Weinstein: the Svengali who demanded a high price for Oscar glory

Paris (AFP) - Small European films like "Shakespeare in Love", "Amelie" and "Cinema Paradiso" might never have become huge worldwide hits without Harvey Weinstein, the powerful Hollywood producer now at the centre of an escalating scandal over his alleged sexual assaults on a string of actresses.

Weinstein: the Svengali who demanded a high price for Oscar glory

Weinstein: the Svengali who demanded a high price for Oscar glory

But almost always there was a price to pay, industry insiders told AFP.

With his brother Bob, Weinstein turned their Miramax and later The Weinstein Company studios into Oscar-winning machines, accumulating more than 80 Academy awards since the "The Crying Game" and "My Left Foot" in the early 1990s.

For a long time Weinstein's door was the only one to knock on for British and European film-makers wanting to crack the huge US market.

"He was the best at marketing" films for American audiences said the French producer Vincent Maraval, who worked with Weinstein on several films including the "The Artist", which won five Oscars in 2012.

"He gave foreign cinema a chance. He was tough, rough, had a very big ego, and would never take no for an answer, but Miramax would not be the same without him," he added.

"Harvey knew exactly how to sell a European art film," an assistant who worked for him in the late 1990s told AFP.

- 'Harvey Scissorhands' -

"However, he would do it his way," recutting the film no matter what the director thought, which earned him the nickname "Harvey Scissorhands".

Steamrolling directors was part of his modus operandi, said the assistant, who asked not to be named.

The Mexican director Guillermo del Toro -- who won the top prize at the Venice film festival last month with "The Shape of Water" -- will never forget working with him on his 1997 film "Mimic".

"I really hated the experience," he told an audience at the London film festival this week. "My first American experience was almost my last because it was with the Weinsteins and Miramax. Two horrible things happened in the late 1990s, my father was kidnapped and I worked with the Weinsteins.

"I know which one was worse," he addedly bitterly. "The kidnapping made more sense, I knew what they wanted..."

Giuseppe Tornatore suffered similarly on the Oscar-winning "Cinema Paradiso", and the French director Olivier Dahan clashed bitterly with Weinstein over his 2014 flop, "Grace of Monaco".

"I do not know a director who he didn't force to change their film," said the "Amelie" and "Delicatessen" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

- 'No respect for directors' -

"It was as if a gallery owner had told a painter, 'I'm giving your painting to a framer and he is going to put red instead of blue because they don't like blue in the US.'"

"Weinstein had the power to kill a film if he wanted to," he told AFP. "If you resisted him, you were punished.

"He had no respect for directors and thought of films as bags of gravel that he had bought and he had the right to do what he wanted with," Jeunet added.

The careers of actors and actresses also depended on him.

"At Cannes, Harvey Weinstein did not go to the film market... He commanded actors and actresses to come and see him at the Hotel du Cap," said the former Cannes film festival boss Gilles Jacob.

"And people went because they wanted to work."

A number of actresses who have since complained of being harassed or assaulted by the producer said the encounters took place in his room at Cannes.

By 2002 when "Amelie" was nominated for five Oscars but failed to win any, Jeunet said he sensed the Academy was "boycotting" the Weinsteins.

Weinstein left Miramax in 2005 -- by then owned by Disney -- and set up his own studio and distribution business, The Weinstein Company.

Although he was never quite as powerful again, he was back at the top Oscar table in 2011 and 2012 with "The King's Speech" and "The Artist".

The following year came the first tentative shot across his bows at the the Oscars when actor Seth MacFarlane took a swipe at him while announcing the nominations for best supporting actress.

"Congratulations," he said. "You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein."

This week MacFarlane said he had been prompted to make the jibe by his friend, actress Jessica Barth, with whom he had worked on the "Ted" films.

"She confided in me regarding her encounter with Harvey Weinstein and his attempted advances... I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a hard swing in his direction."

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