Weinstein at the 2010 Time 100 Gala, May 4
March 19, 1952 |
Flushing, New York, U.S.
Co-founder of Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company
|Spouse(s)||Eve Chilton (1987–2004; 3 children)
Georgina Chapman (2007–present; 2 children)
Harvey Weinstein, CBE (born March 19, 1952) is an American film producer and film studio executive. He is best known as co-founder of Miramax. He and his brother Bob have been co-chairmen of The Weinstein Company, their film production company, since 2005. He won an Academy Award for producing Shakespeare in Love, and garnered seven Tony Awards for producing a variety of winning plays and musicals, including The Producers, Billy Elliot the Musical, and August: Osage County.
Education and early career
Weinstein was born in Flushing, New York. He was raised in a Jewish family, the son of Max Weinstein, a diamond cutter, and Miriam (Postal). He grew up with his younger brother, Bob Weinstein, in a housing co-op named Electchester in New York City. He graduated from John Bowne High School, and then the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
Weinstein, his brother Bob, and Corky Burger, independently produced rock concerts as Harvey & Corky Productions in Buffalo through most of the 1970s. Both Weinstein brothers had grown up with a passion for movies and they nurtured a desire to enter the film industry. In the late 1970s, using profits from their concert promotion business, the brothers created a small independent film distribution company called Miramax, named after their parents – Miriam and Max. The company's first releases were primarily music-oriented concert films such as Paul McCartney's Rockshow.
In the early 1980s Miramax acquired the rights to two British films of benefit shows filmed for the human rights organization Amnesty International. Working closely with Martin Lewis, the producer of the original films, the Weinstein brothers edited the two films into one movie tailored for the American market. The resulting film was released as The Secret Policeman's Other Ball in May 1982 and it became Miramax's first hit. The movie raised considerable sums for Amnesty International and was credited by Amnesty with having helped to raise its profile in the US.
Further development of Miramax
The Weinsteins slowly built upon this success throughout the 1980s with arthouse films that achieved critical attention and modest commercial success. Harvey Weinstein and Miramax gained wider attention in 1988 with the release of Errol Morris's documentary The Thin Blue Line which detailed the struggle of Randall Adams, a wrongfully convicted inmate sentenced to death row. The publicity that soon surrounded the case resulted in the release of Adams and nationwide publicity for Miramax. In 1989, their successful launch release of Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape propelled Miramax to become the most successful independent studio in America.
Also in 1989, Miramax released two art-house films, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and director Pedro Almodóvar's film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, both of which the MPAA rating board gave an X-rating, effectively stopping nationwide release for these films. Weinstein sued the MPAA over their rating system. Although his lawsuit was later thrown out, the MPAA agreed to introduce the new NC-17 rating following this episode.
Miramax continued to grow its library of films and directors until, in 1993, after the success of The Crying Game, Disney offered the Weinsteins $80 million for ownership of Miramax. Agreeing to the deal that would cement their Hollywood clout and ensure that they would remain at the head of their company, Miramax followed the next year with their first blockbuster, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and distributed the popular independent film Clerks.
Miramax won its first Best Picture Academy Award in 1996 with the victory of The English Patient (Pulp Fiction was nominated in 1994 but lost to Forrest Gump). This started a string of critical successes that included Shakespeare in Love and Good Will Hunting.
The Weinstein Company
On March 29, 2005, it was announced that the Weinstein brothers would leave Miramax on September 30 to form their own production company, named The Weinstein Company with several other media executives, directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, and Colin Vaines who had successfully run the production department at Miramax for ten years and moved with the brothers to head development in the Weinstein company.
Praise and criticism
In 2004 Weinstein was appointed an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his contributions to the British film industry (the award being "honorary" because he is a citizen of the United States).
While lauded for opening up the independent film market and making it financially viable, Weinstein has been criticized by some for the techniques he has allegedly applied in his business dealings. Peter Biskind's book, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film, details criticism of Miramax's release history and editing of Asian films, such as Shaolin Soccer, Hero and Princess Mononoke. There is a rumour that when Harvey Weinstein was charged with handling the US release of Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki sent him a samurai sword in the post. Attached to the blade was a stark message: "No cuts." The director chortles. "Actually, my producer did that. Although I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts." He smiles. "I defeated him." Weinstein has always insisted that such editing was done in the interest of creating the most financially viable film. "I'm not cutting for fun", Harvey Weinstein said in an interview. "I'm cutting for the shit to work. All my life I served one master: the film. I love movies."
Another example cited by Biskind was Phillip Noyce's The Quiet American, whose release Weinstein delayed following the September 11 attacks, due to audience reaction in test screenings to the film's critical tone towards America's past foreign policy. After being told the film would go straight-to-video, Noyce planned to screen the film in Toronto International Film Festival in order to mobilize critics to pressure Miramax to release it theatrically. Weinstein decided to screen the film at the Festival only after he was lobbied by star Michael Caine, who threatened to boycott publicity for another film he had made for Miramax. The film received mostly positive reviews at the Festival, and Miramax eventually released the film theatrically, but it was alleged that Miramax did not make a major effort to promote the film for Academy Award consideration, though Caine was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Weinstein has also cultivated a reputation for ruthlessness and fits of anger. According to Biskind, Weinstein once put a New York Observer reporter in a headlock while throwing him out of a party. On another occasion, Weinstein excoriated director Julie Taymor and her husband during a disagreement over a test screening of her movie Frida.
In a 2004 piece in New York magazine, Weinstein appeared somewhat repentant for his often aggressive discussions with directors and producers. However, a Newsweek story on October 13, 2008, criticized Weinstein, who was accused of "hassling Sydney Pollack on his deathbed" about the release of the film The Reader. After Weinstein offered $1 million to charity if the accusation could be proven, journalist Nikki Finke published an email sent by Scott Rudin on August 22 asserting that Weinstein "harassed" Anthony Minghella's widow and a bedridden Pollack until Pollack's family asked him to stop.
In September 2009, Weinstein publicly voiced opposition to efforts to extradite Roman Polanski from Switzerland to the U.S. regarding 1977 charges of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old, to which Polanski had pled guilty before fleeing the country. Weinstein, whose company had distributed a film about the Polanski case, questioned whether Polanski committed any crime, prompting Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley to insist that Polanski's guilty plea indeed qualified his action as a crime, and that several other more serious charges were still pending.
In November 2011, independent filmmaker Michael Bartlett blamed Weinstein for the poor quality of his film, World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries, citing pressure from Weinstein to deliver the film ahead of schedule. When Weinstein said, "This is the date you will deliver the film and if it isn't finished then we'll finish it for you", the post production was rushed and the editing and sound mix were not completed properly.
In March 2012 Weinstein was made a Chevalier (knight) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Consulate in New York City in recognition of Miramax's efforts to increase the presence and popularity of foreign films in the United States.
In 2013, New York Post film critic Kyle Smith accused Harvey Weinstein of making numerous anti-Catholic films, including Priest (1994), The Butcher Boy (1997), The Magdalene Sisters (2002), and Philomena (2013).
Weinstein is also active on issues such as poverty, AIDS, juvenile diabetes, and multiple sclerosis research. He serves on the Board of Robin Hood, a New York City-based non-profit organization in fighting poverty, and has co-chaired one of their annual benefits.
Weinstein is a supporter of the American Democratic Party. He received press coverage for his support of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, and in 2012 he hosted an election fundraiser for President Obama at his home in Westport, Connecticut. In 2013, he expressed support of President Barack Obama amid criticism for the launch of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Weinstein also expressed a favorable opinion of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and criticized the lack of gun control laws and universal health care in the United States.
In February 2009, former Sam & Dave singer Sam Moore filed suit against Harvey and Bob Weinstein over the alleged use of Sam & Dave's career as a model for Soul Men, a Weinstein Co. comedy starring Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson.
In February 2011, filmmaker Michael Moore took legal action against the Weinstein brothers, claiming he was owed millions in profits for his 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. By February 2012, Moore settled with the Weinstein brothers, and the lawsuit was dropped. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Depictions in media
Harvey Weingard, a character portrayed by Maury Chaykin on the HBO TV series Entourage, is based on Weinstein. The character is portrayed as an intimidating and aggressive producer. Weinstein himself has reportedly responded positively to the character. The foul mouthed character Malcolm Tucker in the BBC series The Thick of It is based on Hollywood agents and producers, notably Harvey Weinstein and the team at Miramax who "were long celebrated for Malcolm-like behavior," according to actor Peter Capaldi.
Weinstein has been married twice:
- In 1987, he married his assistant Eve Chilton. They divorced in 2004. They had three children: Lily (born 1995), Emma (born 1998), and Ruth (born 2002).
- In 2007, he married English fashion designer and actress Georgina Chapman. They have a daughter, India Pearl (born 2010) and a son, Dashiell (born 2013).
On August 20, 2012, Vivek Shah was arrested for the attempted extortion of Weinstein, Chris Cline, and three other unnamed individuals. Shah demanded millions of dollars be wired to an offshore bank account or he would murder the family members of each recipient of his extortion letters. A seven-count felony indictment against Shah was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles during the last week in September 2012. Shah was convicted in September, 2013, and sentenced to over seven years prison.