THERE’S ALWAYS A LOT TO SAY about Harvey Weinstein, one of the most successful yet psycho movie producers of modern times. But the true measure of any man is not how he performs when he’s on top, but how he handles himself when he’s on the way down. Harvey was once The Big Macher. Now he’s The Big Loser. And this column will go behind the scenes into Weinstein’s desperate and even disgusting attempt to roll over The Reader’s director, Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot), even though the helmer had final-cut approval and other contractually guaranteed rights. I should say from the outset that Weinstein’s attorney for weeks now has promised me a statement, or details of his denials, but none has been forthcoming.

At issue is whether the Weinstein Co.’s low-budget, high-profile movie The Reader could be properly completed by Daldry in time for distribution this fall, or even for awards consideration this year. Daldry had sole discretion in determining when the picture could be released. The film already had been delayed by eight weeks because of Nicole Kidman’s pregnancy. Then the pic had to wait for an actor to reach the age of consent in order to engage in onscreen sex scenes. The shoot that was supposed to end in February didn’t finish until July. And the $22 million cost climbed to $30 million.

Despite all that, Weinstein was still pushing Daldry to lock in the film as soon as September, or October 7 at the latest, in order to meet the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s November 7 deadline for awards consideration. But Daldry was simultaneously in post-production for The Reader and preparing the Broadway production of Billy Elliot under a Working Title contract that gave the play the director’s exclusive services from June 30 through November 13. (The Weinstein Co. has a piece of that musical.)

That made for an impossible situation for Daldry, whose August 29 e-mail to the Weinstein Co. explained that plaintively. Excerpts are below:

“I am unable to deliver the film for release this year. …

“I simply cannot — and will not — do that work in the very short time that remains. You are asking me to cram months of work into perhaps 24 hours of editing time. It can’t happen. It won’t happen. I will not be able to work with the composer. I will not be present at the recording of the score. I will not be able to mix the film. This work is my job. …

“I cannot be party to a process that strips me of my ability to make my work good. That is not something you can require of me. I am desperately committed to finishing this movie well so that it is worth the pain that this process has been for all of us. Believe me, nothing would make me happier than to fulfill the obligation I made to you — and done with the anguish that this release date has put us squarely in the middle of. But I cannot work this way. I need time with the movie — concentrated time, I need momentum and a clear head. I have neither. … I have to call a halt to this process, this arguing over a date, and simply say that there is a line I will not cross, and this is it.”

Producer Scott Rudin took the director’s side against Weinstein to ensure Daldry could obtain a workable schedule. Rudin, by most accounts, withstood a tirade of abuse from Weinstein and gave it right back. The two men are evenly matched in bad temperament and reputation, that’s for sure. One battle broke out at an August 26 preview of Daldry’s first pass at The Reader, which Weinstein arranged but which Scott alleged was rigged to get artificially high scores. When Rudin told Weinstein he had hired litigator Marty Singer to protect his own rights and at the same time stop The Reader from being released before Daldry thought it ready, Weinstein screamed, “You’re fired! Get the fuck out of the screening.” Weinstein later retracted the statement.

Weinstein even stooped so low as to publicly invoke the names of the film’s deceased producers, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, by claiming to reporters that his releasing the pic in 2008 was what they would have wanted. But Rudin, as the duo’s personal pal and surviving producer on the film, told Hollywood this is Weinstein’s “blatant attempt to ride the coattails of the deaths of two beloved guys.”

In an e-mail, Rudin added: “HW went to Minghella’s widow and tried to insert himself into Mirage’s editorial rights so as to insist the film be released this year — which Sydney stopped just before he died. Harassed Sydney on his deathbed until the family asked him to stop because he wanted Sydney to warrant that we would deliver for release this year.”

Rudin also alleges Weinstein “once said to me, ‘If I can’t get a movie nominated that has Sydney’s and Anthony’s name on it this year, I should leave the business.’”

Of course, the ever-compliant Hollywood trades were suckered by Weinstein’s spin that Rudin was fighting The Reader’s fall release because Rudin already has two Oscar contenders this year, Doubt, and Revolutionary Road, which also stars The Reader’s leading lady, Kate Winslet (Kidman’s replacement), and didn’t want his actors or his pictures competing against themselves. The trades also tried to minimize any machinations by Weinstein by postulating that this was merely “two alpha males who have faced off many times before.”

Insiders insist to me that Weinstein’s desperation to release The Reader this year is because of the Weinstein Co.’s money woes. One of my sources heard Weinstein say that the producer can’t afford to hold The Reader and, if he can’t get it out this Christmas, then he will dump it in February. Yet puzzled insiders tell me three other film companies want to buy the pic and release it properly in 2009.

Insiders have told me that Rudin, Daldry and Winslet, in discussions with the Weinstein Co., have all threatened not to support the film. That would have been a TKO for Weinstein’s Academy Award dreams. Also, the Weinstein Co. was threatened with multiple lawsuits from lawyers repping Rudin, Daldry, and Working Title, which was ready to file a U.K. lawsuit alleging the Weinstein Co. was inducing Daldry to breach his Billy Elliot contract. Weinstein’s attorney, in turn, was also threatening to sue most of them.

Then, suddenly, on Sunday, September 28, the Weinstein Co. announced an agreement by all the parties — Weinstein, Rudin and Daldry — to move The Reader’s release date all the way to December 12. I’m told the new deal gives Daldry five more weeks for post-production on the film. Thus seemed to end what was shaping up as both an Oscar-campaign embarrassment and a legal siege.

But Weinstein couldn’t leave well enough alone.

On the night of Monday, September 29, a reporter with the New York Post’s Page Six called me saying Weinstein pledges to give $1 million to charity if I can produce the Scott Rudin e-mail containing allegations of Weinstein’s callous treatment of Minghella’s and Pollack’s families. In the Page Six article, Rudin denied he wrote the e-mail.

But later that same night, Rudin confirmed to me that it was his e-mail and claimed that Weinstein’s people pestered him “to protect Harvey and deny the e-mail and lie to Page Six” — so Rudin said he lied “in order to keep peace for the next weeks that the two of us still have to work together on The Reader.”

Needless to say, I produced the e-mail and posted it online. Now, Harvey, pay up.

LA Weekly