A packed house gathered today at the SVA Theatre for the Tribeca Film Festival’s A Conversation With Harvey Weinstein, in which the The Weinstein Co. film chief canvassed an array of topics including the Sony hacking, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Oscar campaigns.
While Shia LaBeouf’s discussion on his doc production Love True only drew a half-filled house on Thursday afternoon at the SVA, ushers today were pulling out extra folding chairs to accommodate attendees. Deadline’s editor-in-chief Mike Fleming, Jr. moderated the discussion with Weinstein.
Introducing Weinstein was producer and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal who recalled the time she rented office space to Harvey and Bob Weinstein for the first time. “Harvey has a heart bigger than this room and when he’s your friend, you’re stuck with him,” said Rosenthal, “The way he approaches story, he’s got that kid-like sensibility in him where he can constantly look at work and be amazed by it.”
Toward the end of the discussion when the subject turned to the Sony hack, Weinstein voiced his disapproval of Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s decision to publish the hacked emails. “The emails are private property. Mike Fleming at Deadline didn’t go for the game of having Deadline publish these emails. He’s a rare journalist that stood by ethics and integrity,” Weinstein exclaimed to great applause.
“Sony got hacked. They paid the price. There are executives who are no longer there. It wrecked the place. Emotionally it hurt people. From the people I know who know Julian, they say he’s a compassionate person, but he’s not seeing the human cost,” said Weinstein.
At the top of the talk, Weinstein updated festival goers on Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming western The Hateful Eight. “Quentin is shooting in 70MM, and he’s making no compromises, so we’re not using snow blowers, we’re using snow. Anyone who doesn’t believe in climate control or climate change should be on our set. We’re right near Telluride where it snows incessantly and this year it hasn’t snowed.” Regarding why Tarantino continues to shoot on film in a digital age, Weinstein explained, “There’s a difference. We did The Master with Paul Thomas Anderson, and if you saw the 70MM presentation, then saw the digital or the 35MM, it’s real; it’s a different feeling. Digital is faster and cheaper, but it’s not film. (Christopher) Nolan and Quentin are at the vanguard of this.” Weinstein also mentioned how a handful of studios, along with Weinstein Co. are negotiating with Kodak, which unfortunately was rocked by the digital transistion, seeing its employee count shrivel from thousands to hundreds. “They’re gonna put film back,” said Weinstein. Like Babe Ruth to Yankee Stadium, Weinstein referred to Miramax and Weinstein Co. “as the houses that Quentin built. We had other great directors such as Anthony Minghella, but Quentin was the cornerstone.”
Further expounding on his 22-year relationship with Tarantino, Weinstein said, “He’s based his life, his way of doing things the way Clint Eastwood does. Quentin has a premium deal in the industry that’s a result of his loyalty. We understand what he likes, what he wants, his creativity.” Weinstein has already seen the first 40 minutes of The Hateful Eight which he called “special, fun, sharp and edgy.”
Weinstein told the crowd he met Tarantino after buying his script True Romance. Warners Bros. paid the Weinsteins a fee to make the movie. “I had four or five suggestions for the script which Quentin liked, but Warner Bros. paid me and fired me,” said Weinstein who along with his brother Bob got EP credits on the film. Why Warners never let Tarantino direct, Weinstein said, was simply that “they didn’t know who he was”.
When the discussion came to acquiring such classic titles as Cinema Paradiso and The Artist, Weinstein attributed his knack for spotting landmark films to the moviegoing experiences of his youth. With Cinema Paradiso, “I could feel it” said Weinstein recalling his childhood experiences watching classics at Queens’ Mayfair Theatre. After flying over to France to watch The Artist where Weinstein promptly bought as many foreign rights as were available, he said it reminded him of Charles Chaplin’s work. “I watched that movie and felt everything that happened.” When he phoned Bob Weinstein and TWC president and COO David Glasser to tell them how amazing this silent, black and white film was with unknown actors, “David told me ‘you’re obviously still high from The King’s Speech. You’re going to have to take this to the board,'” at which point Weinstein said “I didn’t know we had a board!”
Providing further introspective into his knack for identifying great classical cinema, Weinstein told the crowd about the time he poked his eye out as a child, which put him in the position to be home schooled. He would blitz through his school work in a short time, only to find himself immensely bored during the rest of the day. The experience would ultimately transform him. Weinstein found a friend in the retired librarian next door, Frances Goldstein, who made Weinstein “a reading addict” by the age of 12-13 as he soaked up the likes of H.G. Wells’ The Outline of History and Anton Chekhov’s works. Weinstein’s sharp reading skills carried through to the day when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck agreed to make their highly coveted project Good Will Hunting with him at Miramax. He impressed the duo when he stumbled over an odd oral sex scene between two guys in the script. When he asked Damon and Affleck about it, “They told me ‘That’s the red herring. You’re the first guy at a studio to read the script. Everyone else read coverage.’ They gave me Good Will Hunting on the spot.”
When the subject of Oscars was brought up, Weinstein voiced that he preferred the old days when the best picture category would honor five titles, instead of upwards of 10. “I love the tradition of the Academy,” said Weinstein. If there’s a need to change-up the categories for commercial purposes, Weinstein suggests that the Oscars add a best comedy category, particularly since they added an animation slot.
When it comes to folding social causes into the marketing of TWC’s Oscar-nominated films, most recently with Philomena in petitioning the Catholic Church to have Irish orphanages provide proper closure to families, and The Imitation Game‘s petition urging the British Government to pardon those men convicted under their anti-gay laws; Weinstein said TWC is “a no holds barred company. It’s important that other voices are heard and other points of view are given.” Regarding one of the very first times when a social cause was used in conjunction with the release of one of his films, Weinstein pointed to Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line. After Morris was delivering boring interviews on the radio, the idea was sparked to create a movement to spring Randall Adams from jail. The doc centered around him and how he was falsely accused of murder in Dallas, Texas. “The first thing Randall Adams did when he got out of jail was come to my office,” said Weinstein.
“You take a guy who is unequivocally innocent; when a guys walks out of jail. Look, my company has done well over the years, I’ve done well over the years, I’m not playing a part. I’m just trying to do what is right,” said Weinstein.