The indie-film kingpin speaks glowingly of the movie he beat at the Oscars in 1999, but says some tech companies view movies as product
Hey, it turns out that Harvey Weinstein is a big fan of "Saving Private Ryan."
We might not have known that during Oscar season in 1998-1999, when Miramax and DreamWorks waged an expensive, heated and bitter awards campaign that resulted in Weinstein's MIramax entry, "Shakespeare in Love," scoring an upset Best Picture victory over the DreamWorks film, Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan."
But at the Producers Guild of America's Produced By conference at the Disney lot on Saturday, Weinstein appeared with "Private Ryan" producer Mark Gordon, and immediately turned the conversation to those two films.
"It's great to be here with you, Mark," said Weinstein, who appeared via satellite from New York. "We did have a little bit of fun with 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'Saving Private Ryan.'"
Gordon groaned. "Yeah, it was a lot of fun for you."
"I think 'Private Ryan' was a great movie, an epic movie," Weinstein said quickly, adding that all the talk of bad blood and bad-mouthing was blown way out of proportion. "Steven deservedly won Best Director."
And in the Q&A session an hour later, Weinstein returned to the topic of the film that went into the Oscar race as the frontrunner only to lose to the Miramax upstart. Weinstein's father Max, he said, had been a soldier in World War II, but never talked about his experiences — "and when we were kids and an old Hollywood war movie would come on, my dad would turn off the TV and walk out of the room. We never knew why."
His father had passed away by the time "Private Ryan" came out, he said — but he encouraged his mother to see it, and the experience "led to us unearthing all sorts of amazing stories about my dad … It deeply affected us."
That was one of the more serious moments in a loose and largely light-hearted conversation that served as one of the marquee events on the first day of Produced By. More typical was when Weinstein tried to goad Gordon into revealing how much he was paid for his television series "Grey's Anatomy." "Whatever they pay you, it isn't enough," said Weinstein when Gordon dodged the question.
When Gordon pointed out that his show not only aired on the Disney-owned ABC, but was produced by Disney, Weinstein laughed. "If it's Disney, Mark, it's definitely not enough," said Weinstein, whose company Miramax was owned by Disney for 12 years while he ran it.
Other details from the conversation:
THE CRYSTAL BALL: "Television, movies, VOD, the Internet — all of these things are going to come coming together in the next five years in ways that will change our industry," said Gordon, echoing a common thread that ran through many of the day's panels.
Weinstein agreed that the future model will be dominated by VOD and the Internet, and then paid tribute to the company that leads the way in streaming — in the process, perhaps aiming a subtle slap at companies like Google as they attempt to beef up their presence in the movie business.
"You have to admire Netflix for the progressive attitude they have toward the buisness," he said, "because at the core they are movie fans … The more companies like that we have, the better off we are — not like these Silicon Valley companies that look at movies as product."
BACK TO THE PRESENT: For now, said Weinstein, film is caught in a tricky transitional period. "The movie has to work in theaters," he said. "We used to have the backup of home video, but that’s gone. We're working without a net until VOD and some of the Internet solutions mature, because right now they're certainly not replacing DVD."
One example: the 1998 Miramax film "Rounders" "only made $20 million theatrically, but added another $70 million in video. "And that's not total sales — that's $70 million net out."
TAKE TWO: As a result, Weinstein said, he's currently considering a sequel to "Rounders," a drama about high-stakes poker starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton. "I never make sequels, but it's something I'd like to revisit," he said. "I'd like to see Mattie [Damon] kick ass at the end of that movie, somehow."
THE SOUND OF SILENCE: One thing Weinstein and Gordon have in common: they've both spent a lot of time lately watching silent movies. Gordon said he's trying to launch a new version of the Harold Lloyd classic "Safety Last," while Weinstein said he was a big fan even before buying the silent film "The Artist" at Cannes.
"If you want to see action sequences that are as good as anything you'll see today, watch 'The General,'" he said. "It's unbelievable what Buster Keaton did with that."
THE DEVIL'S IN 'THE DETAILS': Gordon and Weinstein are now in business together on "The Details," a Sundance acquisition starring Tobey Maguire. Gordon said all that’s left is to finish work on "a very tiny piece of the movie": voiceovers that will be used at the film's beginning and end.
Weinstein explained why: "It's one of those films that's brilliantly hilarious, but it's not that obvious a movie. The lead character is not sympathetic." The trick, he said, is to come up with a voiceover along the lines of what Billy Wilder did with "Sunset Boulevard." "You have to use the voiceover to create somebody who is sympathetic, so that the audience will want to follow his story."
MR. CONGENIALITY: One question from the audience drew knowing laughs: What is the personality trait most crucial to making you so successful?
"Everybody knows it's my charm," said Weinstein, he of the legendary temper and notorious string of run-ins with talent, staff and anyone else who crossed his path. Then he added an explanation as to why he is now much calmer than he was in the days when the Bad Harvey stories were legion:
"I think that over the years, my management style has gotten better," he said. "Just from being the father of four daughters, I learned that if I'm being held hostage by one of my daughters, there's no negotiating skill that can help me.
"The term mellow, if you look it up in Websters, it means 'the father of four daughters.'"
He shrugged. "Before that, the term mellow and my name were never in the same sentence."
(Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)