Monday, 24 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #71: The Days of Weinstein & Roses

Well, I was worried when Robert Shaye was forced out of New Line that I wouldn't have anything to gripe about.

But Hollywood doth provideth to those who never giveth up their cynicism.

Watch this video about the latest antics of super-producer Harvey Weinstein, formerly of Miramax and current head of The Weinstein Company. Hopefully it hasn't been pulled because of threatened litigation.

Did you watch the video?

Then we can talk about it.

If the claims made in the video are true, and they are believable looking back at the Weinstein's record, the company is in serious trouble.

Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob got their start as movie moguls with their company Miramax distributing films that the major players ignored, like concert films, and independent and art house pics.

Their shrewd marketing to audiences and shameless campaigning for award nominations made them the kings of American indie cinema during its heyday in the mid-90s. They showed that success could come outside the studio system.

Then things started to slip.

Miramax was sold to the D
isney Empire, but Harvey and Bob were left in control of their company, though Disney held final say on whether or not they would distribute particularly controversial films. Miramax developed a reputation for alienating the fans and filmmakers that made the company a success by buying up films, not for release, but to sit on. Now a distributor spending money to not release movies seems counter-intuitive, but they had their reasons.

Number 1: It was not their money they were spending, but Disney's.

Number 2: Sitting on films allowed them to use relatively obscure accounting rules to offset the effects of an increasing n
umber of money losing films.

Number 3: It also prevented independent films from competing with films produced in-house for award nominations and audience attention.

They also alienated the foreign films fans who were their biggest supporters during Miramax's early days when they started buying Asian martial arts films, sitting on them, sometimes for years, and when they
were finally released, they were redubbed with new dialogue that often changed the plots and themes of the films, and the music was replaced with loud shrill rap music. (They also threatened anyone who tried to import the original subtitled versions with lawsuits, pissing off even more of the core fans.)

Harvey claimed that he did it to make the films more commercially appealing, but without the core audience making the sort of buzz necessary to sell "cult" material, most of these reworked productions fizzled financially.

In 2005 the Weinstein's stay at the company they founded came to an end. Parent company Disney started to notice that the little indie that could, had become a huge black hole sucking profits into the outer darkness, never to be seen again.

The brothers used the reputations they built during Miramax's heyday to attract venture capital to start The Weinstein Company, and land a distribution deal with MGM.

But it looks like history is starting to repeat itself. T
he Weinstein Company has since released a long line of predominantly financially disastrous movies. It's had a few hits, I won't deny them that, but too few for any company that hopes to survive. MGM regularly grumbles about the films they are contractually bound to release costing them millions, shareholders are reportedly unhappy with the company's poor performance, filmmakers (at least those whose names aren't Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez) are unhappy with how they and their films are being treated by the company, and now they have alienated the fans.

The definition of madness is making the same mistake over and over again, hoping that you will have a different result. And here they are making the same mistake that they made distributing Asian martial arts films. They have a film called Fanboys. It tested huge with the core audience, and instead of releasing it, they are sitting on it while someone not connected with the making of the film re-edits it to eliminate a little something called The Plot because it displeases Harvey Weinstein.

Why would Harvey order the re-edit a film he's spent money to buy that tested well and had potential to be a small scale success if marketed properly?

The answer is basically contempt.

The Weinstein Company basically holds the audience in contempt. I think I could summarize Harvey Weinstein's mindset with the phrase: "If they knew what they liked they'd be me, and not the stupid audience!"

Instead of using the goodwill of the film's core audi
ence, Weinstein has actively sought to alienate them, effectively calling them idiots, and daring them to boycott the film.

Goodwill toward any Hollywood project is an extremely
rare commodity these days. In fact it has become so rare, that when it does show up, they don't know what to do with it. Instead, they see the goodwill as a sign of stupidity, and they promptly spit on it.

The Weinstein Co. should have used that good
will generated by the preview screenings to help market the film. Goodwill generates good buzz. Good buzz generates good ticket sales.

You win the core-audience by giving them what they want, it creates positive feelings toward the film. This good feeling is infectious to the general audience, and can make a relatively minor film a success.

Will it make it a blockbuster smash?

Probably not.

But I'd bet dollars to donuts that it would be profitable, and that it would do way better than any re-hashed, re-edited, and bowdlerized version that would only serve to attract venom from the core-fans that are needed to reach a wider audience.

No one wants to see a film that's getting nothing but vitriol about everything that's wrong with Hollywood these days. There's a wisdom to crowds, as well as an empathy, and any film that has nothing but harsh negative vibes associated to it, will not attract an audience. Audiences want a good time at the theatre, not be looked down on by folks whose only virtue is money.

And that's my two cents.

UPDATE: Cinematical reports that the Weinstein Co. are considering releasing 2 versions of the film on DVD, or maybe in theatres, or great Xenu knows what. Apparently they're really trying to avoid having Star Wars fans, and their brethren Comic Book Geeks from boycotting The Weinstein Co's upcoming Superhero Movie. I personally think the original version, that tested so well, will ever see the light of day. Harvey Weinstein has invested too much company money ($2,000,000), and, more importantly to him, too much of his own ego to admit defeat and let the film go out as it was meant to be.

The fact that such a controversy erupted in the first place shows a certain amount of managerial dysfunction at the Weinstein Co. that the investors should look into.

Maybe I should be campaigning for his job like I did for HBO and New Line? If the shareholders aren't willing to change its name to The D Company, I can change my name to Furious Weinstein. I'm flexible.

1 comment:

  1. I guess I'm one of the core fans that "Fanboys" was supposed to attract, and what I've heard disgusted me. It was bad enough they took out an important plot point. It got worse when they essentially turned it into another stupid teen sex flick. There was no need for it since screenings got huge responses at two Star Wars conventions last year. Not only did the Weinsteins and the jerk director they hired to take over the project wreck the goodwill it had with Star Wars fandom, it probably killed whatever goodwill it had with Lucasfilm to boot. And it's probably never going to be released in the theater.

    It's the typical MO for the Weinsteins, who have done little more than sit on movies for two or three years before quietly shuffling them off for brief theatrical releases or straight to DVD.