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Harvey Weinstein to California: Expand Production Tax Incentives, ‘Please’

Harvey Weinstein
Ari Perilstein/Getty Images

Harvey Weinstein, appearing at the UCLA Entertainment Symposium in interview with Ken Ziffren, Los Angeles’ newly appointed film czar, called for California to expand its production tax incentives.

“There’s no reason for us not to shoot here, except when you do the numbers here and when you do the numbers in New Orleans, it is much more attractive financially,” Weinstein said in the Q&A on Saturday.

He cited the example of “Southpaw,” directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, as project that could have shot in Los Angeles were it not for the generous tax incentives in the Big Easy.

But Weinstein said that Los Angeles and California “doesn’t even have to give the same discount” to remain competitive, noting the cost and hassle of having to locate actors and other talent in New Orleans is an added expense despite their generous tax incentives.

“Please, whatever you can do with the governor,” Weinstein said to Ziffren, a friend of California Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown has not said whether he would sign proposed legislation to expand the state’s incentive program.

Weinstein also addressed the controversy surrounding Quentin Tarantino’s leaked script for “Hateful Eight” as indicative of the larger problem of piracy.

“It just so unnerves me that people think they can take a script…and put it on the Internet,” he said. “It is just crazy that we are not protecting ourselves as writers, producers and artists. It is just crazy that the public has some weird concept that they can just take this stuff.”

He said that the industry marketing machine should be able to come up with message of “what a lousy thing it is to do, how uncool it is” and “explain this to these kids who are doing this and proud of it.”

But he also said that there is a need to get Hollywood and Silicon Valley executives in a room to work out a solution. He said that Eric Schmidt and other leaders of Google were “reasonable” to a solution. He said that a problem is that it is up to content creators to constantly file takedown notices to user-generated sites and file sharing sites, a “constant vigilance” that puts the onus on copyright holders to spot piracy.

“We have got to sit down with these guys,” he said.

He also talking about his political engagement, noting that he was a die-hard supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2008 but has been won over by the Obamas, saying that he is “more and more impressed.”

He chided Republicans for their focus on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, particularly over the role of Clinton as Secretary of State. Although he said that he gets along with Fox News chief Roger Ailes, he questioned the channel’s focus on Benghazi and the innuendo around it.

“There’s nothing to it,” he said of Benghazi. “I mean, there’s a lot to it, but there’s nothing to what these guys are saying. ‘Hillary Clinton didn’t answer her phone and that is how Americans died,’ that’s complete bullshit. It sounds good, but I don’t believe the guys who are saying it believe it.”

Weinstein suggested that a reason that “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” came up short in the Oscar race was its August release date, which may have hurt its prospects but did perhaps help at the box office, particularly internationally, where it grossed about $70 million.

“We didn’t win Oscars with ‘The Butler,’ but we did win the Bank of America Award,” he said, noting that investors were paid off earlier than they might have been had the movie been released at another time.

He was particularly bullish about the TV business, noting that “it revolutionized our company by stabilizing it.”

The first four years of The Weinstein Co. were rough, but the past five years have been a turnaround, Weinstein said. He said that the plunge into non-scripted series brought in a stable revenue stream, and the company now is producing such scripted projects as “Marco Polo” and “War and Peace.” Weinstein said he got the advice to get into the business from Cablevision’s James Dolan, who told him, “you know idiots make money in television, and you’re a f—ing idiot.”

Laughing, Weinstein said, “It is the most lucrative advice I have ever received, because it really helped turn everything around, stabilized the company.”

At times, Weinstein was in a self-deprecating mood, particularly when Ziffren opened up the forum to questions from the audience.

“Have you mellowed?” asked one questioner.

“The drugs are working,” Weinstein quipped. “Even more importantly, have four daughters and see if you have mellowed.”