EXCLUSIVE: Why are Harvey Weinstein and David Glasser so bullish about The Weinstein Company when the press narrative is one of uncertainty? TWC finished 2015 with decent box office results, and 10 Oscar nominations (though no Best Picture nominee for the first time since 2008) including Carol‘s Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and The Hateful Eight‘s Jennifer Jason Leigh. There were hits in Paddington, Carol, Southpaw and The Hateful Eight, and misfires like Burnt. But the overriding narrative was exec exits, a layoff of 50 staffers, and Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s acrimony with TWC’s board over not re-upping (they’ve since signed) and for not closing a sale of its debt-free TV production division to ITV that would have made them all flush and eased cash flow.
If Harvey Weinstein and Glasser (who at one point resigned but returned) are feeling any of this stress, they sure didn’t show it when they sat with Deadline on a Sunday at Sundance. In fact, this annual interview didn’t run during the festival because it was cut short: Weinstein and Glasser promised to take their kids dog sledding. True story. Before they saddled up the hounds, the pair described their hopes to sate the board by monetizing at least part of TWC, and they described why they are so bullish on their 2016 film slate. They were particularly high on three films: I watched Sing Street play through the roof at Sundance, and they showed me rough cuts of two others: the Jonathan Jakubowicz-directed Edgar Ramirez/Robert De Niro starrer Hands Of Stone about the fighter Robert Duran, and Lion, based on a true story of Saroo Brierly, who as a child was separated from his family in the Calcutta slums, by a miracle was rescued by Australian adoptive parents, and returned to search for his family. In my view, all three are terrific, and if Lion doesn’t get you weepy, you should go to a cardiologist and see if you are missing a heart.
After this interview, the TWC team went home from Sundance — and subsequently Berlin — without a film acquisition (though they were bridesmaids on The Birth of A Nation and Suburbicon). One could knee-jerk view that with concern, factoring in the recent press narrative, and TWC’s past prolific fest buying record. Or one can accept Weinstein and Glasser’s explanation that this is emblematic of a more disciplined strategy for a company that now has more than enough library titles to spark a big sale, and so doesn’t need to play the volume game anymore and instead will focus on script stage pre-buys like the Michael Keaton-starrer The Founder they can help shape.
DEADLINE: 2015 had its hits and misses, but the focus was on the exits of David and other executives, David’s surprise exit and return, TWC’s board of directors holding back expenditures until the Weinstein brothers re-upped, the 50 layoffs, and reports you’ll cut your film slate in half to focus on TV productions. What does that brief summation leave out as far as how you saw the year and where your company is going?
WEINSTEIN: Well, the company is not leveraged with a bunch of debt, the television division is worth anywhere between $500 million and $900 million. And in a movie business where the margins are less, we have a killer library of 525 movie titles built over the last 10 years. Our board wants us to monetize, and you know what? They have a good point, after 10 years. By the way, if we sell the company for a billion dollars…I’m just going to be straightforward…that’s half a billion to me and my brother. David gets a few bucks out of that too. Significant money. So you have to think of that, but I’m not good at that part, because I’m the builder. So now, I have to take two steps back and address this. Anybody having a pity party for the Weinstein Company, let me repeat: If we sell all the assets, we walk out of there with $500 million for the executives.
DEADLINE: Is that the goal now?
WEINSTEIN: It wasn’t my goal. I just figured we could build more. We’re not going to sell the company, but we’ll have to sell either the TV component, or the library, one of the two. We have to monetize something. There’s no pressure to do it this year but we are listening to our board and these guys are smart. I’ve got to tell you.
DEADLINE: Is that why you trimmed staff? It is a common move for a company about to be placed on the selling block…
WEINSTEIN: The overhead? We didn’t need that many people and honestly we’re almost holding back some of these people. They’re all going to do great on their own. It felt stupid that we were holding them back and keeping them on in a monotonous situation. Quite frankly, today I look at this lineup of films we have going forward and, Mike, here’s my challenge to you. Make a friend out of the other trades that Penske doesn’t own, if there is one. Bring you, Penske and that other guy and you can watch The Founder, you can watch Gold, you can watch Lion, you can watch Hands Of Stone, you can watch Sing Street. And you can tell me what kind of shape we’re in. I’m sitting here in a golden position for the first time in my life. I don’t need anything. There’s nothing to fulfill, because we’re already fulfilling it. And we’re shooting Richard Pryor, with Lee Daniels, Oprah Winfrey, Mike Epps, Kate Hudson, Tracy Morgan. We’re rounding out the cast with major stars and are shooting in May. We’re shooting The Current War with our The Imitation Game star Benedict Cumberbatch and Southpaw star Jake Gyllenhaal in September.
DAVID GLASSER: We’re close on cast for The Intouchables remake…
WEINSTEIN: We’ll put five movies into production this year for 2017, easy.
GLASSER: Just a note to what Harvey was saying about a pity party, I think what’s going on right now is, everybody is looking for something. We actually have a very healthy working relationship with the board right now. There are very healthy conversations of what to do with the company, how to monetize some of the TV business.
WEINSTEIN: They weren’t healthy conversations, at first.
GLASSER: So is it half that we sell? Is it the whole company? Remember, the one thing that’s the most important thing in any transaction that gets done is Harvey and Bob are running the movie and TV businesses. It’s not like they’re going away. The question is, how much do we look to monetize financially? Is it a piece? The whole amount? Is it a partnership? Is it a strategic alliance? It makes sense now. They’ve built something incredible. There’s a brand and there are assets, so what part do we monetize? That’s the next step.
WEINSTEIN: Or, what’s the synergistic piece? One of the things you could do easily is say if there was a new AMC with the kind of TV programming that we were doing and we could get in early enough to monetize it and have a streaming option, that would be another way of doing this.
DEADLINE: You expect it to happen this year?
WEINSTEIN: Yes. In the right deal scenario.
DEADLINE: Why cut your film slate in half?
WEINSTEIN: Because at the end of the day when we analyzed it, and the board was helpful this way, the movies that were making the most money honestly were the ones we were producing. Woman In Gold we produced. Southpaw we produced. Burnt, we produced and that didn’t work. The Hateful Eight will make money and that we did as well.
GLASSER: And then there were the ones that we co-produced, like The Imitation Game. We came in at script stage on Teddy Schwarzman’s film, rather than waiting for a finished film at a festival. There are gems at festivals and we’re going to be more strategic about picking those up, while we come in very early at script phase on others, like with The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, or Lion.
WEINSTEIN: The one Sundance movie I loved last year, and they know it, was Dope. I gave them a game plan. I think they probably said, this guy is about 90 year old and has arthritis of the mind. Let’s put him out to pasture. Now, I wasn’t physically in the room; I was at the PGAs with The Imitation Game and I couldn’t be there. But they had me on speakerphone and they probably had it on mute and were cracking up at what I was saying. In the end, I think they would have been much better off. To be blunt they’ve all called and said, we f*cked up. We made a mistake. You’re tough, but you got our movie.
DEADLINE: How much of this refocus was imposed by the board?
WEINSTEIN: I don’t think anything was imposed, but certainly there was tension because we’re not sellers. We’re builders, but the idea of spinning off the TV company is easier because it’s a separate entity now. The guys on that board know what they’re doing, and they’re tough. There were vacancies and Paul Tudor Jones is now on board. I serve under him at Robin Hood, the charity. David Boise, Jim Dolan, and Dirk Ziff. So I’ve got some friends to balance things, but they’re sometimes tougher on me than the other guys.
GLASSER: Which is actually good for us because they’re able to talk to Harvey and Bob in a way that they completely understand. So when you say is it imposed, I’d call it a willingness to listen and to make some changes.
WEINSTEIN: Dirk and Jim are my best friends. When they kick my ass I have to listen to them, unfortunately.
DEADLINE: So is there an investment bank that’s got this whole thing down on paper and is ready to go out and make a deal?
WEINSTEIN: No. We’re talking to a number of banks about that. Quite frankly, we’re doing some of the negotiations ourselves.
GLASSER: Just so we’re clear, this is not a put-the-company-in-a-package-and-sell-it strategy. It’s literally looking at some of the assets and figuring out a strategic partnership, or a sale.
WEINSTEIN: We plan to manage, and take a piece of everything. We’re not selling and saying, here. If we don’t manage the companies, we’re not doing it.
DEADLINE: You sold Miramax to Disney, with a boss who wouldn’t let you make The Lord Of The Rings with Peter Jackson. It ended in a messy divorce.
WEINSTEIN: Well here’s how messy it was. I’ll just be blunt because these are like legends like Liberty Valance. It was so messy that Bob and I walked out with $411 million. It’s public record. That was one-third [of the value], so what do you think they made? Then, they sold the company. So at worst, they made $1.5 billion. So no one ever talked about the numbers, because everyone makes a vow never to talk about the numbers. Well it’s 10 years gone by. I’ll talk about the numbers.
DEADLINE: Well in the spirit of that 10 years and full disclosure, what was your upside on that five percent of first-dollar gross you made a condition of putting The Lord Of The Rings in turnaround?
WEINSTEIN: [Pauses, then smiles]. A lot. How about they also turned me down on the stage version of The Producers, and so we had 15 percent of that. Now I’ll give you a statistic that’ll make your head spin. While people are saying, ‘They’re in trouble,’ I could just write a check myself and [cover all of this]. So could Bob. We can do anything we want. The other thing: I saw this show that was corny and fun and great and exciting. For Disney, this was a perfect family brand. I tried, and they said somebody else at the company had seen it and said it was terrible. I said just let me…this was as the divorce was going on after The Lord Of The Rings, and then this other thing. It was Mamma Mia! So I was the only investor, Bob and myself, in Mamma Mia! in America. We owned 10 percent. It ran 14 years.
GLASSER: Mamma Mia!, Lord Of The Rings, Fahrenheit 9/11.
DEADLINE: So you’re saying you’re not hurting.
WEINSTEIN: How could we be hurting? This is MythBusters. My daughter said to me, “Get Adam Savage to do an article because I can’t believe I read this stuff about you, Dad.” When we were at Miramax, we had a five-year deal. We said, we’re going, and then they renewed us, and then they renewed us again. So we had three renewals in the time we were there.
GLASSER: Fahrenheit 9/11 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As for buying? We’ve become more disciplined. Last Sundance, we bid for Dope and we bid for Me And Earl And The Dying Girl. We had our number, we knew where we were. Dope we really wanted and Earl And The Dying Girl, we had a number. We don’t end up with those movies, and what they write is, ‘What’s happening to the company? They don’t have money. They didn’t buy.” It’s just a different approach. We are looking for stuff, but we also have our own production and co-production stuff that we’re buying at script phase.
WEINSTEIN: That is where we can devote the time. So if we buy a movie, they don’t have to worry about, like when we used to release 19 movies because that’s how we built the library. That’s always been our trick. I remember your column partner Peter Bart criticizing me, at the beginning of Miramax. How the f*ck does that guy do 40 movies a year? Well, the question was answered when they sold it for $660 million and Disney kept about $100 million of our other assets. I think people never understood that we were the guys who started Artemis Fowl. We were the guys who started publishing books. We had a giant publishing company going on. Disney kept all of that for themselves. We’ve built so many assets. And not that we didn’t get compensated, because we made a lot on Fahrenheit 9/11, but we made that movie over a principle. I keep reading stuff like, ‘Harvey peddles his Oscar movies.’ Really? You mean you’re going to finance The Imitation Game? You’re going to put up the money for Carol? What are we talking about and what themes are these? Buying in on a silent black-and-white movie that wins Best Picture? Go ahead and show the guts to do something like that. If anyone calls me a peddler, it’s an insult and the subtext is, dare I say, anti-Semitic, like the old moguls. I hear this stuff and I think, how did I create the wrong image? Instead of saying this is…you know who knows what is real and what is bullsh*t? I’ll walk with you down Main Street here in Park City. Take one walk with me or my brother, and the audiences walk up to us and says thank us for what we’ve done.
GLASSER: That happens, every day of our lives, here.
WEINSTEIN: They know what we fought for, the movies we chose. We didn’t do superhero movies. We were trying to do distinctive films, and yet I read some high-end artistic people, and how they spank us. They think we have an image like, ‘They sell their movies.’ We’re definitely motivated to taking incredible difficult subject matter and make it mainstream.
DEADLINE: If you sell the TV company or library, you’ll be beholden to someone again. What will be different this time around?
WEINSTEIN: No. That’s not going to happen. It’ll be a partnership.
GLASSER: It’ll be a partnership, a strategic partnership and most likely you’ll see us do a piece of it. What went wrong in the previous transaction was exactly what you just described. Harvey’s not going to go and work for a company. First of all, it just doesn’t make sense. Harvey’s the greatest creative partner you can have in terms of back and forth. So somebody who really clicks with him will have an amazing time working with him and Bob. This will be a strategic partnership with a financial benefit.
WEINSTEIN: At the end of the day, if we don’t get the right deal and we’re doing what we’re doing and our EBITDA goes way up with a lower overhead, we’ll just do this the rest of our lives.
DEADLINE: Would the board and your investors approve? You said they want to monetize.
WEINSTEIN: Our EBITDA this year on TV will be $50 million-plus, clean, after everything. Who wouldn’t want that on a $15 million overhead? Who wouldn’t run that business? And it’s only going up.
GLASSER: The board is happy. Tighter overhead, focused slate, Bob and Harvey at a place where the board wanted them. If a deal happens, great, but it’s not imminent it must happen. That’s a very big point. There is an intent, but it’s not a requirement, just because people are writing it’s a requirement. That’s not true at all.
DEADLINE: Last year, David surprisingly returned, Bob told Deadline that the two of you would re-up shortly and things would go back to normal. You could have made a statement buy at Toronto, but didn’t. How important will Sundance, Toronto and other festivals be, going forward?
WEINSTEIN: When we acquire somebody’s movie, they can bet that we’ll make it a success. So I don’t think there is a producer of an independent film who wouldn’t be flattered if this company took it, especially now, where if we’re taking a movie we have the time to concentrate. The whole idea of being voracious was to build the library. Peter Bart and most everyone else now realizes the Machiavellian magic to what we did at Miramax. We built a 660-film library. The company got sold to those guys for $660 million. So Disney was out, and then those guys already got their investment back. It wasn’t based on their new productions. It was based on the quality of the library.
DEADLINE: This is Tom Barrack’s Colony Capital?
WEINSTEIN: Yes. They’re out and they’re going to do another transaction. That’s not based on personality.
DEADLINE: Do you want the Miramax library back now?
WEINSTEIN: It depends who gets it if we want to work with them.
GLASSER: Could there be a smart, strategic alliance between our library and that library with a Miramax name and Harvey and Bob’s brand and Miramax? Sure. If the deal was right and the right partner was there, it makes sense.
WEINSTEIN: Let’s face it, you’ve got 600 movies there, we have 525.
GLASSER: Eleven hundred-film library under the Miramax name.
WEINSTEIN: It’s a powerhouse. It’s something we would like under the best circumstances. But when the deal didn’t go through with Ron Burkle, and we were close, it actually turned out to be the best thing for us.
WEINSTEIN: Money. Bob Iger bent over backwards to make it fair for us. I will reveal for the first time that he actually gave us a better deal. That’s how important it was for Bob to take care of the library. I am forever grateful for the way he treated us. I think the relationship…
GLASSER: One thing to note too, which I think is important too, all this conversation about me leaving and going back and what happened…
WEINSTEIN: David’s problem was with the board.
GLASSER: I’’ve always been there with Bob and Harvey and see this as my endgame. They treat me incredibly well and I love this company. It’s my family. You can see what we’re doing today, taking our kids on the dog sled. Harvey’s always been that way with me. But there was so much chaos with the board, and everything going on that I had to make a decision for my own family to figure out what am I going to do. Because he was in the same boat, for himself, while he was in the middle of navigating this whole thing.
WEINSTEIN: This before Paul, Jim, and Dirk came on the board. There was a moment in time.
GLASSER: Harvey and Bob sat down with me and said this is what we’re going to do, and this is where the board is going to go. Bob called me on that weekend with Harvey and told me this, and I said OK. I stayed.
WEINSTEIN: We stepped up in making a new deal for David. We told the board, if you don’t agree to this, just let it come out of our…we’ll write the check personally. Because they pissed him off. He put a proposal that was fair, and that Bob and I endorsed it. And they f*cking sat on it. You’re not going to sit on a guy like this so then my brother ran the negotiations and said f*ck it, we don’t care. We’ve made enough money over the years. We can do this.
DEADLINE: How does finished film buys compare to homegrown projects and script stage pre-buys, in the new TWC?
WEINSTEIN: We have six people here [at Sundance]. Show us Dope and we’ll be here.
GLASSER: Show us Whiplash. Show us something that is out there that’s really great in the marketplace that comes up. We bought The Imitation Game in Berlin at script phase. What we are finding…
WEINSTEIN: That’s better for us.
WEINSTEIN: Because we got a chance to mold it. I’m going to be blunt. I know there is that old Harvey scissor hands reputation, which is also fucking nuts. I’d like all these people to just sit down in a room with me, with the editors and directors, we’ll go through the whole thing and prove this was the invention of competition. I asked Dean Baquet, the editor of The New York Times, why didn’t you write about the competition? He says, “they’re boring, and you’re colorful.” We sell newspapers. This is what is important to me. There was a subplot in The Imitation Game that was the detective story. We were able to work with Morton Tyldum and Teddy Schwarzman and eliminate a lot of it. It was a real first act problem. The results are the results. And Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s incredibly creative, understood the whole process. He’ll be a super director one day.
GLASSER: When they come in at that phase there’s things that they can do with their relationships. A Paddington comes in, it needs a Nicole Kidman. Harvey gets Nicole Kidman. Bob and Harvey go out and Gwen Stefani and Pharrell to do a song. That’s an acquisition, technically. So there’s assets of theirs that can be put in Imitation Game…Bob’s on the set producing and had some amazing story notes.
WEINSTEIN: He got Teddy Shapiro on a weekend in the mix because nobody was satisfied with the song in Paddington.
GLASSER: The Butler we brought in early. The cut comes in, it’s three hours and 15 minutes. Lee Daniels sits down with Harvey and says, guide me. Let’s sit down and get this done.
WEINSTEIN: We also set the date. Erik Lomis said go in August. There was an opening and Lee, incredibly, made the date. We helped and put our resources behind him.
GLASSER: We got in early at Cannes on Hands of Stone. What a spectacular release that will be.
WEINSTEIN: Here with Hands of Stone, Usher is a revelation as Sugar Ray Leonard. We said, we appreciate your acting and let us take care of that but you’re going in the studio and you’re going to do music for this. He put a guest star, I’m not going to name who it is but it’s unbelievable [reports have speculated Stevie Wonder] and they’re recording things. We also have Bob De Niro, who’s our neighbor in Tribeca, and got his insight on boxing movies and how to do them. Bob is as smart as they come and his performance is vintage De Niro. You just go wow, he’s back. I was proud that Silver Linings Playbook got him nominated again for a fantastic performance. But this one, where he plays Ray Arcel opposite Edgar Ramirez as Roberto Duran in a performance that will make Edgar a major movie star? And yet, technically, this was an acquisition.
DEADLINE: How did the temporary exit of David, on top of the exits of execs like marketing head Steven Bruno and RADiUS heads Tom Quinn and Jason Janego force you and your brother to make moves to stop the bleeding and keep people from exiting?
GLASSER: Tom and Jason had an opportunity to leave. We offered them the world and the moon and we have a great relationship with them. Those guys are great. They’re hard working. RADiUS was a big profit center. At a certain time, some people say, I want to go on my own. They look at success and think, if I can generate that…they were making 10 million dollars a year for RADiUS. But sometimes you go and the power and synergy of where you are is missing and you took it for granted. It’ll be a rocky road at first but then those guys will get there. You’ll see on RADiUS a complete reboot.
DEADLINE: Still, it’s got to be disconcerting when your marketing guy leaves for Netflix and then this one goes and the other leave and…
WEINSTEIN: So Steve Bruno left before The Imitation Game. Birdman won the Oscar and did 44 million dollars and we have Francois Martin. We’re the bench team. I don’t know what the analysis is but we have always grown the executives of the company. Steve Bruno leaves and Francois is no longer on the bench. So Bruno leaves and has nothing to do with The Imitation Game, and nothing for Paddington. Ninety-two million, 76 million. Southpaw did 57 million. Woman in Gold did 35 million.
WEINSTEIN: We have the best bench ever. The superstar that had to be kept was David. Some of the other people, we would have loved to have kept them but this is what happens when you see people coming up. Paramount lets a thousand people go nobody writes anything about it.
GLASSER: A couple of lines.
WEINSTEIN: Did you and everyone else call and say which guys did you lose? You didn’t write the article.
And with that, they were off for a dog sledding adventure.