Miramax moguls cover 25 years at MoMA fete

Harvey Weinstein inveighed against Disney’s portrayal of his company as unprofitable and touched on the support he’s been receiving from Wall Street during a discussion with brother Bob and Quentin Tarantino at the Museum of Modern Art Thursday to celebrate the mini-major’s 25th anniversary.

Yet the Weinsteins also said they expect to be working on films with Disney in some capacity, whichever way the talks shake out.

“We’ve delivered Disney a debt-free, $2 billion asset,” Harvey Weinstein declared, “despite all the arguing about profitability that’s gone back and forth. And the response from the financial community has been incredible. I’ve never known what it’s like to be a pretty girl. But now I have investment bankers showing up (on my doorstep) saying, ‘Here’s a billion dollars.’ “

Exec noted the cadre of Wall Street heavyweights who came out to support him last month when he was named a commander of the British Empire in a Manhattan ceremony and touched on the “Fahrenheit 9/11″ flap that made the Disney talks terser.

“There was $90 billion in that room,” Harvey Weinstein said of the intimate crowd that gathered at the British consul-general’s residence in November, including Steve Rattner, Jim Dolan, Brian Roberts and execs from Lehman Brothers, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Lazard Freres & Co. “These guys would buy Disney for pocket change.”

Incredible rise

But the MoMA event was meant mostly to mull the moguls’ impressive rise from Buffalo-based pishers to indie iconoclasts and ultimately film-biz royalty.

The pair told tales from their multifaceted career path as upstart exhibitors, aspiring directors and rule-breaking distribs. But onstage in one of MoMA’s new screening rooms, the excitable Tarantino finally blurted, “Everyone wants to know what’s goin’ on with you guys!”

Harvey Weinstein responded, “From our point of view, the idea is to resolve this in an amicable way.”

Hourlong chat was bookended by a clip reel of Miramax highlights and a screening of “Resevoir Dogs.” “We’re very proud of the films, and they bear our mom and dad’s names, so it’s emotional for us,” Harvey added.

Of the fallout after Disney blocked the release of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” he said, “It’s a very strange situation. You make choices in your life, and sometimes you stand up for what you believe in. And when you do, you pay a price. And we would have done it all over again.”

Early days

Most of the evening was devoted to recalling the mini-major’s ramp-up. The pulp-loving Tarantino gleefully revisited the brothers’ first two movie releases –prog-rock concert pic “Sensation: The Ultimate Experience” and foreign-financed slasher film “The Burning” — that bore the unheard-of-before credit “created by Harvey Weinstein.”

Harvey Weinstein said a then-unknown Holly Hunter, who came in from Pittsburgh to read for “Burning,” impressively delivered a Shakespeare soliloquy, only to be informed her that her one line in the horror pic would be, “There’s the canoe!” Hunter later won an Oscar for Miramax’s “The Piano.”

“We thought, maybe we’ll do two (films per year),” recalled Bob Weinstein of the brothers’ early days. “But then we did four. Then we did six. I said, ‘Can you believe it? We did four films?’ Now we do 39 movies a year.”

MoMA’s yearlong salute to Miramax’s quarter-century may outlast the company’s current incarnation: The brothers’ contract expires in the fall and a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing by the Mouse House indicated “the company does not expect business at its subsidiary Miramax to continue at the same level beyond Sept. 30, 2005.”

Ended with 1996

At MoMA, the overall mood remained tenderheartedly nostalgic. The oral history by Tarantino, et al., ended with 1996’s “The English Patient” and “Scream,” with no mention of recent pics “Chicago,” “Cold Mountain” and “Gangs of New York” or current releases “Finding Neverland” and “The Aviator.”

Though they have been painted at times as industry bullies, the Weinsteins showed the audience — about 400 family members, colleagues, press and film fanatics — charm, good humor and their trademark chutzpah.

“When he’s trying to get his way,” said Tarantino, psychoanalyzing Harvey Weinstein, “he’s not like this ogre jerk. He’s this cool guy and you want him to like you.”

Harvey Weinstein responded without missing a beat, “Dude, that’s why you’re with us,” further explaining his mindset while rolling out the unlikely commercial success “Pulp Fiction.” “We said, ‘We don’t care what the rules say.’ All of a sudden, there was this young crop of filmmakers, so we said, ‘Screw it. We’ll just write our own rules (instead of) play this boring game.’ “

Other rule-breaking case studies included currying favor with pot-smoking moviegoers by branding their first Buffalo theater as “hassle-free” and brashly acquiring Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies, and videotape” by offering its Sundance seller $100,000 more than any other sealed bid that came in.

The duo also recalled being accused of lying about the astonishing opening-weekend grosses on Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”; the creation of the ad campaign for “The Crying Game” after their realization that Neil Jordan could not articulately describe the pic’s plot in interviews; and sneaking into the Palais at their first Cannes fest, only to be rescued by Sean Connery when the gendarmes arrived.

With all the bad blood that has coursed between Miramax and Disney, MoMA will remain a Miramax Neverland for the next year, whichever way the talks go.

“We feel young and we can keep doing it,” said Bob Weinstein.

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