Entertainment Industry

Category: Weinstein Co.

Controversial 'Bully' gets a surprising partner: Microsoft

Bully
One of the world's biggest corporations is getting behind a little movie with a lot of controversy.

Tech giant Microsoft Corp. is using its search engine Bing to promote "Bully" with a television and social media advertising campaign. It's also sponsoring the movie's premiere Monday night in Hollywood.

"Bully" has become a flash point for controversy over the Motion Picture Assn. of America's ratings system. The documentary, about the issue of teenage bullying, received an "R" rating because of the number of explicit curse words in the film. That means children under 17 can't see the movie without an adult.

Critics have accused the MPAA of being too rigid in its language restrictions, particularly compared with the amount of violence in PG-13 films such as "The Hunger Games."

Independent studio Weinstein Co. , which is distributing "Bully," had appealed the "R" rating but lost. The company announced Monday that it will release "Bully" without an MPAA rating when it begins playing in theaters this Friday.

By aligning itself with Weinstein Co., Microsoft is putting itself into the middle of a hot national debate, a rare position for a major corporation.

Lisa Gurry, senior director of Bing, said in an interview that Microsoft "is not taking an active role in the rating itself." But a press release from Weinstein Co. promoting the companies' partnership put it in the context of the " 'Bully' movement" that has seen more than 475,000 people sign an online petition and celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber publicly criticize the MPAA's rating decision.

"We're supportive of the cause of the film and would love for as many people as possible to be able to see it," said Gurry. "Stopping bullying is important to us and to the target audience that we speak to."

To help promote "Bully," Bing is running a national advertising campaign that will begin April 2. "It interweaves the movie and how Bing can be a good resource for people looking for information on how to stop bullying," explained Gurry. Microsoft is also hosting online videos and will sponsor other screenings.

In addition, Microsoft will promote "Bully" on social media. Already, the Bing Twitter account, which has nearly 191,000 followers, has given away tickets to the premiere.

The last movie that Bing helped to promote was far less controversial: The Hugh Jackman robot boxing film "Real Steel."

RELATED:

Weinstein Co. to release 'Bully' documentary without MPAA rating

 Battle over 'Bully' rating heats up in nation's capital

A 'Bully' pulpit for Weinstein Co.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.

Weinstein Co. closes new financing deal

ArtistDancing
Weinstein Co. has closed a deal for a new $150-million film financing facility with Union Bank of California, seeking to put itself on firmer financial footing as it continues a comeback from the brink of shutting just two years ago.

The new deal allows the New York studio behind "The King's Speech" and "The Artist" to pay off loans from Goldman Sachs and Ziff Brothers Investments that it took out in 2009 and 2010 when it was struggling to stay afloat, according to a person familiar with the arrangement but not authorized to speak publicly.

Thanks in large part to cash generated by "The King's Speech," which grossed $139 million in the U.S. and Canada, brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein's company is in a much less precarious financial position and was able to secure its new financing on better terms than in the past, the person said.

The company had taken out a $75-million bridge loan from Ziff Brothers in 2009 and a $50-million loan from Goldman in 2010.

As part of the latter deal, Weinstein Co. turned over the rights to about 200 titles from its library to Goldman in order to pay off $400-million in debt. Goldman still controls those pictures, which include "Halloween" and "Vicky Christina Barcelona."

Weinstein has paid Goldman some of the money required to take back those pictures but has more payments to make.

The news comes as expectations are high for Weinstein Co. to take home multiple trophies at Sunday's Academy Awards for "The Artist," which has been a far more modest box office success than "The King's Speech." "The Artist" has made $29 million in domestic receipts so far.

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Weinstein Co. hires marketing president

Weinstein Co. raids film library to settle debts

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Berenice Bejo and George Valentin in "The Artist." Credit: Peter Iovino / Weinstein Co.

Netflix to get 'The Artist,' other films in Weinstein Co. deal

Academy Awards favorite "The Artist" and other films from the Weinstein Co. are headed to Netflix
Academy Awards favorite "The Artist" and other films from the Weinstein Co. are headed to Netflix.

The multi-year deal announced by the two companies Tuesday also includes a variety of the Weinstein Co.'s modest box-office performers, including the drama "Sarah's Key," the Madonna-directed "W.E." and the upcoming documentary "Undefeated." Those films will be exclusively available on Netflix's streaming service after finishing their theatrical run and debuting on DVD.

However, Netflix will not get Weinstein Co.'s more popular English-language movies, such as "Scream 4," "My Week with Marilyn" and "The Iron Lady." Those films are covered under an existing deal Weinstein Co. has with pay cable channel Showtime.

Netflix has been seeking exclusive deals with independent film studios in order to bolster its content library as it faces a growing array of competitors in the subscription video-on-demand space, including Amazon.com, a Verizon-Redbox joint venture and a just-announced plan from Comcast. It has already signed similar deals with Relativity Media, FilmDistrict and Open Road Films.

The deal also provides a boost to the bottom line of Weinstein Co., which is getting an undisclosed amount of revenue for movies that wouldn't have generated much money from traditional cable channels.

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"The Artist" online ticket sales boosted by nominations

Oscar nominations: Will "The Artist" see a box-office boost?

-- Ben Fritz and Joe Flint

Photo: A scene from "The Artist." Credit: Peter Iovino / Weinstein Co.

Weinstein Co. hires marketing president

StephenBruno As the independent studio gears up for a critical awards season near the end of a tough year, the Weinstein Co. has brought on a new president of marketing with a long history at the company.

Stephen Bruno, who left TWC in early 2010 for a marketing post at HBO, has rejoined the New York-based studio as president of marketing, a post that was previously unfilled.

Bruno was vice president of marketing when he left TWC, a post that he rose to after working as co-chairman Harvey Weinstein's assistant from 2003 to 2005, according to Bruno's LinkedIn profile.

He will focus on titles released under the Weinstein Co. name and not its genre movies label Dimension Films, run by co-chairman Bob Weinstein.

The appointment comes as the Weinstein Co. has had a number of box-office disappointments this year, including "I Don't Know How She Does It," "Apollo 18" and "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," following its Academy Award-winning late 2010 hit "The King's Speech."

However, it has several upcoming titles that the studio hopes will vie for Oscar gold and draw moviegoers, including silent film "The Artist," "My Week With Marilyn," about a brief romance involving Marilyn Monroe, and Margaret Thatcher biopic "The Iron Lady."

Bruno reports to Harvey Weinstein and the studio's chief operating officer, David Glasser.

-- Ben Fritz

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Weinstein Co. forms label for simultaneous multiplatform releases

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The Weinsteins are ready for their comeback

Photo: Stephen Bruno. Credit: Weinstein Co.

Weinstein Co. forms label for simultaneous multiplatform releases

Bubble
Harvey and Bob Weinstein are delving into the world of simultaneous releases of movies in theaters and on digital platforms.

The brothers' independent studio, Weinstein Co., has formed a division to acquire and produce films that will be released via video on demand and other platforms at the same time they're playing in theaters. The unit is being run by two executives from Magnolia Pictures, the mini-studio owned by Mark Cuban that pioneered the still controversial distribution model.

Such "day and date" releases are typically deemed unacceptable by the nation's large theater chains, which won't show movies if they are also available via video-on-demand. The chains fear the practice undermines theater attendance.

A spokesman for the National Assn. of Theater Owners declined to comment on Weinstein Co.'s announcement, noting the studio did not announce day-and-date plans for specific films.

David Glasser, Weinstein Co.'s chief operating officer, said starting the new division would allow his company to explore new business models without undermining the parent studio, which in the last year has released hits such as "The King's Speech" and flops like "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World."

"There are certain pictures this type of release works better for, and those are movies we might have passed on previously," he said. "But we do see this as a bigger part of the future and we will be able to study and learn with this division."

The new unit, which will begin shopping for movies at the Toronto Film Festival this week, is being run by Tom Quinn and Jason Janego, who were senior vice president and head of legal and business affairs, respectively, at Magnolia. Though no Magnolia movie ever grossed more than $7 million domestically, the company became well known for making movies available via video-on-demand while they were in theaters, most prominently with Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble" in 2006.

That movie played in only 32 independent theaters because of its simultaneous VOD release. Glasser admitted a similar fate may await some movies from Weinstein Co.'s new division. But the company predicts it will benefit more by attempting to embrace the evolving business of releasing motion pictures.

"It's foolhardy these days for anyone to say they know what model works and what doesn't for every movie," said Quinn.

-- Ben Fritz

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The Weinsteins are ready for their comeback

Not much demand yet for premium video-on-demand

Weinstein Co. taps MGM veteran Erik Lomis to head distribution

Photo: A scene from Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble." Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Weinstein Co. protests ABC rejection of movie commercial

The Weinstein Co. is blowing some smoke ... at ABC.

On Thursday, the independent film studio decried how the ABC television network has been refusing to air a commercial for its upcoming ensemble comedy "Our Idiot Brother," about a family dealing with an irresponsible stoner, played by Paul Rudd.  The Weinstein Co. said the Walt Disney Co.-owned network had refused to run the ad unless the studio cut material that the network found objectionable.

IdiotBrother The commercial in question includes drug references and a bit in which the Rudd character pretends to pee on a trampoline. In the commercial's final scene, the Rudd character twice tells his parole officer he had gotten high with a neighbor kid.

The Weinstein Co. said ABC issued the following demands:

"Please Remove the Visual of the Exchange of What is Assumed to be Drugs.  Please Remove the Visual of the Character Using the Juice Box to Depict Urination.  Please Remove the References to Getting High and Smoking."

The Weinstein Co.'s principals, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, famously divorced from Disney in 2005 after a productive 12-year run. It is not unusual for companies to submit advertisements they know will be "banned" as a way to generate publicity. And the Weinstein brothers are nearly as famous in Hollywood for getting outsized attention for their movies as the movies themselves. 

The New York-based company issued a news release to gleefully protest its treatment by ABC and provided a link to YouTube to see the rejected commercial. The movie opens Friday.

"The ad is already airing in its current form on other broadcast and cable networks," the Weinstein Co. said in its statement.

ABC said it has "approved and accepted multiple spots for 'Our Idiot Brother,' and has aired spots for this film," but that it would not air commercials that "violated our long-established Ad Guidelines."

-- Meg James

Photo: A scene from "Our Idiot Brother," with Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks. Credit: Nicole Rivelli / The Weinstein Co.

Weinstein Co. taps MGM veteran Erik Lomis to head distribution

One of Hollywood's top distribution executives will finally get some movies to distribute.

The Weinstein Co. has brought in Erik Lomis as president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment. He had a similar role at MGM since 2009, a period during which that studio's ambitions to revive itself were stymied by a crushing burden of debt. As a result, MGM released only two movies during his tenure: 2009's remake of "Fame" and 2010's "Hot Tub Time Machine."

MGM recently reemerged from bankruptcy with its debt wiped clean and a new team of executives led by chief executives Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum.

Weinstein Co., which has been growing its slate recently after reorganizing its own debt burden last summer, has 10 movies already scheduled for release by the end of the year.

In addition to handling theatrical distribution, Lomis will manage the New York-based independent studio's relationship with Anchor Bay Entertainment, in which it recently acquired a 25% stake, for DVD and digital distribution. He played a similar role for MGM in its home entertainment agreement with 20th Century Fox.

Lomis previously served as president of domestic distribution for MGM from 2000 to 2005. Before rejoining that studio, he was a consultant for Warner Bros. and other companies. Prior to 2000, he worked at United Artists Theatres.

Laurent Ouaknine, a senior vice president at Weinstein Co., previously oversaw theatrical distribution. He now reports to Lomis.

Weinstein Co. chairman Bob and Harvey Weinstein have recently hired several new senior executives, including production president Donna Gigliotti and president of publicity Sarah Greenberg Roberts.

-- Ben Fritz

'King's Speech' version gets PG-13 rating

Kingsppech 

Two days before the Academy Awards, the Motion Picture Assn. of America announced it has assigned a PG-13 rating to an alternative version of "The King's Speech" in which, a source says, the contentious profanity has been muted out of the film.

Read the full story on The Times' Awards Tracker blog.

-- Nicole Sperling

Related:

'King's Speech' may be recut for lower rating, gets new ad campaign following Oscar nominations

Photo: Colin Firth in "The King's Speech." Credit: Weinstein Co.

Michael Moore sues Weinstein brothers over 'Fahrenheit 9/11' profits [Updated]

Moore
When Harvey and Bob Weinstein released Michael Moore's political documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" in fall 2004, it became a cultural phenomenon and grossed $119 million at the U.S. box office.

Now the director says more of that money should have made it into his pocket.

In a suit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Moore alleged that the Weinsteins, on behalf of an outfit called the Fellowship Adventure Group that they formed to release the movie, had illegally kept money from him.

Moore is seeking at least $2.7 million in compensatory damages as well as legal and other costs; the filmmaker also left open the possibility that he could seek further damages once a complete audit is done, a process the suit alleges has not happened.

"This case is about classic Hollywood accounting tricks and financial deception perpetrated by the Fellowship Adventure Group and its owners Bob and Harvey Weinstein," the suit began. The complaint alleged "bogus accounting methods" and "substantial irregularities in the accounting of the film" and said the company has "secretly divert[ed] monies owed" to Moore and his Westside Productions company. Moore's suit alleges breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud.

Weinste Among the allegations Moore makes is that the Weinsteins deducted residual payments from the balance sheet that were never made; deducted expenses Moore did not authorize; overstated the distribution fee to select international distributors; and covertly deducted more than $2.5 million from the revenue pool from which the Weinsteins were to pay Moore. According to the lawsuit, Moore and Fellowship were to split profits 50-50, an extremely generous deal for a director compared with what most filmmakers receive.

Attorney Bert Fields, who is representing the Weinsteins, said that the claims are "just designed for the media and are utter rubbish." He also speculated that Oscar-season rivals may have had a hand in the lawsuit. "I'm suspicious of the timing of this in this pre-award period and really wonder who put him up to it," Field said, acknowledging he had "no hard evidence." 

Weinstein Co.'s royals drama "The King's Speech" is considered an Oscar frontrunner.

Fields, who acknowledged there were settlement discussions several months ago, said he was surprised to find a lawsuit filed Monday. He said Moore had been paid $19.8 million over the course of the release and post-release period of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and has "received every dime he's entitled to."

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'King's Speech' may be recut for lower rating, gets new ad campaign following Oscar nominations

KingsspeechThe challenge now is making “The King’s Speech” into the lingua franca.

With a dozen Oscar nominations under its belt, the movie’s executive producer and distributor Harvey Weinstein is ready to unleash a new marketing strategy that aims to rope in more movie-going commoners who normally wouldn’t go near a historical drama about a British king.

The plans involve a potentially risky decision: re-editing the movie to excise coarse language and secure a lower rating that will open “The King’s Speech” to a broader audience. Weinstein, whose New York-based studio The Weinstein Co. released the film, said he is talking with director Tom Hooper about trimming the profanity that earned the film an R rating in order to attain a PG-13 or even PG.

He is eyeing the success of the movie in Great Britain, where a 12-and-over rating has helped it to top the box office chart for the last three weekends, beating such bigger-budget pictures as “Gulliver’s Travels” and “The Green Hornet.”

“The British numbers are huge because the rating lets families see the movie together,” said Weinstein. “Tom and I are trying to find a unique way to do this that keeps his vision of the movie.”

Hooper could not be reached for comment.

A recut version wouldn’t hit theaters until after the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 27. But The Weinstein Co. has aggressive plans for the $12.3-million production leading up to that date. Beginning this weekend, the distributor will expand the film to about 2,500 theaters in the U.S. and Canada from 1,680, making it accessible to nearly every moviegoer.

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