Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Besides Elaine from Seinfeld, everyone loved the film The English Patient. It swept the Academy Awards in 1996, winning nine of its 12 nominations, and a plethora of others at the BAFTA Awards and Golden Globes. But the Best Picture win was a first for Miramax, a production company started 10 years before by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. It would be the first of many successful enterprises the two brothers would get their hands on, and would eventually lead them to start The Weinstein Company (TWC). Today, if I see a movie and walk out satisfied with giving away two hours to a dark bunker in the middle of the city, I can bet they had something to do with it.
Miramax was started by the Weinsteins as an independent production house bent on funding films that would never get backing from giants like Universal or Paramount. It was probably in these early years, sifting through the dross of backyard films, that they became expert sniffers. The brothers made a name for themselves by finding, adapting, and distributing independent foreign films to American audiences. They got to them first, a skill highly regarded by production houses today. Books are barely finished before Warner Brothers is at the author’s doorstep with a sweet offer for the movie rights to its title. Excuse this digression, but content rights wars are starting to mirror patent wars between Apple and Samsung.
The Weinsteins’ sedulous searching was rewarded in 1992 when a film of theirs received a best picture nomination. Their films would continue to get this nod every single year until 2004. In that timespan, with the help of Disney, who acquired their company in ’93, they would produce myriad winners like Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, and Gangs of New York.
But in 2005, the brothers left their Disney overlords (this is unfair, because it is often noted that the Weinsteins enjoyed great freedom there) and started TWC. In complete control, the brothers sniffed like never before. Three of the last four Oscars for Best Picture went to TWC movies: The Reader, King’s Speech, and The Artist. I can only imagine the conversation that transpired between these two in regards to funding this last one.
“Hey, Bob. You up?”
“Sure, Harvey. But it’s three in the morning.”
“I know. I got something good.”
“What is it?”
“Jean Dujardin is on board. The French love him. He’s like Clooney over there.”
“Great. What’s the project, though?”
“It’s a love story in the golden age of Hollywood film. It’s going to be in black and white.”
“Alright, well, we’ll talk in the morning.”
TWC gambled and won big. Their pockets are deep and they can afford to take chances with scripts. The best actors are promised interesting, cutting-edge roles and a sure shot at attention from the Academy. This allows them to read an under-the-radar script, find someone who wants to shoot it, and promise that person a shortlist of the most in-demand talent.
Like a diligent horse-racing gambler, they pick winners to make up for the risks that do not pan out. Bob and Harvey are surely on fire with their seven-year run, but this does not mean everything they produce is golden. Piranha 3D. Enough said. Actually, not enough said. This movie did horribly on the domestic market but surprisingly well on the international stage. Even their s—t is speckled with some unexpected diamonds.
And when they choose well, the audience wins. Paul Thomas Anderson, who just released The Master under the TWC spotlight, deserves this funding because he pushes the craft forward. Actors can confidently break out of safe roles for a spell. They can still be an old baseball curmudgeon’s daughter who can scout players just as well as the boys in movies sure to please the blue hairs of America. But they can also play brilliant roles like a cult zealot who shows off her naked pregnant body. (Keeping toeing the line, Amy Adams). Independently- minded composers get an international stage to showcase their unique, often unsettling work. And small-time writers and directors gain hope knowing TWC is in the gutters looking to make gold dust into multi-million dollar nuggets.
If you do not believe me, and think the Weinstein Company does not make everything that is good based on their incredible record of the past four years alone, then think back on a few of the films that have stuck with you. Now check to see if Miramax, TWC, or Dimension had anything to do with them. The Cider House Rules had the Weinsteins behind it. Life is Beautiful enjoyed their help as well. Many of us here at Newton University might even say Good Will Hunting holds that special place in our hearts. Bob and Harvey accept your thanks.