TheGrill@Tribeca: Co-chairman of the Weinstein Company says 2011 will "outgross the Miramax years"
With the success of “The King’s Speech,” The Weinstein Company is on track to outpace even its most profitable years at Miramax, co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said on Friday.
“This is going to be our best year financially,” Weinstein said at TheWrap's inaugural conference about the independent film business, TheGrill@Tribeca. "We will outgross the Miramax years by a lot.”
Weinstein declined to specify earnings or profit margins, but pointed to an historic windfall to the company from its Best Picture winner, "The King's Speech," released nationally in January.
The Oscar-winning “King’s Speech” has grossed over $400 million at the worldwide box office, and was produced for $14 million, Weinstein said. He estimated that TWC would make $150 million of that sum, which precedes ancillary revenue from DVDs and other revenue streams.
That is an astonishing turnaround from an independent film company that last year was slowly sinking under the weight of bank debt, after running through hundreds of millions of dollars of investor cash. In mid-year, TWC restructured its debt.
Weinstein estimated that the company would reclaim the 200 films being held by debtors within two to three years, the time it would take to erase about $335 million in debt.
The independent film business had a rebound year in 2010 — with "The King's Speech," "Black Swan" and "True Grit" garnering plenty of awards season hardware.
But Weinstein told the conference that the independent film business needs to transcend the trophy case.
"We have to build a model that's beyond Oscar," Weinstein said at a session moderated by TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman. “People say, ‘Harvey only wants an Oscar.’ Harvey wants an Oscar because it makes people go to the movies.” (Photographs by Susan May Tell)
But the indie business, he said, needs to find success outside of the awards season.
“We have to find a summer model for the independent film business,” Weinstein said. “How do get them to the theater in the summer?”
Weinstein said his strategy in releasing the upcoming “Submarine” and “Our Idiot Brother” during the warmer months is to “counterprogram the ‘Thors’ and ‘Captain Americas.’”
“There is a marketplace — dying for it — but it needs to be the right movie.”
While "True Grit" was made for $40 million — above Weinstein’s $20 million threshold for "independent" — he lauded Paramount for treating it like one. “They took an independent movie, added the studio on top of it, and blew it out,” Weinstein said, adding: “The Coen brothers — you can't get a more independent thought than that.”
Weinstein pointed out that “Scary Movie” was made for $14 million, generated $160 million domestically and, eventually, $300 million worldwide, despite critics who said "a black movie will never work overseas.” (The Wayans, he said, told him, “The wrong brothers made the money on that one.”)
Weinstein said he is undecided on the future of the industry's current hot topic: studios pursuing premium video-on-demand. “Let’s experiment and see,” he said.
“I love going to the movies,” Weinstein added. “If it hurts exhibition, that’s a mistake.”
Earlier Friday, Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, and Geoff Gilmore, TFF's chief creative officer also talked about the challenges in the indie film business.
“The world for independent film has completely changed, yet the issues remain the same,” Gilmore said. “How do you find visibility for this work? How to find audiences? How can we distribute this? The same questions we were asking 30 years ago.”
Rosenthal — who admitted her career as a producer has, for the most part, been within the studio system — said there in hope. “The work we’ve done here for the last 10 years at the Tribeca Film Festival, I feel very optimistic about the future,” she said. "You look at the Oscars this year. ‘King’s Speech,’ ‘Black Swan,’ ‘True Grit,’ ‘The Fighter’ — those were pretty much independent films, the way they were put together."
Rosenthal also noted the growing challenge of getting people to go to the movies. “People under 45, they’re platform agnostic — unless it’s something really special, they don’t care.”
Waxman opened the conference noting importance of independence film, despite these challenges.
“One of the most precious assets American culture has,” Waxman said. “It’s never been easy to make independent films. It’s no secret that the business model for making these films has been extremely challenged over the past five years. That’s what this conference is for.”