Harvey Weinstein has been having a very good week. Yesterday, The Weinstein Company’s Carol, which has become an out-of-the-box indie hit in its first two weeks in New York and Los Angeles limited release, swept the New York Film Critics Circle awards with four including Best Film. The day before, TWC took two awards (Screenplay and Supporting Actress for Jennifer Jason Leigh) from the National Board Of Review for The Hateful Eight, its latest collaboration with Quentin Tarantino that debuts December 25.
Of course, all of this hits Harvey’s sweet spot as he always seems to be energized by Oscar season — even to the point of counting the minutes between new stories on this website. “What I was doing today was clocking the amount during Academy season of the time between pieces on Deadline, and it comes to 3 minutes and 52 seconds in between pieces, which makes good sense because you have to be Superman to comprehend everything that’s being hit right now,” he laughed, while agreeing with me that the race is wide open, something clearly evident from the mixed bag of early awards results. This just feeds the hunger for the man who practically invented the modern Oscar campaign, for better or worse.
One thing on his mind right now is the classification by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association of The Hateful Eight as a drama. “We tried desperately to put this in comedy at the Golden Gl0bes. Quentin and I both thought this. The first part (of the near-three-hour film) is a setup. The second act is hilarious. It is his funniest, his most political movie, so incredibly entertaining. You are just laughing your ass off. Even the violence is reduced for Quentin Tarantino movies. But I think we lost that battle. We have never revealed this. I thought it was a comedy. Quentin thought it was a comedy. Shockingly enough, the audience is cracking up watching the movie. I am hoping against hope they will change their mind,” he told me.
I saw the film last night, and while I am bound by an embargo to hold my review until December 21, I can say I would completely classify this film as a comedy. You can’t take it seriously, and the interplay among Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell (all first-rate) among others is riotous with great comic timing from all. The violence, while extensive, is so over the top it comes off as cartoonish. Somehow the HFPA has deemed The Martian as a comedy, but not this? Crazy.
To their credit, Weinstein does have praise for the group. “The one thing about the HFPA is they have a backbone and they are telling us off, so on one hand I like that too,” he said.
Of course,The Hateful Eight, shot in Ultra Panavision 70, is going out Christmas Day only in special 70mm film engagements. Distribution head Erik Lomis has scoured the country looking for theatres and special lenses to be able to bring Tarantino’s vision to life in exhibition. At last night’s press screening at the Crest Westwood, a projection problem with the 70mm print in the film’s first half led to switching to a digital copy for the second half. “Erik Lomis has done a spectacular job, a really tough job. Obviously as you just saw (Note: he told me it was like an arrow thru his heart learning I was there), if the 70mm print doesn’t work, we have a digital backup plan. It is not something we are thrilled about, but a least for the people in the room they can watch the whole movie.”
My colleague Mike Fleming told me when he saw the film in New York there were also projection problems before it finally got underway after an hour delay. Let’s hope these are just temporary glitches. I have to say I admire Tarantino’s slavish devotion to film, and for me the first half in 70mm was vastly superior to the far-too-slick-looking digitally projected second half.
Weinstein said that after the famous staged reading of the script a couple of years ago, he tried to convince Tarantino to do it instead as a Broadway play, especially considering Weinstein’s own current infatuation with the theatre. He was serious, but finally the movie plans took shape. He is also thrilled that after introducing Tarantino to legendary composer Ennio Morricone in Italy some years ago, they were able to realize the dream of having Morricone compose the score for one of his films. “Even though he has won an Honorary Oscar, he never won for one of his films. This would be the chance. He should have won for The Mission or Cinema Paradiso,” he said noting he wasn’t even nominated for the latter.
All of this awards momentum though comes at a time when TWC is definitely at a crossroads. And Weinstein knows it. “I keep reading about my quote that this was a bad year for us. I would love to have a bad year like this every year,” he said mentioning the winter hit Paddington, spring hit Woman In Gold and summer hit Southpaw before getting sober. “But we see the handwriting on the wall. That’s the problem with downsizing, but now television offers such great opportunity. It’s been a very scary year for everyone. You press the wrong button and your movie disappears,” explaining why they are taking such a measured approach in the rollout of Carol by adding just a few theatres December 11 , then Christmas and January when Oscar nominations and awards shows start happening. “I just think this is something we should be delicate about and continue to build word of mouth, continue to build the reputation of the movie, and have the patience to do it correctly.”
Weinstein notes there were many great movies this year, signaling out The Martian among others, but says every studio, sub studio and indie has been hit. “It’s not about the ego of Oscar, it’s that everybody knows the nominations help you with marketing. Everybody thinks if you open in October you have got a good shot, but all of a sudden 20 movies came out at the same time. When you see an October like we just saw you say how long and how many idiosyncratic movies can we make and better space them out. This was a company that was pumped for ten Radius titles, 12 TWC-Dimension titles. It’s still really a mom and pop operation. I worry about everybody who works here. We’ve never had to do this in all the years, and I am proud of that, but we found out we had a Board of Directors this year, ” he half-joked. “It became inevitable”.
I asked him about the controversial move to campaign Carol’s Rooney Mara as supporting so that she wouldn’t have to compete with co-star Cate Blanchett in the lead actress category. Both have been nominated as lead actress for the Independent Spirit Awards, and the HFPA (there they go again) has classified both eligible only for Lead Actress in a Drama. Isn’t this a risky strategy considering in the Academy the actors branch members make up their own minds? “It happened to me with Kate Winslet on The Reader. We put her up for Supporting and she won the Oscar for Best Actress instead. Rooney Mara is a team player. If anyone is making the decision it is me on behalf of the film. You look at the situation and go ‘God,
do we really want to split this with Cate and Rooney, and then just cannibalize it and nobody gets anything?’ I just thought it was better. And Rooney has been a terrific team player , although I heard she has a doll of me with needles sticking out of it, ” he laughed while also saying it is his goal with this film to get director Todd Haynes recognition he has never gotten from the Academy as a director, as well as producer Christine Vachon who has never been even nominated at all. Weinstein is also hoping to land a Supporting nomination for Marion Cotillard who plays Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. Surely Lady Macbeth is a leading role, Harvey. “Not in this Macbeth. And no one has ever played it as vulnerable. She is ambitious but she is vulernably ambitious. She played it just the opposite. Just for her intelligence she deserves a nomination,” he said.
Clearly the Harvey Weinstein Oscar express is getting up to speed. This should be interesting.