Another day, another " picks a fight with someone in Hollywood" story. The verbally combative and litigious movie mogul has never been one shy to keep his mouth shut or get himself involved in the middle of very public battles (legitimate or not), so you can imagine my lack of surprise when yet another story of a court battle with Weinstein as the source surfaced (Mr. Weinstein, if you're reading this, please don't sue me; I am but a poor entertainment writer).
His latest beef is with Warner Bros., over his upcoming historical drama Lee Daniels' The Butler. The two are going head-to-head over the title of the film, which Warner Bros. claims Weinstein can't use as the library at Warner Bros. has a short film from 1916 which shares the same name. On Tuesday, The MPAA's Title Registration Bureau ruled in Warner Bros.' favor. As a result, Weinstein was forced to pull the trailers from the theaters and take down the film's website so as to avoid getting slammed with a $25,000/day fine. The Weinstein Co. is appealing the ruling.
But Weinstein stirred the pot during an interview this week with CBS This Morning. He claims that it's actually a previous dispute over rights to The Hobbit that is the underlying reason behind Warner Bros. coming down on The Butler:
I was asked by two execs at Warner Brothers, which I'm happy testify to, that if I gave them back the rights to The Hobbit they would drop the claim. For a 1916 short? This was used as a bullying tactic. I think this is 100 percent. This was the big guy trying to hit the small guy.
If you're sitting here wondering how in the world those two things correlate, THR explains:
The Weinstein brothers negotiated a piece of The Hobbit many years ago, when they controlled Lord of the Rings while running Miramax...Their deal gave them at least 2.5 percent of The Hobbit's first-dollar gross, or the money Warner Bros. and MGM received. It's unclear whether the Weinsteins are entitled to a cut of the Hobbit sequels. Warner Bros. says the deal only covers the first film, but the Weinsteins believe they are entitled to a cut of all three movies.
Warner Bros., of course, denies there is any correlation between The Hobbit and The Butler:
The Weinstein Company, as the New York Times has noted, is following an oft-trodden path of creating "well-publicized controversies" in order to promote their films by disseminating deliberate misinformation about the true nature of this dispute. The Weinsteins are sophisticated experts in this arena and three neutral arbitrators have penalized them for blatantly disregarding MPAA rules. It goes without saying that Warner Bros. has no issue with Lee Daniels' film (never has) and fully supports the artistic goals of the filmmakers. The Weinsteins' suggestions to the contrary are deeply offensive and untrue.
(Can I just say I love how all official statements always have to include the phrase "deeply offensive" at least once? Such manufactured outrage!)
MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, meanwhile, just wants the two to settle their beef and stop drawing attention to themselves:
[Warner Bros. and The Weinstein Co.] need to sit down and resolve this. There's an appeals process, go through that. There's no reason why this needs to become as large an issue as it is.
Sit down and work it out. This is silly.
You can practically hear the frustration seething between his words.
Weinstein Co. attorney David Boies, however, pointed out that with the movie, sure to be an awards contender, being released on August 16th, time is ticking:
We're going to have to find a way to get this important civil rights movie out.
So basically, no one wins here. Warner Bros. wins the battle of The Butler but loses the war, as The Weinstein Co. is refusing to cough up its rights to The Hobbit and its sequels. The Weinsteins maintain the rights to the films but are having their current awards season contender and major project torpedoed into the ground. This will also obviously come up again in an argument over the royalties from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But the biggest loser here is The Butler director , whose critical (if somewhat less socially critical) film is being used as a pawn in a game between two Hollywood giants through no fault of his own.
Who do you think is in the right? Is Warner Bros. making up an excuse to go after The Weinstein Co.? Should Harvey Weinstein just keep his mouth shut and go through the arbitration process? Sound off below.
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