Weinstein Co. Faces Key Board Meeting in Two Days: "No One Likes Laying Off Anybody"
A Dec. 11 gathering, the first since Harvey Weinstein and company slashed costs, will test investor appetite for a less ambitious film plan, TV properties for sale ('Project Runway'?) and risks like 'Hateful Eight.'
This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The Weinstein Co. dodged one bullet when its Dec. 7 premiere of The Hateful Eight took place without a promised "surprise" from the Fraternal Order of Police, the law enforcement group fuming over director Quentin Tarantino's October comments about police "murderers."
But co-founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein and their top lieutenant, president and COO David Glasser, will have to surmount more hurdles before they can exhale. Sources tell THR that Weinstein's board of directors will meet Dec. 11 in New York for a frank discussion of the company's future. It's the first get-together of the board since the Weinsteins and Glasser instituted cost-cutting measures (including about 50 layoffs) and put together a new business plan for the veteran indie studio. As rumors of a possible sale of some or all of its assets continue to swirl, the board will discuss several key issues including the company's financial situation, what to do with the microbudget Radius label in the wake of the exits of its leaders Tom Quinn and Jason Janego, and how to carve out individual TV assets if the entire division can't be unloaded for the right price (a rich deal with ITV fell apart earlier this year). Sources say the Project Runway franchise, in particular, has several bidders interested.
Weinstein (left) and Tarantino at the Dec. 7 L.A. premiere of 'The Hateful Eight.'
It remains to be seen if the nine-member TWC board — which includes Cablevision's James Dolan, WPP's Martin Sorrell and financier Tarak Ben Ammar — will be appeased by the company's recent slashing of roughly one-fifth of TWC's staff of 250 and trimming its annual slate of films from 16 to 10. Harvey and Bob Weinstein hold a sizable stake in TWC and board seats, but they do not own a controlling interest, nor do they control the board, which sources say had grown impatient with the company's financial returns and pressed for cost reductions. "Investors are still underwater significantly on their $500 million initial investment," says a board source.
But in an interview with THR, Harvey Weinstein downplays the significance of the meeting, instead characterizing it as a typical holiday board gathering. "There is all sorts of interest in our individual assets simply because those assets we built have become incredibly lucrative," he says. "Of course, the board and investors want to monetize, but we want to also think about our progress and growth. Our films had a very strong year at the box office — not all home runs, but what studio can say that? From The Imitation Game, Paddington, Woman in Gold, Southpaw and now Carol, all have had amazing success and profitability for the company. And that's all before The Hateful Eight opens this month, which we couldn't be more excited about."
On the board agenda, according to sources, is whether the company's recent belt-tightening is sufficient. Harvey Weinstein also is expected to give an update on the unique roadshow-style release plan for the $70 million-budgeted Hateful Eight, which opens Dec. 25 in 100 theaters in a three-hour-plus cut projected in 70mm, followed by a trimmed-down wide digital release Jan. 8.
The 70mm presentation — said to cost $80,000 per screen to resurrect the dormant format — already has proved challenging. A Dec. 2 press screening at the Majestic Crest Theatre in Westwood drew complaints due to technical difficulties. An earlier screening in New York was delayed 90 minutes because of projection problems. Theater owners are said to fear more issues when the film is shown to paying customers.
Though TWC's board has pressured the company to allocate more of its resources to TV instead of film (where the majority of the layoffs occurred), the company still has an ambitious 2016 movie slate. Among the films on the horizon are the long-shelved Natalie Portman Western Jane Got a Gun in January, the boxing-themed Hands of Stone in March, the Michael Keaton starrer The Founder, about McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, in November and The Six Billion Dollar Man with Mark Wahlberg in December 2017. Several finished films, including transgender dramedy About Ray — acquired at Cannes — remain undated. Producers with films at TWC privately grumble about the lack of a seasoned marketing executive. Though Stephen Bruno left for Netflix more than a year ago, TWC has not replaced him.
"As with any board, we meet to discuss the company's plans," adds Weinstein. "No one likes laying off anybody. TWC is still, for us, a mom-and-pop shop."
Weinstein has been one of the most durable and elevated brands in the indie film space, routinely scoring Oscars for its movies and turning tiny movies such as The King's Speech and The Artist into box office and awards magnets. But in many ways, Hateful Eight now mirrors the obstacles TWC faces with its film division: an expensive product with a pricey rollout trying to navigate a very competitive marketplace. Harvey Weinstein himself penned a guest column for THR last week lamenting the overcrowding of the specialty market this fall that caused several prestige pictures to "cannibalize" each other.
But Tarantino has managed to rise above the competition. His last film, Django Unchained, grossed $425 million worldwide for TWC. Still, that film wasn't up against Star Wars, and it starred proven lure Leonardo DiCaprio, in contrast to the smaller-scale Hateful Eight with an ensemble including Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum in a small role. For his part, Bob Weinstein seemed undaunted at the L.A. premiere when asked what his response was when Tarantino told him about the project. "F— yeah, Quentin. You better believe I'm in on this mission," he recalled saying, after which Tarantino turned to the audience at the Arclight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and yelled with characteristic enthusiasm, "Are you ready to get some hate up in this bitch?!"