Who will scavenge the flotsam from the Weinstein wreck?
Streaming services are eyeing the disgraced Weinstein Company’s valuable back catalogue
The King’s Speech
It seems tasteless to talk about money in the wake of the accusations still buzzing around Harvey Weinstein’s walking corpse. But business will continue and somebody, somewhere will see an opportunity in Weinstein’s spectacular downfall. Or will they?
Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s reputation was established in the early 1990s when, with their company Miramax, they helped revitalise independent film. They won Oscars with The Crying Game and Shakespeare in Love. They invented Quentin Tarantino. They brought foreign-language productions such as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Life is Beautiful to the United States.
The Weinstein Company, formed following a fall-out with corporate masters Walt Disney in 2005, has had an up-and-down history. Quentin rescued them with Inglourious Basterds in 2009. The King’s Speech won best picture a year later. The Artist triumphed again in 2012.
But pundits were asking questions about the company’s strength some time before the revelations about Harvey Weinstein emerged. In 2016 the Weinsteins – once famous for vigorous Oscar persuasion – could boast not a single mention among the nine films competing for best picture (The Irish Film Board got two). This year, their only nominated film was Garth Davis’s Lion. It won nothing.
The wind seems to be behind the streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those companies are now financing the films that Miramax would have financed in the 1990s (even if Netflix makes little effort to put them into cinemas).
Yet there are assets worth grasping. The Weinstein brand is dead. But bits of the business are still alive. The Economist reports that one Thomas Barrack, chairman of Colony Capital, a private-equity firm, is pumping an undisclosed sum of money into the firm.
Colony has history with the Weinsteins. In 2010, Barrack bought what remained of Miramax (named for the brothers’ parents) from Walt Disney. They have also put up millions to rescue the photographer Annie Liebowitz from bankruptcy.
Analysts believe that, even in a time of plummeting DVD sales, the Weinsteins’ back catalogue is the real prize. There is money to be made from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and his Django Unchained. Streaming services will lay out the folding stuff to get their hands on The King’s Speech, Silver Linings Playbook or The Imitation Game.
Still, Colony does look to be buying its way into an unholy mess. Harvey has been fired from running the company and has given up his seat on the board. Bob is refuting his own accusation of sexual misconduct.
The new owners would, it is argued, be unable to develop sequels to films produced by Harvey or Bob without their consent. But Barrack is no fool. The Weinstein Company is carrying no debt and the online services are hungry for content.
“We are pleased to invest in The Weinstein Company and to help it move forward,” he said. “We will help return the company to its rightful iconic position in the independent film and television industry.”
To satisfy that last promise the Weinstein Company (or whatever it comes to be called) will have to deliver new content worth savouring. The forthcoming slate is not exactly brimming with potential box-office or critical smashes.
One possible exception is the imminent Paddington 2. The first film based on the stories by Michael Bond surprised everyone with its delightful tone and commercial appeal in 2014. The Weinstein Company was not involved in its production, but it acquired the US distribution rights and parlayed the family film into one of its biggest hits.
The bad news is that Heyday Films, Paddington 2’s producer, is reportedly doing everything possible to sever links with the Weinstein Company. A “source” from Heyday, which also produced Harry Potter, explained: “It is deeply frustrating that a film made with such love and care and a character of such positive and generous spirit might, in some way, be tarnished with the brush of these horrific, wholly unacceptable, acts.”
Awards sites have noted that the Weinsteins’ The Current War, about the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to electrify America, has been pushed back from Oscar season to some time in 2018. It can’t have helped awards prospects that Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Edison, was so vociferous in his denunciation of Weinstein. “I am utterly disgusted by the continuing revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s horrifying and unforgivable actions,” he said.
But, in truth, having received lukewarm reviews at the Toronto Film Festival, The Current War looked like a goner at the Oscars even before the revelations broke.
More promising is Garth Davis’s Mary Magdelene. Also kicked back a few months, the picture stars Rooney Mara as the historically misused follower of Jesus. Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor offer support in a film that, still unseen, has critics interested.
All this is, however, flotsam from the Weinstein wreck. Any new overlords will be forced to wrestle with the same dilemmas that are troubling movie giants formed in the early part of the last century. How do we get the kids back in the cinema?
They’ll turn out for superheroes or Star Wars. It remains to be seen if they will ever again turn out for the sort of films that built Miramax.