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The Weinsteins are ready for their comeback

After getting a financial lifeline over the summer, brothers Harvey and Bob are rebuilding staff and investing in movies that reflect the creative and commercial sensibilities that made them Hollywood mavericks.

November 23, 2010|By Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times

Meet Hollywood's latest reboot: Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

The brothers from Queens are seeking to reclaim their mantle as the impresarios of the independent movie scene they helped pioneer, after squandering a similar opportunity over the last five years.

Since receiving a financial lifeline over the summer that pulled their New York-based studio back from the brink, the Weinsteins have hit the reset button on the 5-year-old venture they launched after their split from corporate parent Walt Disney Co.

Under new financial restraints, they're rebuilding the staff they had to slash and investing in movies that reflect the creative and commercial sensibilities that made them Hollywood mavericks when they ran Miramax Films.

On Friday, Weinstein Co. releases "The King's Speech," a $12.3-million period drama about King George VI's relationship with his speech therapist that is putting Harvey Weinstein back in his favorite spot at the center of Oscar buzz. Younger brother Bob, meanwhile, is returning to his roots by developing a slate of "genre" films, such as more sequels to such long-ago hits as "Scream" and "Spy Kids."

A triumphant comeback for the Weinsteins would be a boost to the independent-film world, which has been ravaged by a harsh economic climate and failed business models that pushed several specialty film outfits out of business. After blowing through $1.2 billion in funding attempting to build a multimedia empire, the Weinsteins have to prove in an even tougher market that they still possess the movie picking and marketing skills that made them famous.

"I was a bad CEO and we had some good ideas that we executed as poorly as possible," Harvey Weinstein said. "But now I'm ready to go back and do 'Miramax 2' because that's what I want and that's what the industry needs."

Launched amid much fanfare in 2005, Weinstein Co. lost money every year, according to legal documents. And, with notable exceptions such as Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," their film slate was populated with one flop after another, including the costly musical "Nine." By 2009, their financial state was so dire that they had to lay off 64 of their 200 employees and cancel or send to DVD several already completed films.

In July, the brothers pulled off a deal that many thought impossible: an agreement with lenders to wipe clean $450 million in debt in exchange for mortgaging about 200 titles from their library to main backer Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and insurer Assured Guaranty Ltd. To fund operations and make movies, the company is now reliant upon revenue from its remaining catalog of 108 films and new releases and a $50-million credit facility. It is a considerably smaller sum than the brothers had enjoyed in recent years.

The Weinsteins are now being forced by their backers to operate under tighter financial constraints, they said, with a five-person executive team watching over the business.

"After the restructure, Bob and Harvey focused on strategically hiring a strong management team, helping them to execute their business plan and allowing them to direct the majority of their attention on the marketing and production of the movies," said Chief Operating Officer David Glasser.

Under that plan, the company will produce eight movies a year and acquire for distribution four to six more at film festivals.

Harvey Weinstein acknowledges that for the last five years he took his eye off the ball by becoming preoccupied with ventures too far afield — a fashion label, an online social network, a video distribution company — from the core film business.

Speaking from London, where his company is producing "My Week With Marilyn," about a little-known relationship between a young man and Marilyn Monroe, Weinstein avowed he's returned to what he knows best. "I didn't read 'Juno' or 'Slumdog Millionaire' and I was only coming to the festivals to make my presence known," he said, referring to the two independent hits snatched by rival Fox Searchlight. "Now, I realize the strongest thing I can do for my company is read 15 scripts a week."

Weinstein has been aggressively competing for hot movies at film festivals over the last year, including the acquisitions of the coming-of-age tale "Submarine," the teenage road-trip drama "Dirty Girl" and the drama "Blue Valentine," on which the Weinsteins are currently appealing an NC-17 rating (nothing like a ratings controversy to gin up publicity). Other movies in the works include an adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning Broadway play "August: Osage County," starring Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep.

Weinstein is also attempting to repair relationships with some of the filmmakers with whom he clashed in the past. Writer-director Kevin Smith, who launched his career with Miramax's low-budget hit "Clerks," publicly complained about how Weinstein Co. handled his 2008 comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" but recently on his blog referred to Harvey as an "indie icon."

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