Indie heavyweights split over 'Reader' date

Harvey Weinstein, Scott Rudin at odds over awards hopeful

NEW YORK -- Two titans of the indie film world are in a heated disagreement over distribution plans for one of the fall's biggest releases -- a film that might not turn out to be a fall release at all.

The Weinstein Co. chief Harvey Weinstein and uber-producer Scott Rudin are in an intense back-and-forth over whether to release the Weinstein Co. war-crimes drama "The Reader" in 2008 or wait until next year.

Weinstein is pushing for a December release for the movie, which director Stephen Daldry is working on in post. The romance set in postwar Germany and based on Bernhard Schlink's novel already has buzz from strong test screenings, though there are post elements left to be completed.

The Weinstein Co. has other awards hopefuls in the mix: Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," already in release; a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," starring Viggo Mortensen, scheduled for Nov. 14; and the World War II spy drama "Shanghai," starring John Cusack, which is promised for Dec. 25. But "The Reader," starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet, boasts the sort of pedigree -- A-list talent, period setting, respected and Oprah-endorsed book -- that could thrust it into the center of the awards race.

Rudin, however, has been lobbying hard for a 2009 release. The producer already has two Oscar candidates -- "Revolutionary Road," with Leonardo DiCaprio and Winslet as a married couple in the 1950s, at Paramount Vantage, and the Broadway transfer "Doubt," toplining Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, at Miramax -- and a third would mean he is vying heavily against himself.

The producer faced a similar scenario last year when his "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" competed against each other for Oscar kudos.

The fact that Winslet stars in both "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader" would mean the actress too could wind up competing against herself.

Further adding to the intrigue is that "The Reader" was produced by the late Anthony Minghella and the late Sydney Pollack. Weinstein worked closely with both filmmakers during their careers and is convinced that this fall is the ideal window for the movie's release.

Speaking through their reps, both Weinstein and Rudin declined comment.

Rudin and Weinstein have clashed before on their collaborations -- most notably on production elements in 2003's "The Hours," also directed by Daldry.

Insiders familiar with this situation were split on who would prevail. What is clear is that the tussle can't drag on indefinitely as release options become slimmer as the season progresses.

On the one hand, Rudin could take the position that the movie simply won't be ready in time; for one thing, Daldry also is prepping "Billy Elliot: The Musical" for its Broadway bow Nov. 13.

But there also are contractual clauses that could give Weinstein the edge if he wants to push it further. Said one person familiar with the discussions, "Harvey is probably going to win this one, but Scott isn't going to go down without a fight."

Lawyers on both sides purportedly are amassing for a skirmish.