Kicking off less than a month after bombshell reports accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault, this year’s AFM is the first in which the Weinstein Company will play no role — beyond fueling lively discussions of the scandal that brought down the disgraced mogul.
Local and foreign sales agents, producers, and financiers express elation, disappointment, and indifference over TWC’s troubles, depending on their experiences working with the 12-year-old company. Many note that TWC’s heyday had already appeared to be over by the time the scandal erupted, as the financially struggling company shrank its film slate in the last couple of years to focus on TV and animation.
“The absence of TWC will make almost no difference to AFM. For a few years now, the company has been scaling back as a film producer/seller. It has focused more on TV and on just a handful of prestige film titles for the Oscar race,” said Clarence Tang, head of production, sales, and acquisition at Hong Kong’s leading indie sales outfit Golden Network.
“As a buyer, TWC has not been making acquisitions of Asian movies for many years,” Tang added.
“TWC stopped being an important purveyor of foreign films a long time ago,” said Nicolas Brigaud-Robert of Playtime, which reps France’s Oscar candidate “BPM (Beats Per Minutes)” and Daniel de la Torre’s “Gun City.” “During the golden years of Miramax, the Weinstein scandal would probably have had consequences on the export of foreign movies, especially those with Oscar potential. But today, the impact will be almost nil from a commercial standpoint. Beyond the business aspect, this scandal will certainly be beneficial to help clean up our industry on both sides of the Atlantic”
Jonathan Wolf, managing director of the AFM, warned against reading too much into TWC’s absence from this year’s market, saying that the company’s struggles simply illustrate “the ebb and flow of the industry.”
“When Focus Features shut down its international sales business, no one called me, and when Entertainment One stopped its international sales operations, no one called me either. Every year new companies are launched while others depart for a variety of reasons,” Wolf said. “Calling it the end of an era is excessive and adds unneeded drama. We won’t know that for at least five years.”
But John Sloss at New York-based Cinetic Media said that “The Weinstein Company had historically been a big player, so (their absence from the AFM) this year definitely has significance.” For Sloss, the scandal itself “is symptomatic” that TWC’s “power was reduced.” It created an opportunity (to bring Weinstein down).
The American exec said it could be the end of a chapter in the industry “where Harvey was the dominant player and where it was a small club of top distributors. Today, we have The Orchards, Neon, A24, Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight, Hulu, Amazon and Netflix, among others. And you could argue that A24 has taken Weinstein’s mojo.”
Yet, for Nicolas Chartier at Voltage, “losing a big supplier is a problem.” Chartier said Voltage last collaborated with TWC on “Wind River” which was a “very big success in the U.S.”
“They were involved in different things but some of their recent movies worked very well, for instance Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” and Garth Davis’s ‘Lion,'” noted Chartier. “On the upside, all the talented people working at TWC will probably have no problem finding jobs at other distribution companies,” said Chartier, who will be shopping Donald Petrie’s “Little Italy” and Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein’s “I Feel Pretty” at the AFM.
Some even say that TWC’s downfall marks the end of the traditional indie business altogether.
“Today, the independent film space has been re-energized by a new breed of players who don’t necessarily come from the film world but from other fields, like technology, real estate or whatnot,” said Joel Thibout at Backup, the Paris-based outfit behind “Submergence” with Alicia Vikander and “Donnybrook.”
Thibout said doing business with TWC had become quite risky. “In the last couple years, most sales agents were very reluctant to give Weinstein their movies because they weren’t sure they’d get paid and they were even less sure that the films would even be released,” said Thibout, who added that agencies like UTA, CAA and WME are now increasingly involved in repping North American rights and are focused on getting their clients’ movies into theaters.
Some greet TWC’s MIA status with a shrug.
“Nobody cares,” said Hugo Grumbar at U.K. outfit Embankment Films. “The domestic market has loads of opportunities and loads of companies today. And while it’s true that Weinstein was a great manager of Oscar campaigns, they are a lot of different companies now that are able to spend proper money on campaigns, and the academy voters are more conscious of everyone around them today,” added Grumbar.
Emilie Georges at Paris-based Memento said her company was “never a target for TWC and they’ve never been a target for us… Not one of the filmmakers we’ve worked with have felt the need or the desire to work with TWC,” contended Georges, who works with Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman”), Luca Guadagnino (“Call me by Your Name”) and the Sadfie brothers (“Good Time”), among others.
But there were also some stronger reactions out of France, where Weinstein was hailed as a national hero and given the country’s prestigious Legion of Honor award after leading Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” to its five Oscars.
Six years ago, Weinstein was nearly the biggest buyer of French movies. His biggest hits were “Amelie Poulain” in 2001 (via Miramax) as well as “The Artist” and Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s “Intouchables” (via TWC), which was nominated for a Golden Globe and launched the international career of French star Omar Sy.
“It’s such a big waste for us all because TWC was playing a significant role in the distribution of independent films in North America,” said Laurent Zeitoun, the producer of “Intouchables” and the animated feature “Ballerina,” which was released earlier this year by TWC under the title “Leap.”
Sy himself got into trouble when, asked to comment on the Weinstein scandal on French TV, he took the opportunity to pay homage to the Hollywood producer. “He contributed to the success of ‘Intouchables’ in the United States and he’s the one who introduced me to my first agent,” Sy said.
But Weinstein also burned plenty of bridges with foreign producers and filmmakers, including Dimitri Rassam (“Little Prince”), who ended up in a legal spat with Weinstein over his upcoming animated feature “Playmobil”; Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, who clashed with Weinstein over the edit of “Grace of Monaco”; and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who angered Weinstein because he refused to re-work the edit of “T.S. Spivet.”
“‘T.S. Spivet’ is a French-Canadian production, so I had the final cut… But with Harvey Weinstein it always happens. We had the same problem with him on ‘Delicatessen.’ And on ‘Amélie Poulain,’ he wanted me to re-edit the movie but because the movie was successful in Europe, he left it,” Jeunet said in an interview with Premiere in 2015.