He was once The Big Macher and now is The Big Loser. This post goes behind-the-scenes of Weinstein’s desperate attempt to roll over The Reader‘s director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) even though the helmer had final cut approval and other contractually guaranteed rights. And I am in possession of plaintive emails from Daldry, and angry letters from entertainment law pitbulls, all attacking Weinstein’s disgusting behavior.
At issue superficially was whether The Reader could be properly done on time for distribution this fall or even for awards consideration this year by Daldry who had sole discretion to determine when the picture could be released. The film already had been delayed by 8 weeks because of Nicole Kidman’s pregnancy. Then the pic had to wait for a a minor to turn 18 so the actor could be old enough to engage in some on-screen sexual activity. So the shoot that was supposed to end in February didn’t finish until July. And the $22 million budgeted movie climbed in cost to $30 million.
Despite all that, Weinstein was still pushing Daldry to lock in the film as soon as September, or October 7th at the latest, in order to meet the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s delivery date of November 7th. But Stephen was simultaneously in post-production on The Reader and also preparing the Broadway production of Billy Elliot under a Working Title contract that gave it the director’s exclusive services from June 30th through November 13th. (Ironically, The Weinstein Co has a piece of that musical.)
That made for an impossible situation for Daldry, whose August 29th email (which I’ve seen) to The Weinstein Co explains that plaintively. I’ve excerpted it below:
“I am unable to deliver the film for release this year…
“I simply cannot — and will not — do that work in the very short time that remains. You are asking me to cram months of work into perhaps 24 hours of editing time. It can’t happen. It won’t happen. I will not be able to work with the composer. I will not be present at the recording of the score. I will not be able to mix the film. This work is my job…
“I cannot be party to a process that strips me of my ability to make my work good. That is not something you can require of me. I am desperately committed to finishing this movie well so that it is worth the pain that this process has been for all of us. Believe me, nothing would make me happier than to fulfill the obligation I made to you — and done with the anguish that this release date has put us squarely in the middle of. But I cannot work this way. I need time with the movie — concentrated tome, I need momentum and a clear head. I have neither.
…I have to call a halt to this process, this arguing over a date, and simply say that there is a line I will not cross, and this is it. We have reached it. I am not able to continue in this process this way. I cannot make this date — and it’s not for a lack of desire or a lack of effort. It’s for a simple finite, irrefutable lack of hours — and a dangerous lack of self-possessoom. Nobody but me knows what my personal limits are but I will — in fact, I must — tell you that I am perilously close to mine. That’s bad for me but it is a disaster for the movie….”
Producer Scott Rudin took the director’s side against Weinstein to ensure Daldry could obtain a workable post-production schedule. Rudin by most accounts withstood a tirade of abuse from Weinstein and gave it right back at him. The two men were evenly matched in bad temperament and reputation, that’s for sure. One battle broke out at an August 26th preview of Daldry’s first pass at The Reader which Harvey arranged but which Scott alleged was rigged to get artificially high scores. When Rudin told Weinstein he had hired litigator Marty Singer to protect his own rights and at the same time stop The Reader from being released before Daldry thought it ready, Weinstein screamed, “You’re fired! Get the fuck out of the screening.” Weinstein took it back later.
Weinstein even stooped so low as to publicly invoke the names of the film’s deceased producers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella by claiming to reporters that his releasing the pic in 2008 was what they would have wanted. But Rudin, as the duo’s personal pal and professional partner and surviving producer on the film, told Hollywood this is Weinstein’s “blatant attempt to ride the coattails of the deaths of two beloved guys”.
A Rudin email I’ve seen claimed that:
“HW went to Minghella’s widow and tried to insert himself into Mirage’s editorial rights so as to insist the film be released this year — which Sydney stopped just before he died. Harassed Sydney on his deathbed until the family asked him to stop because he wanted Sydney to warrant that we would deliver for release this year.”
Rudin also is telling Hollywood that Weinstein “once said to me [about The Reader], ‘If I can’t get a movie nominated that has Sydney’s and Anthony’s name on it this year, I should leave the business.’ “
Of course, the ever compliant Hollywood trades were also suckered by Weinstein’s other spin that Rudin was fighting The Reader‘s fall release because Scott already has two Oscar contenders, Doubt and Revolutionary Road, which also stars The Reader‘s leading lady Kate Winslet (Kidman’s replacement), and didn’t want his actors or his pictures competing against themselves. But that’s a ridiculous argument. Everyone knows Rudin is a volume producer and often has many Academy Awards contenders in a year. The trades also tried to minimize any machinations by Harvey by postulating this was merely Weinstein vs Rudin Redux — “two alpha males who have faced off many times before, and in the case of The Hours, it was also over a Stephen Daldry movie.”
Instead, this conflict has everything to do with Weinstein and little to do with Rudin. Many Hollywood bigwigs are making serious allegations about The Weinstein Co’s financial troubles, and the U.S. and international business media are increasingly repeating them. I myself have only anecdotal evidence. Like I’m told that when the film’s British writer David Hare, who adapted the WWII-era romance from Bernhard Schlink’s novel, was flown across the Atlantic recently, he was startled to see that his ticket was issued using Harvey’s personal frequent flyer mileage. “I think we may be in worse trouble than we thought,” Hare said to people with the film.
Insiders insist to me that Harvey’s desperation to release The Reader this year is because of The Weinstein Co’s money woes. One of my sources heard Harvey say that he can’t afford to hold The Reader and, if he can’t get it out this Christmas, then he’ll dump it in February. Yet puzzled insiders tell me three other film companies want to buy the pic and release it properly in 2009.
Today’s announcement of an agreement by all the parties to move The Reader‘s release date all the way to mid-December seems to end what was shaping up as both an Oscar campaign embarrassment and a long legal siege. Insiders have told me that Rudin and Daldry and Winslet were all threatening The Weinstein Co not to support the film. That would have been a TKO for Harvey’s Academy Award dreams.
Also, The Weinstein Co was threatened with multiple lawsuits. I have seen letters to Weinstein’s superlawyer Bert Fields from legal pitbulls Marty Singer (repping Rudin), Melanie Cook (repping Daldry), and the most serious of all from Reed Smith, the London lawyer repping Working Title which was ready to file a UK lawsuit alleging The Weinstein Co was inducing Daldry to breach his Billy Elliot contract.
I’m told the new deal gives Stephen 5 additional weeks for post production on The Reader and a December 12th release date. But I bet all this bad publicity kills its Oscar chances.
Here’s the joint statements that The Weinstein Co released today:
JOINT STATEMENT FROM SCOTT RUDIN AND HARVEY WEINSTEIN: “We are issuing this statement together to emphasize the fact that we are in complete agreement on the date we have chosen to release The Reader. Working together, we developed a plan to extend the post-production schedule in order to give Stephen Daldry the additional time he needs to successfully complete the film in time to release it on December 12, 2008.”
STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR STEPHEN DALDRY: “On their own, Scott and Harvey spent this weekend working together to find a way to accommodate my needs so that I may fulfill my obligation to the studio without compromising my vision for the film. I am thrilled and relieved that we have all found a way forward to work together to bring The Reader to theaters this year.”
Stay tuned. Because the true measure of a man is not how he performs when he’s on top, but how he handles himself when he’s on the way down.