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Harvey Weinstein called on the Producers Guild of America to create new producing credits that would delineate between creative and financial producers in an appearance Saturday at the PGA’s first Produced By conference held in New York. During the course of a 45-minute conversation that I conducted with the Oscar-winning producer and co-chief of The Weinstein Co., who was also co-chief of Miramax from 1979 until 2005, he argued that more specific producing credits would help avoid situations like “that five-people-on-stage car crash” that he was a part of when Shakespeare in Love won the best picture Oscar in 1999. He also defended Netflix’s decision to release Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend day-and-date in Imax Theaters and on Netflix, calling the company’s execs “visionaries,” even though that move led to an outcry from theater owners. And he explained why he feels that the nickname “Harvey Scissorhands,” which he got for allegedly meddling with directors’ visions in the editing room, is undeserved.
Weinstein, cheered on by a room packed with his fellow New York-based producers, argued that not all producers are the same and called on the PGA to create credits to more clearly distinguish between those who function as creative producers and those who play a more financial role. “No disrespect,” he said, “but I think there should be a ‘CPGA‘ for creative producers so you’re taken a little more seriously. And Howard Koch [the producer and former Academy president, who was in the audience] talked to me about the idea of a financial producer designation, as well.” He emphasized that he would fall under the “CPGA” category and not the F-for-financial category — “although ‘F’ is a name that’s been affectionately used to describe me.” And he winkingly said to PGA national executive director Vance Van Petten, “I know you’re working 24-hour days, but add two hours to that and figure this out.”
He brought up the Shakespeare in Love situation: Weinstein, Donna Gigliotti, Marc Norman, David Parfitt and Ed Zwick all came to the stage and made speeches accepting the best picture Oscar, and that in turn led the Academy and the PGA to implement caps on the number of producers who would be eligible in the future. But he cited it as an example of how he feels the current, uniform classifications are unjust. According to Weinstein, “In the contract, it said that Ed Zwick [who developed the script] and Marc Norman [who wrote the original script that was later polished by Tom Stoppard] were to be designated ‘producers.’ Now look, these guys made enormous contributions to the project — in the development stage. Neither of them were ever on the set, they were never in the editing room and they were never involved in any postproduction. … These two guys were never there. … These two never did anything in the producing sense. … I didn’t say anything because the team said, ‘Don’t say anything. It’s the Oscars. Let it go. Wait 20 years.’ So here I am!”
Weinstein also touched upon another years-old credit dispute that still irks him. “While I’m here,” he said, “Meryl Poster produced Chicago,” the Miramax film that won the best picture Oscar in 2003. He continued, “I was [initially] the only one to have a credit on that. I asked Marty Richards to take my name off and put Meryl’s on and he said no. And I didn’t want to put my name on because I thought it was just absolute bullshit.” Consequently, Richards — who spent only a few days on the set, according to Weinstein — was the sole recipient of the best picture Oscar. Weinstein added that Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who were credited on the film as executive producers, deserved to be credited as producers.
Turning to the controversy over the Crouching Tiger sequel, Weinstein said he’s “just a producer” on the film, which Netflix is distributing, but that he has faith in Netflix and chief content officer Ted Sarandos‘ vision. “These guys love movies,” he emphasized. “They’re going to make a lot of money, and they really do care. They’re visionaries.” He also disclosed that Morten Tyldum, the director of TWC’s principal 2014 Oscar contender The Imitation Game, will be the second unit director on the film, which is being directed by Yuen Woo-ping.
As for “Harvey Scissorhands,” a derisive moniker that he said dates back to his work on Julien Temple‘s 1982 film The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, one of Miramax’s earliest successes, he sighed, “I don’t think it’s a fair nickname, but you have to learn to live with stuff over the years.” He insisted, “As a result of the success, one of my competitors just said, ‘He’s Harvey Scissorhands. He will cut your movies.’ “
The nickname re-emerged during the past year when Weinstein cut 20 minutes from Bong Joon-ho‘s Snowpiercer. He explained, “Bong’s movie, to me, needed some straightening out. The comic book is much clearer than Snowpiercer — I’ve never talked about this — and you read the comic book, and you get that story; he has his own interpretation. I showed it to five director friends of mine, and they were more radical than I was. Three of them are Academy Award-winning directors who said to me, ‘[You should cut] 40 minutes and the narration.’ He didn’t want to do it, so at the end of the day we came up with this radical solution: ‘Let’s go VOD.’ We convinced him to do it, he kept his original vision and it worked out for everybody.”
Weinstein noted that other directors have come to appreciate his edits, including Zhang Yimou on Hero (2002) and Wong Kar Wai on The Grandmaster (2013). He also had the audience rolling in the aisles as he told the story — Italian accent and all — of an interaction that he had with 1989’s Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore more than a decade after that film’s release: “He said, ‘Let me release the three-hour-and-20-minute version — please, I’m begging you, Harvey! You’ve made money, it’s been a success, it won the Oscar and a jury prize at Cannes.’ I said, ‘Fine, go ahead.’ I love director’s cuts because they make me look like a genius. So we released it at three hours and 10 minutes, and the first thing that Roger Ebert said was, ‘Son of a bitch, that Harvey Weinstein is really good!’ Giuseppe called: ‘Withdraw the movie!’ I go, ‘No, no, I’m enjoying this!’ “
Reflecting on his formative years as a producer, Weinstein said that he learned that great success does not come without some degree of risk-taking. “I’d ‘overpay’ for movies,” he confessed. “I went to $10 million for the world [rights to Sling Blade] because [competitors] were at six or seven; I just said, ‘I’ll close down at 10.’ … I had a vision that I knew what to do with that movie. Now, [that vision] came close to f—ing cratering because The New York Times had their own vision of what to do with that movie — they murdered us, I mean, the reviews were unbelievable — but you make calls in your life.” That story had a happy ending. “The movie grossed close to $30 million; it sold an enormous amount of DVDs in those days, we sold every foreign territory and we netted $10 million out of international, so we had a zero-negative for the United States. So sometimes you have to pay retail, like my grandmother used to say.” Not all his deals ended as well, though. “Sometimes, it’s [commercial failure] Happy, Texas — I paid $10 million for that, too.”
The film that posed the greatest challenge to him as a producer was the late Anthony Minghella‘s epic romantic drama The English Patient, Weinstein said. The film was originally set up at Fox, but that studio, Weinstein said, didn’t support Minghella’s vision, wanting Demi Moore or Uma Thurman in the role that ultimately went to Kristin Scott Thomas. “The unsung heroes of that were [agents] Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane,” he continued. “They knew that it was in the wrong place, and they put it with us, but they had to go through Herculean efforts with the studio to get it to that point. It got so down to the wire that there were literally 400 members of the crew in Italy, and work stopped for five days at Cinecitta while we were negotiating. The movie was on a string, and it almost disappeared. It was that close.” In the end, the film brought Miramax its first best picture Oscar. Miramax’s Shakespeare in Love and Chicago and The Weinstein Co.’s The King’s Speech (2010) and The Artist (2011) subsequently claimed that same honor.
Weinstein said that he fell in love with movies at 14, when he saw Francois Truffaut‘s The 400 Blows and started visiting The Mayfair, the major art house theater serving the Queens, New York, area. He said he knew what he wanted to do with his life after reading a book: “I got The Memos of David Selznick and I said, ‘This is what I want to be: a creative producer.’ ” The notoriously tough boss submitted that he doesn’t dish out anything that he himself hasn’t had to take: “I was an assistant for two different companies, Apple [Records] and Paramount. All the torture that I give to my team, I got three times as much.”
He said that he “vacillates” about his own all-time favorite movie, often tempted to cite one of two John Ford films of the 1940s, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or How Green Was My Valley — “But probably [Marcel Carnet‘s] Les Enfants du Paradis [Children of Paradise] is the steadiest one.” He also confessed, “I did vote for Schindler’s List over my own movie, The Piano. I told Jane [Campion, the writer-director of The Piano], and she said, ‘I’m fine with that,’ because she’s a class act.”
Finally, asked whether he could ever see himself retiring, he indicated that he had other plans in mind: “I would like to run a small Caribbean nation — somewhere with a military,” he cracked as the audience howled with laughter. “I’ll take care of that guy who called me ‘Harvey Scissorhands.’ “
In addition to former Academy president Koch, attendees at the event included Ruth Vitale, founder and co-president of Paramount Classics and president of Fine Line Features, with whom Weinstein frequently competed for movies, and a phalanx of former collaborators including former Miramax vp production and former TWC president of production Gigliotti, former Miramax publicist Victoria Ashley, former Miramax senior vp business and legal affairs Vicki Cherkas, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain producer William Horberg, Basquiat, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Miral producer Jon Kilik (also a producer of this year’s Foxcatcher) and Blue Valentine executive producer Jack Lechner.
movie, there’s always amazing memorabilia.””]
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