Deja vu … Harvey and Bob hit town with rumors of funding woes, and “Inglourious Basterds” could put them on firm ground.
At the Weinstein Company penthouse party in Cannes on Tuesday evening, the champagne flowed from magnums, the breeze blew gently over the marble terrace, and Harvey Weinstein sported his leaner, post-Miramax physique beside a fetching Marion Cotillard.
All seemed flush in the house of Bob and Harvey, despite the rumors of their imminent demise that lately have risen to a fever pitch.
The company, say the rumormongers, has run out of capital. There is no cash to release fall movies like “Youth in Revolt.” Weinstein has been serially seen in the company of billionaires, desperate to raise more funds to replenish the $1.2 billion he has raised — and apparently spent so far, without a blockbuster hit in sight.
Even Weinstein company executives acknowledge the rumors are rampant.
That only makes the Cannes debut on Wednesday of Quentin Tarantino’s World War II magnum opus, “Inglourious Basterds,” all the more significant.
Fifteen years ago at this same festival, Tarantino made a sensation of “Pulp Fiction,” a movie that went on to gross more than $200 million at the box office and to make Miramax, as Weinstein has so often said, “the house that Quentin built.”
It remain to be seen whether “Basterds,” at two hours and forty minutes, with a $70 million budget several times that of “Pulp Fiction” and half-owned by Universal, can perform the same miracle.
The movie played for a mob-like press corps on Wednesday morning, and Tarantino – surrounded by his cast, including Brad Pitt and Mike Myers – seemed to be floating on air. (See Waxword Cannes for more from the press conference.)
But heavenly intervention may well be on the way from elsewhere.
At the cocktail party, Weinstein showed a two-minute montage from “Nine,” a star-studded new musical by “Chicago” director Rob Marshall — with Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Cotillard and Daniel Day Lewis — that has clearly boosted the company’s confidence. (See accompanying list of upcoming Weinstein Co. releases.)
Hudson dances, Cruz sings, Kidman poses dramatically and the always-Oscar-bait Lewis does it all.
If the film is as good as the montage and trailer (it’s not finished), Weinstein may have a path to the blockbuster hit that has so far eluded him and his brother, and a way past the rocky shoals that continually threaten to take the company down.
“This is a thumbs-up, thumbs-down year for the company,” said a senior executive from another independent film company. If ‘Basterds’ does well, it won’t be a new lease on life, but it will be proof of concept. By New Year’s, it will be ‘pop the champagne,’ or else — “the reverse."
Another rival film executive was more skeptical: “If ‘Inglourious’ is a misfire, it’ll hurt them … If it’s a hit, I don’t know if it’ll save them.”
Weinstein declined to be interviewed for this article. But a senior company executive said that the company was in good shape before Cannes, and even better shape afterward.
The executive said Weinstein had closed $50 million in international sales during the festival, for movies including “Hoodwinked 2” and “Escape from Planet Earth.”
That figure does not include foreign sales for “Nine,” which has been fully presold internationally. (International buyers interviewed for this piece confirmed that they had not experienced any problems in doing business with TWC.)
The company also acquired two films in the last six days, announced on Wednesday: "The Fighter," acquired for international from Relativity Media. The film, now in preproduction, is about a working class welterweight from Massachusetts;. It will star Mark Wahlberg and Christian, and David O. Russell is directing.
The company also announced acquiring remake rights to "A Matter of Size," an obesity comedy, originally Israeli.
“The big thing that gives us confidence is that we have a great slate, and buyers are excited for our product,” said the executive, who would not speak for the record. “Obviously performance in the U.S. is very important, but it doesn’t change our confidence about the slate. We’re making movies, and acquiring movies.”
“Nine,” an $82 million production based on the Broadway musical, was co-produced with Relativity Media, which owns 25 percent of the film.
Weinstein is also making a 3D movie called “Piranha 3D” with a $25 million budget.
None of the other movies coming this year seem to fall into blockbuster category. They include “Halloween 2,” “The Road” based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel and “Nowhere Boy,” a British-made film about John Lennon’s son.
A precise financial analysis of the Weinstein Company is difficult since it is privately-owned and does not release numbers. But by all accounts, TWC’s operating costs are high. It carries 200 employees in offices in Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo.
Weinstein may not know how to run things any other way. Weinstein executives acknowledge the tepid (and worse) performance of such recent U.S. releases as “Zach and Miri Make a Porno,” “The Nanny Diaries,” “Grindhouse” and “Rambo.”
But they say those numbers do not consider the strong international performance of such films as “The Reader” ($83 million worldwide), the gross of “Halloween” ($79 million worldwide) from Bob Weinstein’s Dimension division and 2007’s “Hoodwinked,” which has a worldwide gross of $110 million.
Other revenue-generating aspects of the company are hard to measure with precision; there is a DVD and video business part-owned by Weinstein, Genius. Weinstein now has a pay television deal with Showtime, but apparently paid a $100 million bonus to get it.
Still, “you can’t battle every rumor,” said Emily Feingold, a Weinstein Company spokeswoman. “We wouldn’t be going into production if we didn’t have capital. We’re doing good. But rumors shadow Harvey and Bob; they’re interesting characters.”
As for Weinstein, he sat through the press conference on Wednesday morning beaming like a proud parent at graduation. "There's nothing better than Cannes in the whole world," said Tarantino.
At that moment, Weinstein no doubt agreed.