Weinstein bringin’ down the house

Panel discusses art of publicity

Tentpoles were nowhere on the Miramax radar a decade ago, but Miramax has broadened its mandate, co-topper Harvey Weinstein said here Monday. “At this point in my career, I think I can handle a few literate blockbusters,” the exec stated, adding that equity funding as well as studio partners will help fund such pics.

In a one-on-one Q&A with Variety editor in chief Peter Bart before a packed house as part of the paper’s Cannes Conference Series, the exec covered a myriad of topics:

  • The Cannes festival is “a great party … I just want them to throw in an occasional great movie now and then,” he added with a chuckle.

  • Answering criticism of Oscar campaigns, he asked, “If you knew you were going to get $75 million more (at the box office), wouldn’t you spend a few million?”

  • As for the importance of DVD, he stated: “We’ve used the video division to lay a solid financial base at the company,” which helped keep the Disney skeptics at bay.

Bart pointed out that Miramax once came to Cannes for films like “Cinema Paradiso” but now the company’s slate includes pics such as “The Green Hornet.” Weinstein responded that he likes making a big film each year, “but it’s not our be-all and end-all.” While other majors want to make one “Harry Potter” after another, “I want to do one ‘Harry Potter’ and let it support my other films.”

Admiring the array of films that Paramount put out in the late-’60s/early 1970s — “The Godfather,” “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” et al. — Weinstein said he wants to similarly have a slate that includes several “literate blockbusters” (as opposed to the current trend of “Spandex movies” — i.e., mindless, comicbook style films in which the hero wears tights).

The company is teaming with Warner Bros. on “The Aviator” and Fox/Universal of “Master and Commander,” but Miramax is going solo on “Cold Mountain.” He said the $80 million budget will be partly augmented by equity financing. While stating that Disney and other studios didn’t believe in going solo on the pic, he smiled, “Bet on me, fellas — I’ve seen it.”

In six weeks, Martin Scorsese will start helming “Aviator” and the exec joked about press reports of their battles on “Gangs of New York”: “One overturned desk and everybody went crazy.” He said the battle garnered millions’ worth of free publicity; to garner comparable PR, he vowed to schedule a fight with Scorsese in Madison Square Garden, and similarly hold bouts in every film on which they collaborate.

Upcoming Miramax projects also include the CGI “Cricket in Times Square” and “The Magic Brush,” each budgeted at around $40 million-$50 million. But Weinstein several times emphasized he won’t give up smaller films, mentioning such points of pride as “City of God” as well as “The Magdalene Sisters,” “Dirty Pretty Things” and “The Station Agent.”

He also stressed the importance of the video division. “We needed a financial backbone at the company,” mixing things like the successful “Bionicle” franchises with the Krzysztof Kieslowski trio (which sold 40,000 copies).

As for the current festival, Weinstein cited a Variety article (May 12-18) that said 19 of the 22 competition movies have French parentage. The Miramax exec observed that there are 20 acquisition companies here, but no major deals yet. However, “The festival that’s going to pop is Venice.”

Venice, he said, is a fest that salutes written-word films. It was one of several times that he mentioned the importance of good writing.

As for Oscar campaigns, he said at one time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was a small “boys’ club” consisting of a few people who divvied up the Oscars. “We said, ‘Let’s make it more democratic.’ ”

The Acad has moved the date of the Oscars a month earlier, with a Feb. 29 date. Weinstein said that’s bad for small movies: “It’s only good for the studios with big P&A budgets.”

He pointed to the astonishing B.O. for “Chicago” ($285 million globally), with at least $75 million coming after the Academy Awards attention.

After a period when he was ill and the company was run safely, Weinstein said proudly, “I’m back to taking chances. I think that’s what I do best.”

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