Long before they were world-famous movie moguls, and having just successfully produced an indie horror feature, The Burning, in 1984 Bob and Harvey Weinstein decided to try their hand at directing. Playing for Keeps, the tale of inner-city teens who open a rock ’n’ roll hotel, co-starred Marisa Tomei in her second film role.
“The movie turned out to be an absolute bloody disaster,” says one executive who helped engineer distribution with Universal.
Though Harvey eventually would develop a reputation for ruthless efficiency and earn the moniker “Harvey Scissorhands” for interfering in other directors’ pictures, each day on the set of Playing was a circus — marred by arguments between the brothers over what to shoot and where to set up the camera. Weeks passed with next to nothing achieved.
With rare exceptions (the Coens, the Wachowskis), film directing has succeeded as a solo sport; the Weinsteins may have been prudent to follow suit. According to Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, a 2004 account of the rise of indie films, many came to see Playing as a “two-headed beast.”
Former production manager Jeff Silver found himself wondering why there were two of everything. “We get one decision from Bob, one decision from Harvey,” Silver often was told by various department heads. “They did a lot of yelling and screaming about the costs, but they would be the biggest instigators owing to their inability to decide anything.”
The movie had a budget of $4 million (about $10 million today), but those involved say it likely cost double that. The brothers turned to their rock-promoting roots and tried to save it with a blockbuster soundtrack, featuring Pete Townshend, Phil Collins and Peter Frampton, but Universal dumped it anyway.
Released in 1986, Playing and the sense of failure that accompanied it convinced the Weinsteins to focus on producing. As British comic Martin Lewis told Biskind: “Really dumb people would have said, ‘This is a great movie, Universal screwed us, we’ll make another movie. Here comes Playing for Keeps 2.’ Instead, they said, ‘We’re not Steven Spielberg, we have to find a niche for ourselves.’ Their skills were that they understood movies … they could market them. And they went that route.”
Neither brother would direct again.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.