big question is whether they will be on a buying spree. After all, the Miramax deal allows TWC to produce and domestically distribute movies based on the Miramax library (which includes Shakespeare in Love and Pulp Fiction), with Miramax owners Colony Capital and Qatar Holding paying for development and production costs. Despite that opportunity for new projects, Glasser downplays the possibility of curtailing his festival buying, especially if titles like last year's Fruitvale Station, which TWC bought for $2.5 million (it earned $16 million domestically), are for sale in Park City. TWC's boutique label Radius, headed by Tom Quinn and Jason Janego, also made a splash at last year's festival by picking up five titles, including the biopic Lovelace and the doc 20 Feet From Stardom, the longest-running theatrical release of 2013 -- not bad for a label often dismissed as a VOD player. During a pitstop in New York from China while returning to his Beverly Hills office, Glasser spoke to THR about his favorite festival deal, why Precious was the film that got away and regrets about pushing Mandela to be ready for Toronto.
What is the Sundance game plan this year?
Harvey and I and the team sit through countless meetings trying to find those magical movies like Fruitvale. That movie is a perfect example of what Sundance is and does so well. Last year, our Radius team got Cutie and the Boxer the first day of the festival. They also bought 20 Feet From Stardom, which turned out to be the highest-grossing documentary [$4.8 million] of the year.
What's the biggest change in the indie landscape in the past few years?
It's the introduction of the day-and-date [VOD and theatrical] release. It's giving an alternative means for people to see high-quality feature films. Also, there's some very smart capital out there now like Worldview [Joe, The Immigrant and Sundance title Song One] that are making high-quality movies. There are more financial opportunities than ever before for really smart and savvy investors who want to be associated with quality.
How does the Miramax deal affect the company?
There's a great opportunity for both Miramax and TWC to make some movies together. It's a win-win. Miramax has incredible assets in the script, TV and film [libraries]. It gives us the ability to make some pictures that Harvey has had his eye on. We have an incredible machine that The Weinstein Co. built -- distribution, international. So why not use that machine?
Will you bolster your creative executive team to deal with the increased volume?
We don't need to. Plus, much of the TWC team has been here 10, 15 years, maybe even more, 20-plus in the case of some employees. So they've already worked on a lot of these titles. The bottom line is, we don't like having a lot of overhead. Maybe we'll bring in a few more production executives.
Will it mean fewer acquisitions?
Yeah, but it just depends. In the past few years, we had the bandwidth to take on a few more pictures. But it comes down to the amount of slots per year and how many are open after the Miramax titles. We'll be very surgical in the kind of acquisitions we make.
Moving forward, what will be the breakdown of homegrown films versus acquisitions?
It will range year to year. There will be some years that we have more acquisitions. But we're very focused on production right now. We'll be looking to make four to six productions per year, like our upcoming films The Giver [a sci-fi drama with an ensemble cast including Meryl Streep and Taylor Swift] and [the Melissa McCarthy vehicle] St. Vincent DeVan Nuys [as well as the Miramax-generated films]. And then it's about eight acquisitions. And then obviously you add in the Radius titles.
How are deep-pocketed financiers like Megan Ellison affecting the indie landscape?
They only help it because they're obviously out there financing high-quality stuff. When you see Megan make the movies she's making, it's good for everybody. We're always seeing a new group of guys come in through the door with a shitload of money. And you think: "OK, guys, read the material. Be smart about it." What got us in trouble in the past was just saying yes. Now, before we say yes, we run a model. We talk to distribution. We talk to home video. I think that's part of our success right now, fiscal responsibility. It's tough when Harvey loves something, but we really look at it.
Is there any merit to the nickname "Harvey Scissorhands"?
Absolutely not. I think lately it's become like that urban legend people love to write about. Instead, let's call some filmmakers who have said, "Harvey, take a look at this cut. Please come in. Give me your opinion." They will all tell you that having Harvey for a set of eyes is a breath of fresh air. Harvey has an incredible vision, an incredible opinion. Not every idea that he has is the end all, be all. But when a filmmaker has delivered his cut of the movie, and Harvey can sit there with a fresh opinion, it's a breath of fresh air.
What's the festival film you most regret not getting?
Probably Precious [in 2009]. We thought that we had the movie. We were passionate about it. But even after losing it [to Lionsgate and filing a lawsuit, which was dismissed] we continued our relationship with Lee Daniels and went on to do The Butler. And now we're doing another movie with him [a Richard Pryor biopic].
Are Oscar campaigns as fun as they used to be?
We always have a good time with our Oscar campaigns because it's an incredible reflection of all the work. It's our favorite time of the year. We're just a heavy fourth-quarter company. From Telluride through Toronto and Venice until March, you only breathe for a few minutes. But when we rushed to get Mandela [to Toronto], it was a work in progress. In hindsight, that was probably not the smartest decision because then you look at the cut two months later and the reviews are spectacular. But at Toronto, they were just good.
Is awards campaign spending up or down this year?
I know we've been very fiscally responsible about where we spend and how we do it. I don't know how others are doing. If you ask me that question in February, I'll be able to give you a better response.
What is your favorite festival deal in recent years?
Can a Song Save Your Life? [at Toronto]. My team and Harvey and I literally were up 42 hours straight. That negotiation -- between us and Lionsgate in the parking lot hour after hour -- that was pretty wild. I've done a lot of these, and that was probably at the top.
How do you stay up for 42 hours?
There's actually a good picture one of my employees took of me. I literally lay down in a corner of the hotel. You can't do that very often. I'm getting too old for that.
Any regrets about the bitter wrangling with Warner Bros. over The Butler title?
No regrets. We didn’t want any of that. We did what we needed to do from our standpoint.
Or The Hobbit profits?
We’ll let the courts make the proper decision on that.
What's the mindset behind the major push into TV?
This is a huge, huge thing for us. We can do the same in TV that we do in movies -- tell high-quality, incredible stories. The marketplace has really opened up where the networks are looking for “film-style” TV shows, with big filmmakers involved.
Marco Polo [which Netflix recently picked up] is a perfect example. Harvey said, ‘I want to make the travels of Marco Polo as an epic TV series.' And that's what we’re doing. And there's probably 20 of those -- things that he thought about it as a movie. But now it’s better for TV. The budgets are there to support a great vision. We’re doing The Ten Commandments. We just bought Peaky Blinders. We’re doing a big TV series with Simon Vaughan called Book of the Dead. And then we have the whole reality TV business too with Project Runway.
What is the likelihood that The Weinstein Company will do a public stock offering?
Where else might you look for financing?
We have our brand new facility that just closed [in December] with Union Bank of California. It was $370 million. It’s institutional financing, which is an incredible step in the company. We have two incredible partners with Ron Burkle and Len Blavatnik. We’re always interested in talking to [new financing prospects]. But right now, it’s packed. And it works very well.
What's the one thing that would surprise most people about Harvey?
His knowledge of film blows my mind. Go to a bookstore with him. It’s the most fascinating experience. This is a guy who can quote cinema down to the director, Shakespeare, the movie that won the Oscar in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. He’ll walk out of a bookstore with eight books. Within a week or two, he's already finished them. He can read three scripts in a weekend, work on it, edit a movie and read an entire book and know it cover to cover.