One week, two films bumped to 2017 as pressure from a disgruntled board, a failed TV sale and Tarantino box office squeeze Harvey.
It has been the summer of discontent for Harvey Weinstein.
In the space of a single week in July, the legendary independent film mogul’s company abruptly pushed two anticipated projects from the summer schedule to early 2017. The first casualty was the Alicia Vikander drama Tulip Fever, which was jettisoned to Feb. 24 just nine days before it was set to open July 15. Then, on July 13, The Weinstein Co. shifted the Michael Keaton vehicle The Founder, about the origins of the McDonald’s empire, from Aug. 5 to Jan. 20 (it first will receive an Oscar-qualifying run in December).
Yanking films from the release calendar at the last minute is unusual because theaters have been booked, marketing buys have been made and promotional media interviews arranged. The Weinstein Co., which for years has battled rumors of money troubles, chalked up The Founder’s move to seizing a better Oscar-season berth. “The Founder has tested phenomenally well, and the buzz for this film made us want to release it in the heart of awards season,” insists TWC president and COO David Glasser. “As much as I wish this wasn’t the case, awards pundits and prognosticators seem to forget films that come out during any other time than the last three months of the year, so we didn’t want Michael Keaton’s performance and [director] John Lee Hancock’s incredible work to be overlooked.”
But that explanation rings hollow for several people involved with the film who spoke to THR, especially given The Founder already had shuffled from the prime awards date of Nov. 25 to Aug. 5 to make way for Weinstein’s favored Oscar hopeful Lion. As for Tulip Fever, TWC blamed the move on Vikander’s busy schedule promoting Jason Bourne, which opens July 29, and co-star Christoph Waltz’s press duties for The Legend of Tarzan, which bowed July 1. “With both Bourne and Tarzan opening this month, it made the most sense to open Tulip Fever early next year when they’ll have more time and where the marketplace isn’t as crowded,” adds Glasser.
That rationale holds little water with talent associated with the films, considering those press junket obligations have been known for some time. Universal slotted Bourne for July 29 back in January 2015, and Warner Bros. carved out Tarzan’s July 1 date more than two years ago, in February 2014.
Rather, insiders both within the company and doing business with it say TWC simply doesn’t have the money on hand to properly release either film in 2016, as the company’s purse strings have been tightened significantly by its board, which includes representatives of backers WPP Group, France broadcaster TF1 Group and Technicolor. “The move does not benefit the film,” says a source involved with The Founder. “If you don’t believe in the movie, then launch it in August. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. This smells like a money problem.”
Glasser denies any financial troubles at the company, which has endured up-and-down fortunes in its 11 years, notably in 2009, when forays into video distribution and fashion nearly caused bankruptcy. TWC is said to have secured a $500 million line of credit via a consortium led by Union Bank, but in December, Harvey Weinstein acknowledged pressure to generate more revenue. “Quite frankly, we have to monetize,” he told The New York Times.
Since then, the company’s films have not delivered on that goal. Promises of a box-office bonanza from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight fell flat when the three-hour Western’s domestic haul was a mere $54 million. TWC sold off foreign territories on the film, and Glasser insists it will not lose money, but Hateful Eight didn’t provide a shot in the company’s arm as Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds did. TWC’s box-office performance since Hateful Eight has been worse, with just two films released to date in 2016 — John Carney’s Sing Street and the Natalie Portman starrer Jane Got a Gun — that have earned less than $5 million combined domestically. Brother Bob Weinstein’s Dimension label is off to an even weaker 2016. Its two films — Regression and Clown — together have taken in only about $100,000.
Personnel issues have dogged the company as well. In June, Harvey’s longtime friend James Dolan quit his post on TWC’s board. Dolan cited day-to-day obligations with Madison Square Garden, MSG Networks and AMC Networks as well as family commitments as the reason for leaving — an explanation that created more questions than answers. Though he was replaced with hedge fund billionaire and Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, the company lacks stability, plagued by a string of high-ranking executive exits that began in October 2014. Those include distribution president Erik Lomis, marketing head Stephen Bruno and Radius co-chiefs Tom Quinn and Jason Janego — with none of the posts filled by comparable industry veterans. Even Glasser left briefly in July 2015, only to return six weeks later. Morale has been rocked by a series of layoffs that began in November, impacting at first 40 to 50 of the company’s 100-plus staffers. Since then, an additional 10 employees have exited.
More troubling is a growing chorus of industry voices — from producers to consultants to vendors to talent agents — who complain in interviews that TWC has failed to make payments and won’t respond to inquiries until specific legal threats are made. As with many indie studios, TWC has a long-standing reputation for paying late, but after this year’s Oscars — where it failed to score a best picture nomination for any of its films — the company’s behavior has become more egregious, according to more than a dozen parties who were interviewed but declined to be named. At Cannes in May, the usually bombastic Harvey had a more muted presence, operating mostly from a friend’s boat and picking up two small films: the terrorism drama Hotel Mumbai and the Jeremy Renner project Wind River. Neither is dated for 2016.
TWC is said to have engaged Allen & Co. to consider selling part of the company to raise cash, but it’s hard to imagine offers close to the $900 million that ITV once was willing to plunk down for TWC’s prolific TV division, which is behind Project Runway on Lifetime and Marco Polo on Netflix, among others. And the rest of 2016 looks sluggish, with only the boxing drama Hands of Stone and the Dev Patel drama Lion on the schedule.
Then again, Harvey Weinstein could pull off another miracle, as he has done before, bringing TWC back to its former grandeur. If anyone knows how to execute a proper Hollywood ending, it’s Harvey.