Sunday, 28 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #173: Dear Harvey

The following is an open letter to Harvey Weinstein, head of the Weinstein Company.

Dear Harvey-

Now I'm not the type to butt into someone else's business... okay, maybe I am, but that doesn't change the fact that I have something important to say.

Things have not been going well for you lately. Not only are some folks reporting that your films have been dropped by distributor MGM, but NBC-Universal managed to get a court order to block you from moving Project Runway, your company's only successful TV project, from their Bravo Channel to rival Lifetime, because of allegations of negotiating in bad faith. And to top it all off, your company's movies haven't exactly been burning up the charts, many are forgotten before they're even released, if they get released at all, hell, you can't even finance a Quentin Tarantino movie and have to go around, hat in hand, to get it made.

If you can't see that you have hit cinematic rock bottom then you need a smug-know-it-all like me to tell you.

You've hit rock bottom.

Especially when you started playing silly buggers during the negotiations with NBC-Universal over Project Runway. I can understand wanting more money, it was the Bravo channel's top show, and I can even understand trying to squeeze a few broadcast contracts for some of your company's more lacklustre productions, but when you allegedly said this to NBC honcho Jeff Zucker:
"You can only have in your life five true friends and I consider you one of my five friends. And I'm telling you I will not embarrass you."
When you dish out the Oprah-esque treacle to the head of one of the biggest media companies in the world, and then spit in his face by selling the show behind his back to someone else, that's not being a Hollywood player, that's a suicide attempt.*

The fact that Zucker didn't see the knife being sharpened when you spewed that bit of faux-spiritualism is his problem, and might be the subject of his own intervention, but we're not here to talk about him, we're here to talk about you.

What the hell were you thinking when you pulled that stunt?

Obviously you weren't thinking very much, or you wouldn't have done that.

While you may think of yourself as a major player in the movie biz, which you are to an extent, you are not of the sheer immensity of an NBC-Universal. This is not some independent filmmaker hungry to get a deal signed at Sundance before Washington Mutual foreclosed on the mortgage he took out on his parent's house to pay for his film. This is a massive multinational, multi-faceted, multifarious, multi-dimensional, conglomerate. They swallow up other corporations for lunch, and the Weinstein Company isn't even a snack.

And like him, or not, respect him, or not, Jeff Zucker is the man in charge of that conglomerate, and to bastardize paraphrase The Godfather's fictional studio boss Jack Woltz, you made him look ridiculous, and a man in his position cannot be made to look ridiculous.

No matter what you think of the man in charge, the vast weight of the entire corporation is now targeted against
you personally, because you made this mess personal with that little
Runway stunt.

Now I'm not saying that you should have taken their deal. If the Lifetime deal was really much better you should have taken it. What I am scolding you about is, if the reports are accurate, the appalling display of bad faith shown during the negotiations. If things didn't work out with all cards on the table, then there may be some griping, but otherwise not much bad blood, after all, business is business.

However, your actions during the negotiations, and the fact that there was enough evidence of that bad faith to convince a judge to use the weight of the law to block Lifetime from picking up the show, is what soured the milk.

And the problem Harvey, is you.

Or to be more specific, your attitude.

There seems to be this mindset in your company that in order for you to win, someone else must lose.

Well, true business is not supposed to work like that. True business is all about making both sides win. Everyone is supposed to walk away happy, and have that precious double thank you moment, because you both got what you wanted, and if that wasn't possible, then to walk away semi-amicably, knowing well that it was an issue decided by self-interest, and not a desire to somehow hurt the other, leaving the potential for future transactions wide open.

It looks like you did not handle the Project Runway negotiations with any intent other than to embarrass the "true friend" that you pledged to never embarrass. You couldn't just win, you had to make Zucker lose, and that's not a healthy way to do business.

Especially when the "loser" has the power to crush your relatively tiny company on a whim, let alone a vendetta. If you honestly think NBC-Universal, or any of its subsidiaries, will do any business with The Weinstein Company, then your ego is writing checks that your business can't cash. That bridge is burned to cinders.

And let's not forget all the other companies. How many will be willing to do business with someone who pulls a stunt like that? How many major networks and studios will be willing to get into bed with someone who pulls stunts like that?

Not many, and not for long.

Harvey, you have to pull your head out of your ass and remember, that you're a businessman, not a monarch. Your word is not law, subject to your whims and caprice, it is your bond. Times have changed, the money situation has changed, people aren't just going to base their decisions on a few past hits from the glory days. They want more than just an increasingly distant record, they want, no, they must, be able to trust the person they do business with.

And if you don't know that, you really should find another line of work.

Furious D

*It's also a very confused metaphor, but my point is made.

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