Miramax diaspora infiltrates H'wood's inner circle
When Jon Gordon steps onto the Universal lot Oct. 1 as the studio’s co-prexy of production, he’ll be the latest in a long line of Miramax alums to land a major studio job. He also may be the latest to experience serious culture shock.
As the Weinstein brothers pack for their Sept. 30 exit from Miramax, those who trained under them are downright ubiquitous. Departing Miramax execs have landed top jobs at Paramount, Sony, DreamWorks — at virtually every studio except Disney.
The majors clearly hope that by tapping into the diaspora, they’ll capture some of the mini-major’s energy and enterprising spirit.
But the hard-charging Bob & Harvey school of business embodied a unique culture and protocol. The studio terrain is sharply different, and it’s not clear whether longtime Miramax staffers are well prepared to navigate more bureaucratic terrain.
Every studio hires a wide array of individuals, with their own strengths and demons. It’s hard to generalize about any staff, but there are certain hallmarks of the Miramax Alumni Assn.
They are used to quick answers, so they may have some difficulty adjusting to a corporate structure. They’re used to a guerrilla negotiating style — which worked well at Miramax, but is not what the majors are used to. And they may have a tough time adjusting to frequent meetings and decisions by committee.
Some Miramax alumni refer to themselves as members of a fictitious 12-step program they dub Mir-Anon.
The Miramax grads are a tight-knit group. Groups like Skull & Bones and college dining clubs have their own set of secret rituals and hand signals. There’s nothing secret about Mir-Anon. One evening last week at the Peninsula Hotel — which still counts Harvey Weinstein among its most frequent guests — Gordon was having drinks with fellow alums Rick Sands, Bob Osher, Andrew Gumpert, Ross Landsbaum and Matthew Hiltzik.
The group shares the shorthand of people who’ve worked in the trenches together. But they feed Hollywood’s paranoia that the grads will fan out, stay in touch and end up running the town, Miramax-style.
Few companies have had greater success in placing its former employees in high-level Hollywood jobs. (One notable exception is HBO, which has fed a huge number of former execs to the film and TV biz.)
The Miramax influx raises questions with broader implications: Will the merging of cultures result in better relations with filmmakers, and will the result be faster dealmaking?
As they cope with these larger issues, all of them face adjustments at their new jobs. Harvey and Bob Weinstein exercised a remarkable measure of personal control over the mini-major, and ran the company on their own sometimes pugnacious terms.
So the alumni will set out to prove that they trained to be leaders, not followers. They’ll want to prove to their new bosses that they are hands-on execs who can work 18-hour days and deliver results, rather than glorified assistants who can’t make decisions on their own.
These questions are assuming greater urgency now that the Weinsteins’ divorce from Disney has sent a further exodus of Miramax execs into the Hollywood job pool.
While the pressure is great, the pay is greater. All of them got hefty pay boosts at the studios. Working for the Weinsteins can be seen as a medical internship: There’s not much money there, but big paychecks will come down the road.
Here’s a sample of former Miramax staffers now dotting the studio landscape:
- At Paramount — a studio making big changes under new chairman Brad Grey (a onetime assistant himself to Harvey Weinstein) — former Dimension exec Brad Weston is co-head of production. He has added ex-Miramax staffer Michelle Raimo as his senior veep of production. (One former Miramax marketing head, Gerry Rich, is now Par’s marketing chief; another, David Dinerstein, co-heads Par Classics.)
- At Universal, where Gordon is about to become co-prexy of production, Andrew Rona is joining the studio’s genre arm Rogue, working under Focus’ co-head David Linde, a Miramax Intl. vet, alongside two other Miramax grads, Focus marketing chief David Brooks and distribution topper Jack Foley.
- At Sony, Gumpert, a onetime Miramax biz affairs exec, is joining former co-prexy of production Osher, now Columbia’s chief operating officer. Also new to the lot is 10-year Miramax vet Matt Brodlie, who went to Sony unit TriStar Pictures late last year.
- Sands and Mark Gill, once known as tandem prexies for Miramax, have gone to DreamWorks and Warner Independent Pictures, respectively. Former Miramax senior VP of production Jeremy Kramer is now at DreamWorks.
- Miramax acquisitions exec Arianna Bocco is heading an indie division at Gersh; marketing execs Amanda Lundberg and Cynthia Swartz are now partners at Leslee Dart’s PR agency.
- Rick Schwartz — who began as Harvey’s assistant and moved up to exec produce “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator” as a senior VP of production — is in partnership with Initial Entertainment Group through his own Blueprint Prods.
- Hiltzik, the former Weinstein spinmeister, has become prexy-CEO of Freud Communications, a new U.S. affiliate of the U.K. praisery.
Some studios execs have been surprised by the way that ex-Miramax staffers have transformed their new work environments.
“What happens with Miramax people at a major studio is that they end up speeding up the place. Studios want a breath of fresh air who is really a tornado,” said one former Miramax vet who has moved on to the studio world.
Gill, the onetime L.A.-based Miramax prexy who took the reins at Warner Independent when it launched, had a turbulent exit from Miramax and was rumored to be on thin ice at Warner virtually since he began. But the exec is now sitting pretty on top of the summer’s most unlikely arthouse breakout, “The March of the Penguins.”
Gill’s acquisition of the French doc was a classic Miramax ploy: find a foreign pic overlooked by competitors, re-cut it, and play it up big to capture quadrants beyond the arthouse crowd.
That move now looks even shrewder next to Paramount’s much-hyped Sundance pickup, “Hustle & Flow,” which is likely to earn tens of millions less than the penguin pic.
“Bob and Harvey are brilliant creatively and analytically,” said a former Miramax exec. “At Miramax, it’s all about results — what you did or didn’t do that day. If you watch what they do, you learn.”
f you’re not careful, you also learn to be rude. In fact, a few former execs have found life after the Weinsteins challenging because the company’s reputation for institutional rudeness rubbed off on them.
Miramax has also been known for its impulsive spending (at times over-spending) and for an approach to dealmaking that managed to alienate many of its competitors.
Not all Miramax staffers landing plum roles elsewhere have been able to avoid burned bridges. Indeed, some emerged from Miramax with reps for being extremely aggressive.
Scott Greenstein — once known as “the third Weinstein” — sequed to USA Films as chairman during the “Traffic” and “Being John Malkovich” period. But when USA Films was acquired by Universal, Greenstein was sidelined for two years before last year emerging, not in the film biz, but as head of sports and entertainment at Sirius Radio. (He just inked a deal to stay at Sirius till 2009 after signing Howard Stern and the NFL to the brand.)
Others have had to live down the opposite reputation — for being lemmings.
“Most people at Miramax haven’t had a lot of authority,” said a screenwriter whose film was developed and produced into a Miramax hit. “The place is different from a studio, because Bob and Harvey are making all the big decisions.”
Though Miramax has often served as a farm system for the studios, some of its execs have been reluctant to leave. Gordon started there as an intern and has spent his entire career so far working for Harvey and Bob.
Agnes Mentre, still Harvey’s acquisitions guru, replaced that department’s former head Trea Hoving in 1997 after Mentre started as Hoving’s assistant.
Charles Layton, who had already done a tour of duty with the Weinsteins, returned in 1997 as exec VP in the office of the chairman.
As part of their crash Miramax MBA program, the brothers have been known for exacting loyalty from their staff, and for promoting from within. As a result, the mini-major always managed to stay afloat by having behind-the-scenes staff ready to step in and perform above their heads when needed.
“I always believed in just training people the way I was trained,” said Harvey Weinstein in late June, when his long-time production co-head Poster stepped down after 16 years at Miramax.
“I mean, there’s no Harvard Business School for movies, but you learn at the desk. Executives who leave our company, who worked on my desk, Bob’s desk, or Meryl’s desk, are heads of studios and presidents of other departments.”
The quixotic world under Bob and Harvey’s rule — one that’s created an unusually high level of esprit de corps among those who’ve gone through it — may eventually prove incompatible with today’s congloms, but that doesn’t mean its graduates aren’t quick studies.
Harvey Weinstein notes that despite all the departures in recent months, there’s still a strong team in place at his new company, which is expected to take a number of Miramax staffers with it.
“There are so many people we have trained who have gone on to other successes,” he observed. “But Bob and I always have a strong bench with a crop of talented executives ready and waiting for their chance.”