February 23, 2015
Harvey Weinstein Visits SCA
Head of Weinstein Company Discusses his Career with Students
There are certain people who, undoubtedly, changed the trajectory of filmmaking, not only in the United States but also around the globe. Although writers, directors and actors are often the focus of media and critical attention, executives such as Warner, Eisner, Katzenberg and Tartikoff also fall into this category. In the 90s, independent film rose to the forefront of the media culture and Harvey Weinstein was the architect behind the scenes. With films such as The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, Silver Linings Playbook, Pulp Fiction, Clerks and The Artist, Weinstein has cemented his reputation as a singular talent, driving indie filmmaking. On Thursday, February 19th, Weinstein visited the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) for a Q&A with SCA Director of Programming Alex Ago, and SCA students.
Alex Ago and Harvey Weinstein
Ago opened by asking Weinstein about his early career which involved greenlighting The Crying Game and Clerks when most of the major studios had passed. “Those acquisitions were simple,” said Weinstein. “They appealed to my brother and myself. We were passionate about changing the paradigm of movies. We liked the movies that we liked. We weren't worried about what was popular.”
Weinstein and his brother Bob founded Miramax, the leading independent film distributor of the 90s.The Weinsteins left Miramax when the company was purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 2005, due to creative differences with the studio. They then founded and are co-chairmen of The Weinstein Company, which has success with films like August: Osage County and The King's Speech and recently moved into TV with the Netflix series Marco Polo.
Weinstein told the students he attributes his success to his respect of filmmakers: "I think that the director is like a book author,” he said. “I think the audience takes a chance on a film based on who made it. We used to. People used to feel that they were taking a chance on an author. I felt that way about Francois Truffaut in college. He could have done anything and I would have gone to see it. So many of those directors were really authors and I was excited about their work and I felt excited about their career. That's the way I feel now. I'm interested in people's work. I'm interested in their perspective."
Weinstein also spoke about marketing The Crying Game; the process of trusting an audience more than his gut when it came to work from writer/director Kevin Smith; getting audiences to see Sling Blade in which Billy Bob Thornton made himself intentionally menacing; and working with difficult personalities— like himself.
In addition, Weinstein said he believes the industry has become more conservative in the last few decades. He noted that Midnight Cowboy (1969) received an X rating, and still won the Oscar for best picture.
“There are certain theatres that just refuse to play NC 17 movies and there are certain newspapers that just won’t carry the ads. I think people are very conservative now. You feel it in many different ways. NC 17, at this point, is worse than an unrated film.”