Even by Hollywood standards, it was horrific treatment.
At 2:30 p.m. last Tuesday, longtime Miramax president Mark Gill called his bosses, Miramax co-founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein, with some not unexpected news: Gill was leaving the company when his contract expired in three days to strike out on his own. On the phone, Harvey sounded gracious: ”You played a big part building this company.“ But 15 minutes later, Gill was thrown out of the building at 8439 Sunset Boulevard with a lawyer from business affairs providing escort. (”That was not Harvey’s doing, that was Bob‘s,“ a hurt Gill confided to pals.) And, by Friday, computer security experts were brought into the office to open up Gill’s hard drive and retrieve any deleted files. (”Now they‘re trying to get something on me,“ an outraged Gill informed friends.)
It was a dehumanizing and degrading end after eight years of loyalty, first as head of marketing in New York, then as president in Los Angeles. Gill has been the kinder, gentler face of Miramax, in sharp contrast to the rough-around-every-edge Weinsteins. No doubt they fear he’ll write a tell-all, or unload in Ken Auletta‘s New Yorker profile next month, or dish for Peter Biskind’s 2003 book about the independent film business. Or else the brothers took the defensive in case Gill goes on the offense (since Gill told pals Harvey talked him out of taking that job offer to start an independent film label at Warner Bros. by promising a bigger and better deal; two weeks later, Harvey took that off the table, then, at the last minute tried to push Gill into a lesser marketing-only position). The brothers can‘t risk a lawsuit since Gill knows where every Miramax body is buried, and then some.
Now, the nattering is how the newly handicapped Harvey will fare starting another fiscal year, and Oscar season, with his right arm gone. (For instance, it was Gill, over Harvey’s initial objections, who bought In the Bedroom and gave Miramax most of its Academy Award nominations this year.) In a prepared statement, Miramax said of Gill: ”We have the highest respect for Mark‘s skills and abilities. Considering Mark’s interest in production and acquisitions, he‘ll be well served by this exciting new opportunity to focus on these areas. We wish him the best of luck.“
Gill would not comment on his situation for this article. But, no stranger to Hollywood’s wicked ways after surviving the Sony debacle under Peter Guber and Jon Peters, Gill was still said by friends to be stung by the Weinsteins‘ treachery. Now the denizens of the industry have been debriefing him like a CIA man just back from Baghdad.
Is Gangs of New York any good? ”Leo holds his own pretty nicely. But the big question is that violence, set in that period, with that bunch of people dressed in Barnum & Bailey getups.“ And Chicago? ”Phenomenal. A great movie with good chances to be commercial, though you never would have guessed it.“
Those repeated reports of Harvey’s badmouthing rival Oscar films? ”Yes, Harvey really did badmouth Saving Private Ryan.“ And A Beautiful Mind? ”Harvey was not entirely clean, but, in this case, Harvey had relatively cleaner hands than in most years.“ Does he leak to The Drudge Report? ”He has people who call Drudge.“ Was Harvey really sick with that bacterial infection? ”Yes. And, no, he didn‘t get banned from Sundance.“ How hard is Harvey’s heavy lobbying of older Academy members? ”Never outright payments. He calls them and begs them and intimates things like the offer of roles down the line. ‘I’d love to work with you in the future. Don‘t you think The Piano is a great movie?’“
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And the story behind Harvey, Talk magazine and Tina Brown? ”I know he did it without Eisner‘s approval,“ Gill told friends. ”When Harvey went to hire Tina, he said, ’I‘ve got $35 mil to do this.’ But Harvey didn‘t really have it all. So after the announcement Eisner calls up and says, ’Where did this idea come from? I never authorized the money.‘ Then Harvey makes Tina call Eisner to beg.“
But the real news via Gill is confirmation that Miramax ended this fiscal year on September 30 in the black, but just barely so, for the first time in six very profitable years. Worse, the entire business model has changed. Yes, the Weinsteins are still buying foreign films for $500,000, but the top end of Harvey’s highbrow Miramax is more expensive than it used to be while Bob‘s lowbrow Dimension is less profitable. Harvey depends on Bob’s windfalls for the wherewithal to keep winning Oscars. (Without those, Harvey‘s ability to sweet-talk stars into accepting big roles for little salaries is compromised.)
Lately Dimension had some expensive losers. ”Nobody noticed when Harvey and Bob quietly dumped them because there were no movie stars and no Oscar potential,“ Gill told pals. ”But a lot of money went out the door.“ The already legendary fights between the brothers have escalated. ”But now Harvey has the upper hand against Bob,“ Gill told pals. They’re both battling Eisner about investment levels, Gill confided to friends. ”There are enormous issues about how much they can spend in a year all told.“
As with Disney under Eisner, Miramax‘s high employee turnover rate is due to the Weinsteins’ micromanaging and mercurial personalities. But the twosome are ”becoming progressively nastier on a scale that people who have worked for them for 13 years have never seen,“ Gill told pals. ”There‘s an enormous amount of tension there.“ Gill described the Monday after the disastrous opening weekend of Four Feathers, a desultory costume drama Miramax shared with Paramount, during which Harvey assembled 20 employees: ”You are all fucking worthless. I do more in an hour before sunrise than you get done collectively in an entire day. I wish I could be as lazy as all of you.“ Yet one more example of the Weinsteins working overtime to improve morale.