EXCLUSIVE (keep refreshing for latest): Harvey Weinstein told me this morning that he’s “incredibly disappointed” with the half-than-expected $12 mil box office for Grindhouse released on Easter Weekend (a controversial move itself). So much so, that he’s considering abandoning the double feature as a single feature concept and re-releasing the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez movie around the U.S. “in a couple of weeks” as two separate feature-length movies with additional footage put in. That’s what Harvey says The Weinstein Co. is already intending to do with the film’s release in Europe: split it into two separate pics, Tarantino’s Death Proof and Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. “Quentin’s movie goes out first in competition at Cannes. He’ll do an extensive 4 to 5 month tour. And the trailer will be all Quentin’s,” Weinstein told me about his European plans. “Then we’ll release Robert’s a couple of months later. By splitting it up, we’re going to do a hell of a lot better internationally than we did here.” Weinstein noted that, even in Grindhouse‘s video deal as well as its TV deal with Starz Entertainment Group, it’s been sold as two separate movies. “Our deal with Encore is that they can play it any way they want.” So this is why The Weinstein Co. is now deciding to suck it up and do in this country what it probably should have done all along. “First of all, I’m incredibly disappointed. We tried to do something new and obviously we didn’t do it that well,” Harvey told me today. “It’s just a question of how is it going to hang in there. But we could split the movies in a couple of weeks. Make Tarantino’s a full-length film, and Rodriguez’s too. We’ll be adding those ‘two missing reels’ that’s talked about in the movie.” (At one point in Grindhouse, a sex scene is interrupted because of “two missing reels” — one of the many conceits and indulgences.)
Weinstein pointed to several reasons why Grindhouse did so poorly in theaters over Easter weekend. “Our research showed the length kept people away. It was the single biggest deterrent. It was 3 hours and 12 minutes long. We originally intended to get it all in in 2 hours, 30 minutes. That would have been a better time. But the movies ran longer, the [fake] trailers ran longer, everything ran longer,” Harvey told me. Weinstein also criticized his own marketing plan. “We didn’t educate the South or Midwest. In the West and the East, the movie played well. It played well in strong urban settings. But we missed the boat on the Midwest and the South.” But he denies others’ thinking that the Grindhouse subject matter was too foreign for mainstream audiences in mainstream theaters. He’s wrong, of course. (In many theaters, before the pic began, either a leaflet was handed out or an usher came out to tell audiences that Grindhouse was designed to look old and scratched and to have “missing reels”, and that the intermission, including the fake trailers, was also part of the movie. Obviously the managements had received some complaints at earlier shows.) Yet The Weinstein Co. wouldn’t give the film to actual Grindhouses, or even the Grindhouse Film Festival, to screen and create buzz. That may be one reason the advance tracking on the film prior to Friday was only so-so. The hype seems to have been all Internet-generated, which is why New Line’s Snakes On A Plane flopped.
Weinstein admitted to spending at least $30 million on U.S. promotion and advertising for Grindhouse, which, added to what I’d already heard was a $67+ mil budget and not the low-50s cost he has claimed, makes this at least a $100 mil movie. So the first weekend’s take of just $12 mil is all the more disastrous. On the other hand, Harvey (and independent observers) says the film is heavily pre-sold overseas and expects it to do well there. That’s not surprising, since many movies recently (Babel, Apocalypto) have run out of gas here only to pump up the total with international box office. But a re-release in the U.S. could prove almost prohibitively costly for The Weinstein Co.: new prints, new marketing, new everything. It may not be worth it, especially with Spider-Man 3 and the rest of this summer’s tentpole onslaught just around the corner.
Weinstein admits that he thought the film would do much better than it did and sees the failure of Grindhouse‘s U.S. release as a rap on his reputation for movie savvy. He’s in a bind here because, let’s face it, he doesn’t dare blame the directors. After all, he is closely tied to Tarantino and Rodriquez personally and professionally and, what’s more, he and brother Bob made that relationship and Grindhouse a cornerstone of their fledgling company’s financing. (No doubt that’s why Harv, who has a long history of imposing his iron will on filmmakers, gave the two directors a pass when it came to Grindhouse‘s extreme length.)
But Harvey is adamant that the flop will not be a body blow to The Weinstein Co. “We’re smart businessmen. Thank God, we protected ourselves economically. I’ve spent the last year diversifying the company. We’re making profits everywhere but the movie business. But on DVD sales, we’re doing well,” he claims. The Weinstein Company’s diversified investments include the home video company Genius Products, the private online community aSmallWorld, the cable TV hit show Project Runway, the independent cable channel Ovation, and, most recently, the Halston fashion brand. Harvey admitted to me that his attention may have been too diverted from the movie biz as a result. “This Cannes, I’m going to change all that. I’m back to being me. We wanted to diversify immediately. Now I have to go back to being Harvey.”