Low-profile Bob Weinstein must now save family film business

Bob Weinstein (left) and his brother Harvey Weinstein, the founders of The Weinstein Co., pose at the premiere of the film 1408 in Los Angeles. PHOTO: REUTERS

Los Angeles (Bloomberg) - Anywhere else in Hollywood, Bob Weinstein would have been the star, with a string of executive producer credits on Oscar winners such as The English Patient (1996) and Good Will Hunting (1997) and a track record for making low-budget, profitable films.

But Weinstein, 62, was always the second banana to his larger-than-life older brother Harvey. Now with Harvey Weinstein booted from the film studio the brothers co-founded, their roles are reversed. It will fall on Bob Weinstein's shoulders to save the family business and steer it into a new era, one less reliant on the art-house films his brother was known for cultivating.

The board of Weinstein Co., reduced to just four members following a string of resignations, said on Sunday that it had terminated the employment of Harvey Weinstein, 65.

The move was in response to a New York Times story that said he had paid settlements to eight women who had accused him of sexual harassment. Several of the women were Weinstein employees, according to the paper. Since last week, the company, with more than 100 workers, has been under the leadership of Bob Harvey, the co-chairman, and David Glasser, the chief operating officer.

Fresh allegations arose on Tuesday. The New Yorker reported on three women who say they were raped by Harvey. The magazine said a number of employees were aware of his behaviour, abetting his actions or looking the other way. A spokeswoman for the movie executive told the publication that he denies any allegations of non-consensual sex.

Already partners of Weinstein Co. are cutting ties with Harvey. Lifetime, the cable network that airs the brothers' biggest TV hit, Project Runway, is taking his executive producer credit off of that show and another, Six, which Weinstein Co. co-produces for the channel.

Similarly, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Network is removing Harvey's name from three shows under production with the company: Waco, Yellowstone and Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.

Apple Inc. decided not to move forward with a miniseries about Elvis Presley that was being produced by Weinstein Co., according to The Hollywood Reporter.

After decades of working with his brother in the business, Bob Weinstein's major task will be deciding how to distance the company from Harvey. One decision, still under consideration, could be especially painful: changing the company's name.

"It's right out of Machiavelli's The Prince," said Ted Clark, who heads the Centre for Family Business at Northeastern University in Boston. "One of the princes was getting out of control and he had to be dealt with." Weinstein Co. and Bob Weinstein didn't respond to requests for comment.

The brothers were always a pair, since their days promoting rock concerts in Buffalo, New York, in the 1970s. Harvey steered them into the film business, with early hits such as Sex, Lies And Videotape and Pulp Fiction.

Over the years, Bob focused on more mainstream fare that didn't win Oscars but made money, such as the horror film series Scream and the 2001 children's movie Spy Kids. "Harvey was more of the schmoozer, while Bob was more of the financial side," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations.

The Weinsteins sold their first company, Miramax, to Walt Disney Co., before heading off on their own in 2005. Even after releasing critical favourites such as The Reader (2008) and Inglourious Basterds (2009), the brothers never found their financial footing. In 2010, they restructured US$450 million in debt in a deal that gave Goldman Sachs Group Inc. control of 250 of their films.

More recently, the company delayed the releases of a number of films, a sign that money has been tight. 47 Meters Down, a shark thriller, was headed directly to the DVD bin before comedian Byron Allen's production company bought and released it, bringing in US$44 million. Weinstein Co.'s next picture, the long-delayed Amityville: The Awakening, will stream for free on Google before getting a limited theatrical release on Oct 28.

Replacing Harvey Weinstein, even with his diminished stature, won't be easy. He helped build the careers of stars from director Quentin Tarantino to actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and his relationships were integral to the company's success.

"Part of the company's panache was the talent he could attract," said Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple, a consulting firm. "That's hard to replicate."

The company's recent pivot more heavily into television production could be the ticket. TV networks are ordering up new shows to compete with video-streaming services while Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. spend big to make their own Oscar-worthy movies, according to Robert Marich, author of Marketing To Moviegoers. "The timing looks good to steer the Weinstein Co. out of heavy reliance on prestige films," he said.

Bob Weinstein needs to find a way to channel some of the good parts of Weinstein Co.'s past, said Tom Sepanski, who advises companies on messaging with the consulting firm Landor in New York.

"They still have a legacy of provocative, groundbreaking films," Sepanski said. "They're going to have some serious strategic thinking to do."

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