EXCLUSIVE: A potential legal battle is brewing between Michael Moore and Harvey and Bob Weinstein over Fahrenheit 11/9, the sequel Moore is making to his 2004 film, which became the biggest grossing documentary of all time. Titled Fahrenheit 11/9 to commemorate the day Donald Trump pulled off a shocking victory to become U.S. president, the new film focuses on how it happened and all the chaos that followed in Trump’s first year in office. The Weinsteins have controls over the docu, and sources said they are right now blocking Moore and his WME reps from being able to set the film with a theatrical distributor or a premium broadcast outlet.
Sources said the brothers paid just north of $2 million out of the $6 million pledged in a docu deal Moore used to get the film to this point. That deal was made before TWC was hobbled by the testimonies of numerous women that painted Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator. Sources describe the crux of the dispute this way: the Weinsteins want their money back, while Moore and his WME reps want them to step aside, chalking the loss up to the price of scandal.
Moore, who blasted Harvey Weinstein after numerous women came forward in press reports, doesn’t want to pay anything because morally it would compromise his film to cut a check to a man he considers a sexual predator, sources said. Moore and his WME reps believe Weinstein should consider the spent funds to be shrapnel from a downfall of his own making, and that he should just simply step aside and allow Moore to finish and release his film. After all, blocking the film from release would give the last laugh to Trump, whom Weinstein campaigned against in the last presidential election when he backed Hillary Clinton, before the Democratic Party cut all ties with him following the scandal.
If this saber rattling leads to litigation, Moore would likely seek to undo the deal by alleging fraud against Harvey Weinstein, for entering into a deal on the film at a time he knew full well that his misconduct was being investigated and would soon be exposed. Ronan Farrow’s article in the New Yorker — detailing how Weinstein conscripted former Mossad agents to thwart Farrow and other journalists and find out what women were telling them for months — would seem to demonstrate ample advance knowledge. The Weinsteins announced their involvement in Moore’s documentary sequel just before Cannes last May. Bob Weinstein and his brother aren’t on speaking terms. I’d heard that the former seemed willing to step aside, but that could not be confirmed.
Bob Weinstein issued this statement to Deadline: “Michael Moore an I always have and still enjoy a good personal and business relationship. With regards to commenting on his future film, I think he would be the best person to speak with.” Moore wasn’t commenting. Attempts to get comment from Harvey Weinstein have so far been unavailing. A Weinstein source said that what he is asking for is to be allowed to continue funding the film as producer, but if that isn’t possible, he should recoup his share of the money that he has paid into a project.
The documentary isn’t part of the bundled assets of The Weinstein Company that are in the process of being sold to a suitor that will reorganize the company. TWC only had a deal to distribute Moore’s film. The brothers, who are bitterly estranged since the scandal damaged the company they built, have a proprietary stake in Fahrenheit 11/9 that is a byproduct of the unorthodox way they took Fahrenheit 9/11 out of Disney in 2004. That film was highly critical of George W. Bush, charging his administration with exploiting the Twin Towers attack and bogus WMD intel to force an invasion of Iraq. Disney chairman Michael Eisner forbade the brothers from releasing it through Disney-owned Miramax Films because he deemed the political message of the film incompatible with the wholesome corporate brand.
The Weinsteins and Moore set up a company called Fellowship Adventure Group and released the documentary through Lionsgate, and went on to gross over $222 million globally to become far and away the biggest grossing documentary of all time.
As a favor to Moore and the Weinsteins, I moderated a Cannes presentation of Fahrenheit 11/9 in May, to a room full of foreign buyers at the Martinez Hotel. Moore appeared from New York via a video feed. Positioned high in an office with the Trump Towers as his backdrop, Moore divulged limited specific details but was highly enthusiastic as he detailed some of the research he had uncovered about Trump and his election victory, which Moore notably predicted well ahead of time. He promised that the film would put the president on his heels, and Moore expected to have the docu ready for the anniversary of Trump’s upset victory.
That release plan changed, as Moore performed nightly runs of his Trump-centric one-man Broadway play The Terms of My Surrender while continuing to come up with material for the documentary, which he is back to working on right now. At Cannes, the Weinsteins weren’t sure whether the film would be a theatrical release through TWC, or another distributor, or a combination of theatrical and prestige broadcast play. Among those interested were HBO, Amazon Studios and Netflix, as I recall. Amazon would have done a full theatrical release while an HBO deal would have started with a 100-theater opening with an accelerated broadcast window, with deals made with international distributors. It is unclear whether the same suitors will materialize – the Weinsteins were talking with Amazon chief Roy Price, who was removed because of his own sexual harassment issues, for instance. But given the performance of the first film, and Moore’s exuberance and antagonism for Trump, and the lightning rod nature of the subject matter, it would be hard to imagine a higher-profile documentary that needs a home.
The film won’t be finished until next year, meaning it could wind up potentially at the Cannes Film Festival, where Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d’Or and then became the highest-grossing film ever to win that top honor.
None of that can happen unless the Weinsteins step aside. To Moore’s camp, cutting a check to the disgraced mogul would be wrong, morally, and their feeling is that Weinstein is ironically positioned similarly to where Eisner stood years ago, when the former Disney chairman stood in the way of the Fahrenheit 9/11 release.
If this ends up in the courts, it would not be the first time Moore has gone to the mattresses against the Weinsteins, even in good times. The first time was a brief, bitter legal battle over unpaid profits on Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore filed suit in 2011 in Los Angeles Superior Court. The dispute was settled, but not before each side disparaged the other, with Weinstein lawyers painting Moore as an ingrate who’d already pocketed $19.8 million in backend profits, while Moore claimed the Weinsteins rerouted and didn’t pay him profits of at least $2.7 million. The Weinsteins made nice after the suit was settled out of court, saying the accounting dispute had been settled amicably and they hoped to make future projects with Moore.
There is no love lost between Moore and Harvey Weinstein now, which could make this stalemate interesting. The Oscar-winning docu director harshly disparaged Weinstein in a Facebook essay that followed the sexual assault revelations published by the New York Times and the New Yorker. In an essay headlined “Use This Moment To Create A World Without Harveys,” Moore described Weinstein as a sociopath and noted that he was the only director who actually took Weinstein to court “for being a thief, which requires a different set of sociopathic skills, but like sexual harassment, you can probably find them at a few Hollywood studios.” Moore called for predators to voluntarily step down.
Since then, they have been toppling like dominoes on a daily basis, with Matt Lauer being dismissed from his $25 million Today host job even before the exposé stories were published, and Pixar’s John Lasseter issuing a mea culpa and taking a six-month sabbatical just as journalists were publishing stories.