My Life as a Blog: Harvey and Bob Weinstein: The Early Days


The King’s Speech is the most recent example of what Harvey and Bob Weinstein have done countless times: Produce or acquire a film that their instincts tell them has Oscar potential, and then vigorously promote it as if their lives depended on it. Their connection to this particular film is only of the moment because they have done it so many times before and will no doubt do it many times in the future. New year, new film.

Trying like hell to get a bucketful of Oscars for movies like The King’s Speech is what they do, but it’s actually The Social Network that captures who they are.

In the summer of 1983, I noticed a brief item in Variety. A company called Miramax had picked up rights to a Mexican film called Eréndira. The film, based on a story by Gabriel García Márquez, directed by Ruy Guerra, and starring Irene Papas, was set for its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival. I had never heard of the company, but the film seemed right up my alley: Márquez was one of my favorite novelists, I knew Ruy Guerra’s work, and most of all my profession to that date had been working with the kind of modest foreign art films that had their U.S. debut every year at the New York Film Festival. I called them right away and set up a meeting.

Their office was in a building across the street from the Citibank on 56th and Broadway. Miramax turned out to be Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Robert Newman (now a celebrated agent with clients like Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro and Danny Boyle) and a secretary. They had made some money producing rock concerts in Buffalo and had started to move into the film business, first with rock concert films like Paul McCartney’s Rockshow, and later with a horror film called The Burning (the film debut of both future Oscar-winner Holly Hunter and “Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander). But their biggest success was The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, a concert film they had created by editing footage of two different Amnesty International benefit shows into one movie. Eréndira was to be their first venture into the foreign art film arena.

I’d been through this kind of publicity job endless times before. The Film Society of Lincoln Center would bring in Ruy Guerra and put him up at the Algonquin Hotel, where I’d set up interviews. The cost of his publicity schedule would be cab fare and some meals. After eleven years working in the New York art film business, that was all I knew. Everybody I worked with cut their costs to the bone, and I had no reason to believe that the Weinstein brothers would be any different.

Talk about being wrong.

There was nothing out of the ordinary at the start. Ruy Guerra and his nectarious blossom of a girlfriend Claudia Ohana (who played Eréndira), came to town and I put a publicity schedule together. The stories that resulted would be held until the film’s release in the spring of the following year. But then Harvey and Bob began a campaign to bring Gabriel García Márquez, who had also co-written the film’s screenplay, into the country. Although Márquez had become a Nobel Laureate the year before, he was still painted as a Fidel-loving subversive by U.S. immigration services and denied visas. At first I thought this was just a publicity stunt, but I gradually realized that they were completely serious. It didn’t bother them one bit that so many powerful cultural organizations had failed to bring Márquez in—they were going to be the ones to do it. I ended up working on the film for almost a year and I don’t remember them ever giving up for a second.

This was different from anything I’d seen before. I wasn’t aware of any major studio films that were willing to take on the U.S. government in such a fiery, relentless way.

But that was nothing until I saw the poster. They had taken the Brazilian artwork, unbuttoned the top button of Eréndira’s blouse and added extra cleavage to Claudia Ohana’s chest. Cleavage! I died laughing. I had never seen anything so crass. Would art filmgoers want to see the film more if they believed that Claudia had slightly bigger breasts? And it seemed so off the mark from the essence of Claudia (and Eréndira’s) barely ripe sensuality. But then I thought about it. I realized that this was a truly erotic movie, and that the Brazilian poster was sort of prim. It didn’t signal the pleasures the film offered as well as the Miramax poster did. I had to give them credit. They were showmen, paying attention to every detail. Maybe it was cheesy, but who was I to say? Maybe it would help. (And significantly, every poster I can find on the web from other countries used the Miramax art.)

In the spring, the Weinsteins brought in the internationally famous Greek actress Irene Papas (Z, Zorba the Greek, The Trojan Women, The Guns of Navarone), and the brothers set me to work all over again. Papas was a legend, so you couldn’t put her up at the Howard Johnson. You have to go first class in everything. I was astounded to see this kind of cash outlay for what most other distributors would consider a little film. Obviously she was on a whole different level from Ruy Guerra, and I booked her everywhere–newspapers, magazine, big TV shows, the whole works. Even during my brief stint at PMK I had never gotten coverage like this. The brothers also set up fancy parties (I got to meet Anthony Quinn!). Their belief in the film was boundless.

Eventually Irene left town and I figured that was it for me, Eréndira-wise. Wrong again.

When the summer came Harvey called me and said that Claudia Ohana was coming to New York to do a commercial photo shoot. Could I get her in “Playboy”? I could and I did. I also set up photo shoots with Claudia in lots of other places. Finally, I took Claudia to the airport and finally, finally, finally, I was done with Eréndira. With all the time I had spent on the film I figured I’d been paid less than a penny an hour.

I have no idea if Miramax made money on Eréndira. That’s beside the point. The two outsiders came in reinvented the entire business as I had known it. They weren’t trying to do it better than everybody else did; they didn’t give a damn about what anybody else did. They were looking straight up. As Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) says in Back to the Future, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!” The sky was not the limit for them because they didn’t consider the notion of there being a limit. Harvey had kicked my ass, made me work harder for less money than I ever had in my life, but he made a real publicist out of me.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you a film is small.
There are no small movies, only small imaginations.
There is no limit to the amount of passion and care you can put into a movie if you love it.
Never give up. There is never enough that you can do.

You want to know some of the business people who think this way? Looks at the world with no top? Steve Jobs. Rupert Murdoch. Bill Gates. Steven Spielberg. Michael Bloomberg. Mark Zuckerberg.

And when he’s on his game… Harvey Weinstein.

Hubris like this is very rare in business executives, but it is quite common with visionary artists. People often use the same kinds of words to describe people like this: Uncompromising, arrogant, difficult, controlling, demanding, and sometimes… cruel. Something extra is inside these people and something is missing, too. They’re probably born that way, lucky or cursed, and no doubt spurred by something chemical.

Like everybody else, I was fascinated to read the reports of Harvey’s bad behavior. I didn’t know that guy. The guy I knew was a charmer. When I ran into him (on the extremely rare occasions when he remembered who I was) he was always gracious. I only encountered the cruel Harvey secondhand, through the way some of the people who worked for him treated me. That wasn’t fun.

I was pretty good at my job before I worked with the Weinstein Brothers– passionate, hard-working, and mad about movies—but afterwards my outlook changed. It opened up. Shortly after Eréndira, I publicized Stranger Than Paradise and Desperately Seeking Susan, the biggest successes I’d had after thirteen years in the business.

In subsequent years I worked for many people who loathed the Weinstein brothers. I imagine it will make them furious if they happen to read these words of praise. But it’s a fact that when those companies hired me, they got a publicist who was schooled and inspired by Harvey and Bob Weinstein.

If they liked the results, then they owe the Weinstein brothers, whether they want to accept it or not.

Reid Rosefelt is a veteran film publicist based in New York City. He has promoted hundreds of films, for such diverse moviemakers as Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodóvar, Errol Morris, Ang Lee and Werner Herzog. His personal clients have included The Sundance Institute, IFC and HBO Films, as well as Harvey Keitel, Ally Sheedy and the late Adrienne Shelly. His production publicity credits include Desperately Seeking Susan, The Godfather: Part III and, most recently, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. His blog can be found at http://my-life-as-a-blog.com/.

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