This story originally appeared in RS 757, April 3rd, 1997.
It is two days before the announcement of this year’s Oscar nominations, and Bob and Harvey Weinstein, founders of Miramax, the most successful independent film company ever, are sitting at their usual booth at the Tribeca Grill. The Robert De Niro-owned restaurant is housed in the same converted warehouse in lower Manhattan where Miramax has its cramped offices. Harvey, 44, is dressed in his signature black turtleneck and suspenders, and has the outsize body and booming voice-of-God baritone of Orson Welles. Harvey, the more media-friendly of the two brothers, is a quote-churning machine, offsetting his often pugnacious proclamations with a barrel-chested laugh. Brother Bob, 42, is a sharp-eyed presence whose edge comes less gift-wrapped than Harvey’s; Bob delivers his comments in a tone that is an improbable blend of tough-guy gangsterese and Woody Allen-like needling plaint. “Bob and I grew up as underdogs,” Harvey declaims as he dispatches a jumbo fried ham and cheese sandwich, “and if there’s a theme to the movies we make, it’s about the outsider who can come in and change things.”
Change things they have, spearheading an independent film revolution that has transformed the meaning of the word mainstream. Raised in Flushing, a neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., by their housewife mom, Miriam, and their diamond-cutter father, Max (after both of whom they named their company), Harvey and Bob seemed unlikely prospects to become Hollywood players. College dropouts, they got their start in the entertainment business when Harvey was 19 and Bob was 17. They began promoting rock concerts at a dilapidated theater in Buffalo, N.Y. “On the days when we didn’t have concerts, we’d run movies,” Bob recalls. “Anything from the Marx Brothers to 2001, and a rock & roll movie at the end of the night. Three movies for $3.50.” By 1979, they’d made their first trip to the Cannes Film Festival, in search of a movie to buy and distribute. They landed The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, the first of some 300 movies that the brothers have shilled with their uncanny knack for marketing and unflagging determination to claw their way to the top of the Hollywood heap.
Hardly overnight sensations, the Weinsteins labored for 10 more years before they enjoyed the trio of critical and commercial successes that put them on the map. In 1989, they released Cinema Paradiso; sex, lies and videotape; and My Left Foot — a hat trick of bold, low-budget, artistic films that garnered a slew of prizes and did, as they say in the trade, big numbers. The brothers followed up with the Oscar-nominated megahits The Crying Game (1992) and The Piano (1993). “Once is an accident,” then-Disney boss Jeffrey Katzenberg said about the Weinsteins’ multiple successes. “Twice is coincidence. But three times — you have to recognize that they’re the best there is in their arena.” In 1993, Miramax was bought by Disney for a reported $60 million to $80 million; the following year, Miramax released Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which would break all records for an independent movie by grossing more than $100 million. This year, the Weinsteins dominate the Oscars with 20 nominations for films ranging from the David Lean-style epic The English Patient, touted to win the brothers their first Best Picture Oscar, to such quirky art-house fare as Sling Blade, Trainspotting and the foreign-language film Kolya. The one-time underdogs are now the undisputed leaders in the suddenly red-hot field of independent movies.
The Weinsteins didn’t do it by being shrinking violets. The industry abounds with tales of the Weinsteins’ hardball business tactics, tyrannical treatment of employees, intimidation techniques, and temper tantrums — the last of which was demonstrated by Harvey at 1996’s Sundance Film Festival when he was outmaneuvered for distribution rights to the hit movie Shine by the upstart independent Fine Line. He chewed out the film’s sales agent in public at full volume, in the Mercado restaurant. Deplored by some as bulls in the china shop of fine film (director James Ivory has called them “bullies in the schoolyard”), derided by others for their habit of re-editing the movies they acquire (Harvey has been dubbed “Harvey Scissorhands”), the Weinsteins are just as often lauded as the industry’s most committed champions of true cinema. Even their detractors admit that the brothers’ love for, and taste in, quality films is unmatched. “You are dealing with two passionate, highly intelligent, brutal, creative, incredibly colorful characters,” says Tony Safford, a former Miramax executive who left the company after four years when he was lured away by Fox. “They are a throwback to another era of studio executives, and they bring tremendous force of personality and force of will to what they do. There is nobody else like them in the business.”
It seems natural to begin by asking how a couple of brothers from Flushing developed a taste for art-house movies.
Harvey: The famous story, which is true, is that I took Bob and a bunch of our friends to the Mayfair movie theater, in Queens, to see The 400 Blows. We were teenagers with raging hormones, about 13 or 14 years old, and I thought it was a movie about sex. Instead it turned out to be this knockout François Truffaut movie that spoke to us in a completely different way about what we were going through as kids. Even though you had to read the subtitles, it was wonderful. So we ended up haunting the Mayfair, which was the one art-house theater in Queens in the late 1960s. We saw Philippe De Broca’s Cartouche and King of Hearts; I Am Curious (Yellow); Fellini’s La Dolce Vita; revivals of old foreign-language movies; Truffaut’s Small Change. Our experience almost echoes itself in Cinema Paradiso. We found our own Paradiso at the Mayfair.
I wonder: Did your friends keep going to the Mayfair?
That suggests that there was something different about you guys. How come you were open to foreign films?
Harvey: That was Max, our dad. He loved — and was very open to — reading, movies, art and entertainment of all kinds. He opened our minds to a lot of things. When he heard about our little adventure at the Mayfair, Max became a co-conspirator. He would see these movies with us, and we talked about these films. Our father was a great inspiration, and our mom is the quintessential Jewish mother — squared. We can save a lot of money on advertising because we can sometimes tell mom that we have a movie opening and her yenta network is so strong.
Did you set out to be directors, or was Miramax a grand plan from the beginning?
Harvey: We never had an overriding passion to direct or write. We were kids from a lower-middle-class background who wanted to be around the movie business. It seemed exciting.
Bob: We could say, “Yes, we had a plan to be in the movie business.” But the exciting thing for me, and, I think, for Harvey, is adapting to the changes. This business changes so fast, you have to read Variety every day just to find out if pay-per-view or cable still exist. You never know what you’ll get. So if anybody says they have a five-year plan, I have to laugh. Some people say we’re chaotic, we go this way and that way. We say, “But the guys who kept their plans are all out of business.” So I’d rather change. To me, that’s the excitement of any creative process. I don’t know, Harv, maybe you have a plan for five years from now. I’m planning, like, today.
Harvey: Our unorthodox style has always had its kibitzers — because we don’t do it by their rules. We didn’t start by working for movie companies when we were younger; we weren’t brought up to say, “This is how you do it.” It’s almost like we set our own pace, set our own rules and actually don’t care how anybody else did it.
Plan or no plan, a lot of people credit you two with revolutionizing the state of independent movies in America.
Bob: I’m not taking full credit for this, but we’ve helped to create that business — where these artistic films now go out into over 1,000 theaters. When we started out, in the early ’80s, it used to be the art ghetto, literally. I’d look at Harvey and say, “There are 30 theaters in the whole country that our movies can play in; 30 cities with one theater per city.” We tried to push that out, to make it a business for the films we love. Our attitude has always been that there will be an audience out there — to have faith in that and market those movies that way.
Harvey: At some of the other companies, there was always an inherent snobbism. The two boys who went to see The 400 Blows at the Mayfair, in Flushing, Queens, and went on to see the Philippe De Brocas and Fellinis, say, “Why can’t all these movies come to the Mayfair movie theater in Iowa, the Mayfair in San Luis Obispo, or Santa Barbara or Kansas?” There was never any snobbery on our part. We’re blue-collar guys with white-collar taste who believe that art is for everyone. But there’s the high and mighty intelligentsia, [who say], “How dare you take great works of art and get them successful on mass appeal?” It’s almost like you’re threatening someone’s territory.
How did you bring mass appeal to small, foreign and artistic movies? What was your actual strategy for doing that?
Harvey: The defining moment of our company came, in 1989, with Cinema Paradiso. We started to get some success with it in the art houses, and Bob’s idea was to say that we should take this out of the art-house ghetto.
Bob: I remember going to the Cineplex movie-theater chain and saying, “I have this movie, Cinema Paradiso. It won’t break any records in your suburban theaters, but it’ll do steady business.” They never played foreign-language movies out in their multiplexes. I said, “You’ve got to make me a promise that you’ll hold this picture in, no matter how low the gross. Stay with it.”
Harvey: We also had The Grifters that year, and everybody wanted it. So Bob told them, “If you want The Grifters, you gotta play Cinema Paradiso in your suburban houses.”
Bob: Right. So we made a deal with them. And they saw. Most indie movies were grossing $10,000 in their first week. Paradiso did $4,000 the first week, $3,800 the second, $4,100 the third. Meanwhile, the movie that did $10,000 was gone in three weeks. But 20 weeks later, Paradiso was still, you know, $3,600. It stayed steady. Soon, the theater guys start asking, “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! — do you have that?” And you’re going, “Wait a second — the multiplexes are now calling me up for a Pedro Almodóvar movie?” [Laughs] One thing about these guys: They may not love art, but they know how to read the grosses at the end of the day.
Harvey: Cinema Paradiso ended up grossing $12.5 million. That movie really revolutionized everybody’s thinking.
Clearly, your marketing smarts also helped. You’re famous for your savvy at promotion, and I don’t just mean your flair for writing ad copy. I’m thinking of your unerring knack for using controversy to generate free publicity for your movies: the NC-17 ratings controversy over Kids, the Catholic church’s protest of “Priest.” You always get full mileage out of these things. It’s to the point where one of your own directors, Billy Bob Thornton [Sling Blade], recently referred to you, Harvey, as P.T. Barnum.
Harvey: The reason we’re P.T. Barnum is because you — the press — made us that way! I try to get reporters to write about Chen Kaige, the director of Farewell, My Concubine, but they say that readers aren’t interested. Two days later, when the movie gets banned in China and Miramax mounts a protest, and we throw in enough sexy names — like Marty Scorsese and Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone, who signed the protest — they do seven articles. So we know what the press will do, and unfortunately, you make us into the caricature we don’t want to be. We’d rather have you write about the intellectual side of what we’re doing and give it the promotional punch, but you won’t go there. So instead, we give you The Crying Game campaign: “Don’t tell the secret.” We’ll blow you away with a ratings controversy. You do 50 articles. You fall into our hands. If journalists would appreciate the quality and integrity of these movies — art for art’s sake — we won’t give you the sideshow.
Bob: We should be thanking them.
Harvey: In a sense, yes. But let’s get rid of all the stereotypes: We’re P.T. Barnum, we’re this, we’re that. We’re not any of that. We are two intelligent men who love movies and who recognize that the media won’t give us a break on a movie unless we put on a sideshow for them. And fuck, man, enough already. We don’t wanna stage the sideshows; we don’t wanna be P.T. Barnum. The industry needs to grow to another level, both on the editorial and the movie side. Let’s get there — without the hype.
So you openly admit that the ratings scandals are so much hype?
Harvey: They won’t write about us otherwise. We’ve told Jack Valenti [head of the Motion Picture Association of America, which hands down movie ratings] that we owe him a third, because he’s been responsible for our career.
You guys also generated a lot of ink in 1993 when you sold Miramax to Disney. A lot of pundits predicted a quick divorce, especially since soon after that you released a slate of movies that was hardly Disney material, among them Kids and Priest. Were you testing Disney to see if it had the stomach for you?
Harvey: Bob and I will do a G-rated Into the West or an R-rated Priest. And it’s important for people to understand that we go where our passion takes us as filmmakers. It’s not any conscious decision to go to controversy. We do not say, “Oh, let’s go and be anti-something.”
Well, it certainly seems like in the last two years you’ve silenced the doubters of your Disney marriage. You recently renewed your vows by signing a long-term contract.
Bob: It’s a perfect marriage for us. Before Disney, I remember trying to finance movies. I’d say to the bank, “There’s this movie called The Piano, and we’d like several million dollars.” They’d say, “Sorry, can’t help you.” Now our bankers are in the movie business; they understand you’re going to win and you’re going to lose. We’re highly profitable for Disney, but Disney is a $17 billion company. They are not going to rise and fall by a Miramax miss or hit. Therefore it allows us to play our game.
Harvey: The new thing we hear from journalists is the “Disneyfication of Miramax.” As if the success of the company has made our taste more conservative.
I wanted to ask you about that. Some critics say you were “gutsier” before Disney.
Harvey: Right — in a year that we had Trainspotting, Chungking Express, and we re-released Belle de Jour and Purple Noon. Our movies this year, from Sonatine, the Japanese movie that we’re releasing, to making a movie called A Price Below Rubies, about a woman who’s a Hasidic Jew who breaks out of the community —
Bob: There’s a high-concept movie for you!
Harvey: We’re doing a movie called The Mighty, about a kid with a debilitating disease who’s friends with a 6-foot-tall mute 14-year-old. Now, yes, we got Sharon Stone to play the mom because she lends her celebrity — and her acting skills — and, yes, it promotes the movie. But look at the goddamn theme of these movies! I think these critics better look at the content of the movies.
Independent movies are hot at the moment. It reminds me a bit of the alterna-rock gold rush of the early ’90s: Suddenly the underground is the mainstream. The New York Times just called young directors the new rock stars. Is there a danger here?
Harvey: Well, I think the idea of treating directors like rock stars is nonsensical. Most of the rock stars I know personally don’t get treated like rock stars: Mick Jagger, Elton John, Phil Collins. They’re musicians first and foremost. They’re artists. Good filmmakers are the same way. They love the process of making movies. The ones who just have business on their brains are never going to last.
Bob: You ask if it’s dangerous that independent movies are so hot now. It’s a valid question. Nowadays, people say, “That movie failed — it grossed $4 million.” That used to be a success. It’s only in relation to The Piano and The Crying Game that they’re failures. Me and my brother have to keep our feet on the ground and say, “Wait. That movie got made. We’re happy it got seen by anybody.” If you start to say that every movie has to go out and do huge numbers for everybody, then I think it’s all going to get perverted. I don’t want to look to Harvey and say, “You know, we can’t buy Il Postino because we have to make $22 million at the box office this month.” Then we’ll have lost ourselves. Miramax will not be Miramax; it will be some other entity.
You’ll become a Hollywood studio.
Bob: We won’t. But I’m saying, “What defines success?” Everybody loses perspective — the press included — and the whole point is lost.
OK, what is the point of independent movies now?
Harvey: The whole point of independent movies is to be independent in spirit and content. To be judged by the same criteria that you judge commercial movies is absolute madness.
But there’s a paradox here. Your very success has …
Hasn’t your success raised the bar? You could almost say you guys have been too successful.
Bob: But the paradox gets solved by us just saying, “We know we don’t have to reach that bar over and over again.”
But isn’t survival in the movie business all about topping your last outing?
Bob: If every day I said I have to go out and beat Pulp Fiction‘s $108 million gross with the next independent film we do — with Price Below Rubies, the Hasidic Jewish story — if I had to feel that, then you lose yourself. But yes, it has been a challenge.
Harvey: We read articles that say, “Miramax is a great company; they only need another Pulp Fiction.” And we’re saying to ourselves, “Jesus, the whole company has been built to be successful by hitting singles, not home runs or grand slams like Pulp Fiction.” Why do we need the pressure of that? It goes against the whole grain of what we do, which is to make movies economically and have them return a profit. But I don’t think Bob and I have ever been in this for the money. And that’s an important distinction. We’re not lavish lifestylers. There’s no boats, yachts, Ferraris — all that good stuff.
Bob: The only reason for the profit is to continue the game. We put the money back into more films, to keep it going.
In 1993, you moved from solely acquiring movies to producing your own movies. Word is that you haven’t proved yourselves as adept as producers of movies as you are at acquiring finished films.
Harvey: Pulp Fiction was a Miramax production. This year we had From Dusk Till Dawn; Emma; Trainspotting, which we bought in script stage and invested in; Flirting With Disaster; Beautiful Girls. OK, The Pallbearer wasn’t successful, but Bob and I still like the movie. Citizen Ruth: Not successful, but we still like the movie. Marvin’s Room: I mean — what the hell! Who wouldn’t like to have a production slate that not only includes movies that are going to be huge grossers like Scream, for Bob, and From Dusk Till Dawn, which is huge in video worldwide, with sequels on top of it, and The English Patient and Flirting With Disaster, which has become a comedy classic —
Bob: And grossed $16 million. What did it cost to make?
Harvey: Six million [dollars].
Bob: OK, the movie makes $10 million — we’re happy. I’m sorry if Variety isn’t happy. We would love to have grossed more, but we’re not going to live and die by that.
Harvey: Movie reporters should start to talk about movies intelligently and forget all this nonsensical punditry. All of them were wrong about Scream. They all said Bob was crazy to go this Christmas with Scream. They all said, “One sure-fire movie that won’t work is Scream.” Meanwhile, it’s on its way to an $80 million gross.
Bob: I gotta say, the success is that much more special when they all say you’ll fail. Michael Douglas says, “Ninety percent of movies get made out of revenge — because somebody’s turned you down, and you just gotta prove it.” I’ll never forget: Variety said dead on arrival for Scream. And now it’s better that they said it! I feel that much happier than if they’d said, “We think Scream is going to do great.”
And you were in on Scream from the script stage?
Bob: I literally read the script in the morning and I bought it an hour later. I asked the agent, “How much?” The agent told me the price, and I said, “Yes!” He says, “Let me call the writer; I’ll get back to you.” I said, “No. I told you: yes.” They never expect you to say yes. He said, “Maybe I undersold this.” I said, “There’s no going back. I just said yes.” You see, that’s them not knowing what they’ve got. I knew what it was.
Harvey: That’s the other thing about our tenacious side. We get criticized for playing hardball. Do people not understand that there are people on the other end of the phone with different points of view?
You both have certainly come in for your share of criticism. Journalists have been predicting your fall from grace for years and also cataloging your various shortcomings as tough bosses, and so on.
Harvey: Early on, Bob and I made a rule that we wouldn’t talk about other companies, that there was room for everybody in this business, that we are not successful because other people fail. Yet journalists have always talked to our competition about us. So our competition always uses the Miramax story as a way to punch us, as a way to call me Harvey Scissorhands or call us tough bosses — I mean, all these things: as if they’re not doing the same things. Therefore we read a lot of articles where we’re defined by them. Also, the so-called pundits — the people who are paid to predict — can’t deal with the fact that everything we do is unpredictable. And that’s got to be baffling for them.
Let’s talk about some of the specific criticisms. You mentioned Harvey Scissorhands.
Harvey: We worked on a lot of foreign-language movies. When an Italian director like Gabriele Salvatores makes Mediterraneo, there’s about 15 minutes in that movie that are inside jokes about Italy. Salvatores couldn’t have been more cooperative. We edited it, and it went on to be successful and won the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. We have never, ever cut a movie behind a director’s back. We have always insisted that the director believe in the cuts. If they don’t, we don’t do it. Like Water for Chocolate and Il Postino were both cut by their directors with suggestions from Miramax. They have gone on to gain Academy Award attention, wonderful critics’ reviews and spectacular business. Irving Thalberg — who is somebody Bob and I certainly aspire to in a career — had the ability to make those suggestions. We did. And we still have the ability to do it. The best movies that ever came to Miramax we didn’t touch: Pulp Fiction; sex, lies and videotape; Cinema Paradiso; The English Patient; Trainspotting. It’s the ones that needed a little help to get to greatness. Harvey Scissorhands was a comment by our competition to say, “Hey, filmmakers, don’t go there, it’s a scary place; they’ll hurt your movie.”
A recent Los Angeles Times article accuses you of using Disney’s limitless funds to corner the market in small films. They say you’re buying up everything in sight and that it’s not a level playing field.
Harvey: Those competitors who say, “Miramax gobbles up the marketplace,” all had the opportunity to buy Cinema Paradiso, Like Water for Chocolate and The Postman. We acquired those movies so inexpensively that any one of them could have had [the films]. They didn’t have the vision. It’s easier to blame Miramax than to blame themselves for their mistakes. They had the money. Gramercy is owned by PolyGram, a multibillion dollar corporation with huge, vast, deep pockets. Time Warner owns Fine Line. Fox Searchlight is owned by Rupert Murdoch — last time I checked, he didn’t need any benefits. October Films’ big partner is Herbert Allen, a private billionaire whose company is worth millions. So they have plenty of money, too. It’s easier to say, “It’s not a level playing field.” But that’s not the reason. My taste is different; Bob’s taste is different than theirs. This year in Cannes, there was a movie called Shall We Dance that we were in negotiations for. The deal still wasn’t finalized. Every distributor was there, but not one of them walked up to the sales agent to buy it. Let them all save this article and watch this movie become one of the highest-grossing foreign-language movies of all time.
Bob: Now there’s a bravado statement. Don’t you just love when he talks like that?
Harvey: Kolya [which was nominated for an Academy Award] — we bought it for $250,000. Every distributor was in the screening room. Why didn’t somebody go to $275,000? It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’re richer, they’re bigger, they’re this, they’re that,” because it’s harder to contend with that fact that we have a different take. Somebody’s got to say to Bingham Ray [of October Films], “C’mon, Bingham, how come you didn’t buy Kolya? How come The Funeral, a movie you produced, only grossed a million dollars?” I can level those charges all day long. I’m doing it once in Rolling Stone, and I’m never doing it again. I’ve never tweaked these guys back. But if you don’t hit them back, they feel they have free rein to say whatever they want about you. So hopefully this article, where we did comment a little bit, will make them say, “Oops, we better not say anything; they’re going to comment back.”
How about criticism from someone who’s not a competitor but rather someone whom you worked with? Jim Jarmusch, at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner in January, suggested that his movie Dead Man received inadequate support from you.
Harvey: I paid a lot of money for the movie. It’s a damn fine movie. It opened extremely well. But, unfortunately, audiences didn’t go. Sometimes that happens. We don’t let down on any movie. But not all movies are popular. Jim made his movie his way. If he’d wanted to make it commercial, there were a million ways to make it more commercial. He got a lot of money from us for the film. We have tremendous respect for him. I like him a lot, and I understand his disappointment. But Steve Soderbergh never complained about sex, lies and videotape; Billy Bob Thornton is not complaining about Sling Blade; Quentin’s not complaining about Pulp Fiction.
A lot of people interpreted Jarmusch’s remarks as a comment on how big you’ve grown. Miramax released more than 40 movies last year. Can you give each movie the attention it deserves? Might some filmmakers feel more comfortable going with a smaller outfit like, for instance, Fine Line, which released only seven movies last year?
Bob: I have to be honest. Taken to its logical conclusion, there comes a point at which too many movies will dissipate [your energies]. So if that’s a criticism, I can understand it. I can say it’s made us work harder to give each movie its attention. In our own plan, there’s only so many movies you can distribute. So we are actively looking to limit that. We’re looking to come down to something that’s more manageable to us.
But it’s interesting that here you mention Fine Line. They’ve been in operation about four or five years now. They’re supposedly in competition with Miramax, which, to be honest, we’re scoffing at. I don’t know how they put themselves in the same sentence as Miramax. Of their Top 10 movies, The Player grossed about $21 million; they had My Own Private Idaho — that grossed about $7 million; and the other eight movies down the list of their Top 10 over five years were $4, $3, $2, $2 [million]. They’ve distributed 70 movies in the last five years. And they’ve had one $21 million movie and one $7 million movie. I’m not talking about quality — they’ve had a lot of fine films. But I feel at least we have a track record of longevity. Today, if any independent has one hit or gets an Oscar nomination, they’ve become Miramax! I feel like saying, “Do it for 10 years straight, give us your track record, then come boast.” I’m a sports fan. Charles Barkley’s been doing it for 15 years. But now the rookie comes out of college and signs a $60 million contract. He hasn’t scored a point and they anoint him.
Let’s move on to sunnier topics. Bob, you’ve created a label within Miramax called Dimension.
Bob: The idea is that Dimension, like Miramax, will have its own brand name in terms of cool, hip genre movies — horror and sci-fi — like Scream or From Dusk Till Dawn. The directors and writers we have under contract at Miramax are also working for the genre label. So Quentin does a movie for Miramax, then a movie for Dimension. Same with Robert Rodriguez, who did From Dusk Till Dawn for Dimension; now he’s going to do a Miramax. Steve Soderbergh is writing Charlie Chan for Dimension. Wes Craven did Scream; next he’s doing a Miramax movie. What Dimension does is give us a double threat. If it does great, we’ve now financed our true love, foreign films.
Do you have a hand in Dimension, Harvey?
Harvey: Dimension is solely a creation of Bob’s. And to be honest, I’m not the greatest fan of genre movies. But it’s exciting to watch a genre be reinvented by Dimension. I watched Scream; I turned to Bob and said, “This is one of the greatest movies to ever come out of this company.” I couldn’t believe how clever and witty it is. But as Bob reinvents the genre movie with Dimension, what I’m looking to do is bring back the old ’70s movies like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. That’s the idea behind the movie CopLand that we’re doing with [Sylvester] Stallone and De Niro and [Harvey] Keitel. CopLand is truly a ’70s drama like the old-fashioned really smart movie that has action in it and is entertaining yet deals with issues — racism and corruption in the police department — and not the bullshit guy with a badge against an army.
I have to ask, what’s up with Quentin Tarantino? There’s a groundswell of rumbling about how long it’s taking him to follow up on Pulp Fiction.
Harvey: I think celebrity came so fast, he needed a breather. So he took a year off. He’ll be directing a movie this summer; I’m sure of it: Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch.
I understand you have plans to do a movie version of Bob Fosse’s Chicago with Madonna, Goldie Hawn and Rosie O’Donnell.
Harvey: Madonna and I have talked about this for two years. I did Truth or Dare with her. I was, of course, extremely disappointed for her that she didn’t get nominated for Evita, because I thought she was brilliant in it. Goldie and I became friends on Everyone Says I Love You, and they like each other, so the idea was to put them together. Rosie has always said she’d like to play the warden. I’ve owned the property for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to do a musical with a lot of dance.
Bob: I’ll tell you one thing you might have missed in this interview. This is a partnership. But beyond partners, it’s brothers. If I’m having an off day, and I happen to love a script that’s not good, he’ll say, ‘Bob, I’m telling you, it’s not good. I see a cliff, and you’re heading the wrong way.’ We check each other out. Checks and balances. We both have an aggressive attitude, but we’re able to check each other off.
Is there a lot of loyalty between you two?
Bob: Yes. Tremendously. Our father infused us with a sense of brotherhood. The lessons you learn don’t go away. It’s the classic case of the brothers. Harvey can tell me I’m crazy; I can tell him he’s crazy. But if other people try to get one of us to take sides against the other, that person made a big error.
One last question: Where is the Miramax juggernaut headed?
Harvey: It’s still about the process. We have a good time making movies, taking new challenges — like Miramax Books. We’ve published screenplays that were only supposed to sell 25,000 copies at the most. Quentin’s Pulp Fiction did over 100,000, and Piano did over 75,000. So there might be challenges in publishing ahead.
Bob: [Dryly] Going where no movie company has gone before.
Harvey: [Belly-laughs] A true genre statement, Captain Bob. That’s a great ending.