EXCLUSIVE DETAILS: Signing an exclusive first look deal with The Weinstein Company, Cary Woods is making his way back. Back to the features game, back with Harvey Weinstein, and back from a near death experience that took almost two years of recovery. In the 1990s, Woods was a charming dealmaker with relentless optimism who was one of the producers on Godzilla (the disappointing 1998 version), and who launched a lot of new talent with Weinstein at Disney-owned Miramax. His films there included launching the Wes Craven-directed and Kevin Williamson-scripted Scream franchise, the Larry Clark-directed Harmony Korine-scripted Kids, Korine’s directing debut Gummo, Doug Liman’s Swingers, James Mangold’s Cop Land and Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth. They fell out over a deal extension that was as bruising as feuds with Weinstein tended to be back then. Woods calls that water under the bridge. It’s understandable he would be more zen about life; he considers himself lucky to be alive after getting hit by a truck and taking about two years to find his way back.
Woods suffered the trauma when he was in London for his son’s sixth birthday party in late 2010. The 60 broken bones and shattered face wasn’t the worst part; he lapsed into a coma and was given a 30% chance to survive, he told me. Murderball helmer Henry Alex Rubin, whom Woods hired as a 19-year old PA on Cop Land, was invited to the party because he was shooting a commercial nearby. “He called my best friend, who is my ex-wife, who flew there immediately,” Woods said. “They told her I had 30% chance to live and that I was going to be out of it for about two years. And it turned out to be close to that. My ex let me hole up in her home, where I slept 18 hours a day.”
His ex is J Crew founder Emily Cinader Scott, who had the means to allow him that recovery time. He describes the situation as similar but less severe than what happened to the Robert De Niro character in Awakenings. He was cognizant, but barely able to express himself. “It was a traumatic brain injury, and there were the 60 bones shattered, including my ribs, but mostly in my face, like the little cracks you see in china if you look closely. I watched a lot of movies, took in a lot of things, but nothing was coming out. And then it exploded, the dam burst, and the ideas and ability to communicate came back. Part of his continuing therapy was exercise and diet, and he’s 40 pounds lighter and “in the best shape I can remember. And I started really wanting to get back to doing what I loved.”
He took his time. Woods signed with WME’s Mike Simpson (Woods said that his career really began when that stalwart dealmaker got Woods a job in the mail room before Woods became a successful agent). Later, he sought out Weinstein, with whom he’d had the ferocious parting of the ways after they generated such zeitgeist fare together in the 90s and early 2000s like Kids, which was so controversial and cutting edge that Bob and Harvey Weinstein had to hatch their Shining Excalibur label because Disney disowned it. Woods said the nasty split nvolved a disagreement about the extension of his deal. Woods wanted to redraw the company to raise its own cash. Weinstein disputed that he could do that, not when he had time left. “It was a misunderstanding, but I told him, I’ve given you enough success that, even if the dates don’t match up, I deserve for you to do this for me. He wouldn’t. In retrospect, I was childish and so was he. I would rather have made seven more movies with him, than go off and start Plum TV.” Woods also regrets signing over his development–including the Scream sequels–and felt hurt that his top exec Cathy Konrad stayed behind to steer them. He said all that is in the past and that as much as he has changed, so has Weinstein.
“When I first met him, Harvey hadn’t done Pulp Fiction yet, and he was the outsider,” Woods said. “Now he’s not just part of the establishment, he’s at the top of it. The rough edges aren’t there, he’s got his family and he’s a different guy. We had a rapproachment. He accepted the success he had with my movies and we wanted to do it again. He doesn’t really make producer deals, and really nobody makes the ones like I had in the past. I don’t need that infrastructure. Basically, I needed back that relationship with my old friend, who is simpatico with my movies and who markets them better than anybody. And if he doesn’t want the films, I can go across the street and find somebody else who does.”
Woods said he has five movies percolating, but didn’t want to be specific. He’s got a documentary set in India, two small films, and two big ones with franchise potential. Some of these he hatched, and on others, old friends dropped scripts his way. I asked how it feels to find one of his seminal projects, Godzilla, back in remake mode. Woods said he didn’t really feel part of the one he has credit on. He got Godzilla after he and Rob Fried were the right hand men for Peter Guber and Jon Peters at Sony and left for a big producing deal. Always championing new filmmakers, Woods had a script by his former writers Terry Elliot and Terry Rossio, and he courted Joel and Ethan Coen after seeing Hudsucker Proxy. But after lobbying execs on them, the movie “made $2, and they weren’t going to put them on a $120 million movie,” Woods said. He also championed David Fincher, who hadn’t made a movie but whose commercials work Woods loved. He said studio brass wouldn’t meet with the filmmaker. When Roland Emmerich and partner Dean Devlin were hired after Independence Day and they threw out the Rossio & Elliott script, Woods said he walked. (“I get it, Emmerich was the hottest director in town, but the Rossio & Elliott back story was so rich, Sony would have gotten three hit movies out of it had they only followed the plan”).
I ask him how he is dealing with a return to a movie business that has changed so drastically. When he produced films at Sony (with Fried), and later at Miramax and New Line, producer pacts were lavish and now they barely exist. “When I meet with young producers, I tell them, ‘you are coming in at the most exciting time I’ve ever seen, by far,” Woods said. “When I started, people in TV couldn’t do movies, you were in one business or the other. You had seven studios and four networks. In today’s universe, it’s all about the concept. If it’s good, you’re going to find a place for it and that could be movies, TV, or the internet. That is wide open and getting better. You can go Netflix, I think TIVO will start looking for exclusive programming, Youtube. There are a million cable stations and while the independent film universe hasn’t swelled that much, you can make indies cheaper than back when and you have cable as an outlet for those films. And there is more access to people who want to finance creative projects than ever existed before.”
Clearly, the producer’s optimism has made a full recovery.