If ever two film titans epitomized the ambition and brashness of New York, it would be Harvey and Bob Weinstein.
Since selling their startup Miramax Films to Disney in 1993 for $80 million, the Weinsteins brass-knuckled their way from a small distribution company to a diversified Oscar-season fixture. Their ambitions and chutzpah led to the launch of a book division and TV shows like “Project Greenlight” and “Project Runway” (the latter of which is in a legal spat with NBC Universal after the Weinsteins moved their hit show from Bravo to Lifetime). They even launched the magazine Talk with Tina Brown.
Their determination and spending often put them at odds with family-friendly Disney and its chairman, Michael Eisner, who wanted them to stick to prestige films. After repeated public clashes in which Eisner questioned their claims of profitability and bristled at their growing film budgets (Eisner nixed Harvey’s plan to make “The Lord of the Rings” with Peter Jackson), the relationship became untenable when the Weinsteins backed Michael Moore’s political hot-potato documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Though the brothers bought back the film when Eisner forbade them to distribute through Miramax — and the film subsequently became hugely profitable after they got others to do the job — speeded the path to their exit in 2005 and the launch of the Weinstein Co. soon after.
They left behind the Miramax name, a library of 550 films that includes “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The English Patient” and “Chicago,” and started from scratch with investment funding and the right to keep using Dimension Films, Bob’s genre company that made such hits as the “Scream” and “Scary Movie” series.
Heading into its third year, the Weinstein Co. has had hits and misses, but Bob Weinstein says the fun part is just beginning.
“We started from scratch, and spent a lot of the first couple of years putting together a lot of businesses, and building the distribution relationships we needed when we left what was a turnkey operation,” he says. “The good thing about us is, we never think about whether something is easy or hard, we just do it. If we ever reflected, we probably wouldn’t have done any of this. We learned that trait building Miramax, and it has served us well. We just move forward.”
Much of that forward motion involved diversification. TWC made investments in the exclusive online social network
aSmallWorld, the home-entertainment distributor Genius Products and independent cable channel Ovation, plus it acquired and relaunched the iconic fashion brand Halston. TWC also set up film funds in Latin American and Asia to support pics geared to turn profits in their regions.
“We valued our days at Disney, we were grateful for the opportunities we had there, but this has freed us up, my brother more than anybody, to have tremendous initiative,” Bob Weinstein says. “Aside from those businesses, we’ve gotten to build animation franchises with ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and ‘Hoodwinked.’ Disney didn’t need us for that.”
Critics are looking for more hit pictures, but Weinstein feels that will come. He doesn’t regret films like “Grindhouse.”
“It’s the press’s job to go, ‘Wow, what are they doing,’ but we feel that five years from now, one of these initiatives my brother and I took in companies outside our core business could be more lucrative than the core,” Weinstein says. “That’s how our company has changed, and how it had to change. It’s hard to judge a startup by taking snapshots from moment to moment, but people can do that if they want. We like where we’re headed. When
aSmallWorld takes off in three years, it’s because of a process we started today. Our approach is long term. We have a great bunch of investors who see that.”