What Harvey Weinstein's Epic Fall Means For His (Former) Company's Awards Season Contenders

In 1990, Daniel Day-Lewis told Harvey Weinstein, “There’s only one part of you that works — the ability to pick scripts and pick movies. Otherwise, you’re a complete disaster as a person.” With this week's torrent of sexual harassment and sexual assault accusations against Weinstein, “complete disaster” is certainly an understatement of Weinstein’s character. Aside from the apt character analysis, Day-Lewis forgot to add one other thing that Weinstein was good at: Getting his films, including My Left Foot, the one in which Day-Lewis had starred in 1990, Academy Award nominations.
Harvey Weinstein has dominated awards season so significantly that, in 2003, an article in the Times joked the Oscars should be rebranded “the Harveys.” Weinstein has had a film nominated for best picture almost every year since 1990, and has garnered five best picture wins: The English Patient (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1999), Chicago (2003), The King’s Speech (2011), and The Artist (2012).
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In a normal year — and possibly even days before the Times published its piece — Weinstein would be gearing up to campaign for Wind River, the Wyoming-set thriller starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who received a Best Original Screenplay nomination last year for the film Hell or High Water. Released in August, Wind River is virtually the Weinstein Company’s only contender in the Oscars race this year, ever since the company’s original Oscar hopeful, The Current War, was critically panned at the Toronto Film Festival.
The Current War, which is about a rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse (played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, respectively), is hovering around a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. On October 4, before the New York Times exposé dropped, Weinstein told Variety that he was editing the The Current War, ostensibly trimming it the same way he’d down with Tulip Fever, a movie the Los Angeles described, "a minor mess of a film that exhibits evidence of Harvey Weinstein’s notoriously enthusiastic editing.”
Both of the Weinstein Company's other upcoming films, Mary Magdalene and The Upside, were pushed back to Spring 2018 releases. That leaves us with Wind River, a small $11 million film that ended up making three times its budget.
When asked whether Weinstein’s absence would have a bearing on this year’s awards season, an anonymous source in the industry told The Wrap, ““He wasn’t going to be a player this year. Now he never will be again.” Another just said, “No.” Refinery29 has reached out to the Weinstein Company for comment.
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Even before Weinstein’s epic fall from grace, the indie studio's financial struggles had impacted its once-elaborate Oscar campaigns. In 2016, the Weinstein Company threw its dwindling awards resources behind Lion, which eventually garnered six nominations, but didn’t give its other pictures — The Founder, Sing Street, and Gold — the publicity campaigns the films’ creators had been hoping for.
On 8th October Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company. Without Weinstein, the dynamo who powered its Oscar campaigns, the company is poised for an identity crisis — and a possible shutdown.
“This is a company built almost entirely on winning Oscars . . . without that it’s just another struggling movie company,” Janice Min, the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, told the Financial Times.
In their heyday, Weinstein’s companies with his brother, Bob — Miramax, and the Weinstein Company founded in 2005— consistently accrued more nominations than the major studies. In a February 2017 Deadline op-ed defending Shakespeare in Love’s controversial win over Saving Private Ryan, Weinstein made his consistent wins sound like the result of simple, innocent cause-and-effect: “Make a good movie, one that people like and work your butt off to make sure that people see it.”
In reality, Weinstein spearheaded a series of aggressive, costly Oscar campaigns that involved a mixture of cold-calling Academy members, hosting swanky events in which Academy members could schmooze with the film's cast, and initiating widespread whisper campaigns against other movies. His strategy began with 1990’s My Left Foot. For My Left Foot’s campaign, when Weinstein asked that the film’s Irish director and producer move to L.A. so they could meet Academy members, and had Daniel Day-Lewis testify in the Senate for the Disability Act since his character, Christy Brown, suffered from cerebral palsy. Weinstein's campaign paid off: Day-Lewis won Best Actor, and his co-star Brenda Fricker won Best Supporting Actress.
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In the years after My Left Foot, Weinstein’s tactics remained notoriously aggressive. Weinstein screened movies at the Motion Picture Retirement Home, and popular vacation destinations — Hawaii in the summer, Vail in the winter, to ensure a huge swath of Academy members saw his films, and rack up votes. He's been known to go up against the MPAA's rating system, and in 2010, he fought to change Blue Valentine's rating from NC-17 to R to increase viewership and generate further buzz for the Oscar contender. He also resorted to bashing competitors’ films. In 2010, he may or may not have been behind a campaign to have soldiers come forward against the Hurt Locker, saying the film depicted war inaccurately; in 2002, he orchestrated a smear campaign against his competitor A Beautiful Mind.
Anne Thompson of New York perfectly summed up the drastic lengths Weinstein would go for his films succinctly, using 2003, the year four of the five Best Picture nominees were Miramax films, as her example.
“Is Gangs of New York too violent? Surround Martin Scorsese at a Women in Film lunch at Spago with Oscar nominees Diane Ladd, Sharon Stone, Winona Ryder, and Juliette Lewis. Is Scorsese too much of a Hollywood outsider? Bring him to L.A. and have producer Irwin Winkler (New York, New York) throw him a Golden Globes party full of local writers and directors. Is Scorsese producing a blues concert at Radio City Music Hall? Make sure his name is plastered across the marquee. Are actors protesting that they can't use their SAG membership cards to get into movies for free? Take over the Beverly Hills Music Hall, book Chicago and Gangs, and welcome all card-carrying members," Thompson wrote.
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Oh, and don’t forget money. Whereas most major studios’ Oscar campaigns will rack up to $2 million, New York magazine estimated that Miramax’ Shakespeare in Love campaign cost $5 million.
Given its financial struggles, the Weinstein Company certainly doesn’t have the funds it did back in 1999 during Shakespeare in Love’s campaign. So where does this leave Wind River? In a difficult spot, that's where. As Deadline points out, the film's subject matter — a professional hunter acting as a gun-wielding vigilante — may not appeal to audiences weary from national gun violence. The fact that in his "apology" letter, Weinstein said he was campaigning against the NRA, is terribly ironic, considering that his company's sole Oscar contender is about a man who spends his days meticulously hand-crafting a bullet collection. As Deadline puts it, Renner's Cory Lambert "might feel a certain empathy" to the NRA.
Beyond its subject matter, Wind River’s biggest competition for the Weinstein Company's attention is the Weinstein Company itself, which needs all the PR it can get to even stay afloat.
“There is no Weinstein Company without [Harvey]. So they either rebrand and define a clear path forward or they close up shop,” Chris Allieri, the founder of a PR consultancy, told The Financial Times.
As of right now, it seems Wind River's chance at an Oscar is as tenuous as the Weinstein Company's annual pre-Oscar dinner actually happening.
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