Harvey Weinstein Talks Taking a Chance on First-Time Filmmakers, George Clooney Regret

Harvey Weinstein First Time Fest - H 2015
AP Images

Harvey Weinstein First Time Fest - H 2015

The independent-film mogul was honored on the closing night of the third First Time Fest, designed to discover, showcase and celebrate first-time feature filmmakers.

During his time running Miramax and The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein has released a number of movies directed by first-time filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Rob Marshall's Chicago, Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom, Alexander Payne's Citizen Ruth, Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station and George Clooney's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

This background made Weinstein an ideal honoree for the third annual First Time Fest, designed to discover, showcase and celebrate first-time feature filmmakers. Weinstein was honored during the closing night of this year's festivities, participating in a discussion with First Time Fest's director of programming David Schwartz on Monday night at the Gansevoort Park Avenue hotel in Manhattan.

Prior to the discussion, Festival co-founder Johanna Bennett — daughter of Tony Bennett, who was also in attendance — said the festival wanted to honor the independent film mogul "because there is no one else that we can think of that has this almost magical eye for new talent and then puts his money where his mouth is."

When asked what it is that gives him the confidence to support first-time filmmakers, Weinstein told The Hollywood Reporter that it's just an instinctual, gut feeling.

"Usually it's a writer, in my case, like I'll take a chance on someone who wrote the script and let them direct it because they're so passionate about it," he added. "But sometimes you feel it in the room. You just feel it."

The Weinstein Company head said he's also able to quickly tell when an actor's ready to direct. "They have tremendous rapport with other actors, and if they're smart they hang around the d.p. and the director," he said. "You can just talk to them for two minutes and you can tell that they know what they're doing."

Still that doesn't mean Weinstein always does everything he's supposed to for first-time actors turned directors. He admitted he should have done more to generate awareness about George Clooney's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

"George is a masterful director. I should have done better for him on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," Weinstein said. "It came out a little too late in the Academy season. That movie is a masterpiece, and not enough people know about it."

Still with some filmmakers, like Tarantino, that first movie is the beginning of a long-term relationship. In Tarantino's case, Weinstein has collaborated with Tarantino on every film he's made, including the upcoming Hateful Eight.

"It's been a family business. He's a brother," Weinstein said of Tarantino. "He helped to build my company. He is the most ethical and has the most integrity. In an industry where there's no such thing as loyalty, Quentin Tarantino is loyal…He's loyal to us in good times and bad times and subsequently we've been loyal back in good times and bad."

The First Time Fest is designed not only to make sure new filmmakers and their movies are noticed, but also to help those filmmakers forge relationships to continue their careers, co-founder Mandy Ward told THR.

"We're bringing in the financiers to help these people with their next project, we're bringing in the distributors, we're having distribution conversations and lunches so that our filmmakers can meet all different kinds of distributors to make sure that every single film that comes out of our festival has a home, Ward said, noting that all but one of the films screened in First Time Fest's past two editions received theatrical distribution.

"We played a part in brokering deals with them and being introduced and no other festival can say that," she added.

While there are many first-time filmmakers out there, Ward explained that they're "looking for an original voice and a very distinct point of view that's like no other."

"We get tons of submissions, but you can only pull very few out of those submissions that are telling a story in a way that's maybe never been done before or have a point of view where you're like, 'This filmmaker is going to go on to do amazing things,' because their voice is so distinct that it really rings through," Ward said.

One of the filmmakers whose work was selected for this year's festival is Jeremy Carr, whose film Other Madnesses is a dark character study of a reclusive, New York City tour guide who suffers from recurring nightmares that force him to lash out at perceived threats around him. Carr's film took roughly eight years to go from script to screen, including six years' worth of filming.

Carr worked at Miramax right out of film school, spending time as a script reader and working in post-production, and he told THR that the Miramax films that inspired him most are Reservoir Dogs and Trainspotting.

"[Reservoir Dogs] is a movie that I saw when I was in film school and it really inspired me and some of the friends I was making films with. The writing is so incredible and the way it was done on a lower budget, mostly because of the amazing casting, amazing writing and also the visionary behind it and the fact that Miramax would take a chance on a movie like that that would lead to such an amazing film career with Tarantino is fantastic," Carr said.

As for Trainspotting, Carr said he saw it at an employee screening.

"Most of us hadn't seen anything from it, maybe a trailer, and we were just completely blown away by it," he said. "I remember the energy level — nobody wanted to go back to work."

Although Carr said he didn't work closely with Weinstein, he seems to have followed the mogul's advice that first-time directors should also write the script for their films.

"I think writing wins," Weinstein told THR ahead of his Monday night tribute before echoing that advice when he spoke to the assembled crowd. "I mean, Steve Soderbergh, Sex, Lies; Quentin, Reservoir Dogs. The great directors have always been the ones who wrote the first script."

In addition to honoring Weinstein the festival also handed out awards to films that screened it its competition. One film, Infiltrant from Holland's Shariff Korver won a grand prize of theatrical distribution and international sales from Cinema Libre Studio.

The other awards handed out are as follows:

Outstanding Achievement in Directing: Shariff Korver, Infiltrant

Outstanding Achievement in Acting: James Moles, Other Madnesses

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke, I Believe in Unicorns

Outstanding Achievement in Editing: Lauren Beckett Jackson, Beneath the Olive Tree

Outstanding Achievement in Scoring: Cedric Kayem, Void

The competition jury members were Scott Feinstein, Rafael Fogel, Maureen Masters, Nile Rodgers and Harper Simon.