Update: In October 2017 the New York Times published an investigation alleging that Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed women over a period of over 30 years. Weinstein was fired from his company on October 8.
Technology investing, like the movie business, is a hits driven business. But only a few people in the technology startup world can lay claim to even a handful of so-called unicorn exits with more than $100 million dollars in revenues. By contrast, there is one man who has been able to generate a string of movies grossing in excess of $100 million each. The man’s name is Harvey Weinstein.
Harvey Weinstein is one of the most charismatic and controversial personalities in the movie business. At various times, he has been called god, the punisher, or simply the boss. He has often been cited for his passion, his ambition, and his marketing prowess. His push to perfection has been described as unrivalled. Ken Auletta has portrayed Weinstein’s drive to become the Irving Thalberg of the modern age, willing to do almost anything to achieve that goal.
Leaving behind their early career as concert promoters, the Weinstein brothers started in the movie business by hustling to various European film festivals to buy the distribution rights to independent European art house movies. The brothers believed that international movies were underpriced assets: They had great story lines and talented actors, but lacked the distributions into the large U.S. market. Their first foray in 1979 turned out to be a complete flop: a soft-core porn film called Goodbye, Emmanuelle. At Cannes in 1981, they bought the rights to footage from an Amnesty International benefit. A year later, they launched this re-cut movie as the Secret Policeman’s Other Ball which became a major success in the U.S. The brothers continued to edit and distribute European movies, but the Ball remained their only hit for six long years.
Their situation only improved when a British venture capital firm invested $2.5 million in 1988. The brothers used the venture capital funds to continue buying more foreign films. The brothers also moved more heavily into production and acquiring scripts. When he lost a bid to buy the movie rights to "Ghost Soldiers," the best-selling book by Hampton Sides about the Second World War rescue of American soldiers from a Bataan P.O.W. camp, Harvey Weinstein decided to make his own movie based on a similar story that he had owned since 1999.
Harvey Weinstein is most infamous for his involvement in the editing process of recutting and rescoring the original director’s cut. Weinstein believes that a bad performance or a mediocre screenplay in a movie can't be fixed, but that it is possible to do a lot with editing and music. Martin Lewis, the producer of the Amnesty International footage, said of the editing process: ‘Eventually I succumbed. Harvey and Bob were like slave-masters in the best possible way. They drove me insane, and they were absolutely right on pretty much everything.’ It comes as no surprise that Harvey Weinstein has a love-hate relationship with many directors and producers, but he is well known to support his marquee actors.
Weinstein has also been credited with a finely honed understanding of movie audiences and segments.The Weinsteins learned their initial marketing lessons during the promotion of the Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. They had almost no marketing budget, but used the controversy created by NBC’s banning of the trailer with great effect. Today, Harvey Weinstein masterfully builds up anticipation for his movies during the annual calendar of Sundance, Academy Awards, Cannes, Venice, New York, Toronto, BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Screen Actor’s Guild.
Over 150 movies later, his movies have produced in excess of $11 billion in revenues.
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