What About Bob?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While one brother entertained Hollywood's A-list at a pre-Oscar bash in Beverly Hills for his art-house movie "Chocolat," the younger sibling was holed up in a lower Manhattan office poring over marketing details for the release of his family adventure film "Spy Kids."

Bob Weinstein, the one who skipped the party, was making sure that the $36-million James-Bond-for-kids action feature would become another lucrative franchise for his 7-year-old Dimension Films. Based on the movie's $27-million debut this last weekend, it appears his obsessive tinkering paid off.

For Weinstein, 46, this latest success is another sign that he has moved out of the shadow of his high-profile brother, Harvey, 49, with whom he co-founded New York-based Miramax Films more than two decades ago. And it has Hollywood wondering whether Weinstein, who is known for appealing to the all-important but fickle teen audience, has found a way to draw children, adolescents and even adults into the same movie.

Though he remains largely an enigma in Hollywood--known as "the Quiet Man"--Weinstein has emerged as one of the hottest and most influential studio chiefs in the business, known for his instinct for tapping directly into the tastes of today's MTV generation.

His maverick movie outfit resurrected and contemporized the low-cost teen horror genre with hits such as the R-rated "Scream" trilogy and "Scary Movie." Now with the PG-rated "Spy Kids," written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Weinstein has expanded his business beyond horror and, in doing so, burst into an arena long dominated by Miramax and Dimension's parent, Walt Disney Co. The movie, which is about two children rescuing their secret-agent parents, drew a surprisingly broad audience following an innovative marketing blitz by Weinstein.

Last year, his Dimension label accounted for three-quarters of Miramax's net profit, making him the undisputed rainmaker of the scrappy movie company that he and his brother built into the world's leading purveyor of offbeat art-house films, with hits such as "The Crying Game," "Pulp Fiction" and "Shakespeare in Love."

Many in Hollywood say Weinstein did for traditional low-brow fare what his brother did for high-brow movies--and in so doing distinguished Dimension as the new pop-culture brand.

It's an elevated status that makes Weinstein proud and queasy at the same time. Weinstein clearly relishes the accolades but hates being the center of attention as much as his brother covets it.

"I've strived for the success, and I'm very much enjoying it," said Weinstein, "I don't have an image. Don't give me one. I want no image to have to uphold."

The more introverted, often brusque and admittedly schmooze-averse younger brother is described even by friends as "Harvey without the charm." Many say at times he can be surly, nasty and unnecessarily rough and demanding on people.

Manager-producer Brad Grey, who has known the Weinsteins for more than 20 years and is a big fan, said, "I think Bob absolutely has no interest in trying to be charming, but once you get to know him he's very funny and has a great heart. . . . He isn't someone who has a real appetite for socializing with the show-business folk. He's more interested in getting the job done and going home."

Grey should know. He used to work as a gofer for Harvey Weinstein during his days as a concert promoter in Buffalo, N.Y. Meanwhile, Bob Weinstein was busy cutting his teeth booking concert films and showing triple bills at the Century Theater, a dilapidated movie house his brother bought in downtown Buffalo and renovated with borrowed money.

The Queens, N.Y.-born Weinsteins, both college dropouts, "decided to make a living and support our mom" after their father died, said Harvey Weinstein.

At Bob Weinstein's suggestion, the two formed Miramax--naming the company after their mother, Miriam, and father, Max--in 1979 and moved to New York.

During the next two decades, the feisty, fast-talking brothers revolutionized the independent movie world, turning the distribution of sophisticated, upscale art movies into a commercial business.

The hundreds of movies Miramax acquired and produced throughout the years, many of them edgy and controversial, have received plenty of press, as has their flamboyant promoter, Harvey, with his heat-seeking, charismatic personality.

All the while, Bob has been happy to let Harvey bask in the spotlight while he stayed focused on running the less glamorous business aspects of Miramax.

It wasn't until Dimension's formation in 1994 that Bob Weinstein, who since childhood had been bossed around by his older brother, began calling his own shots. Miramax's business had begun to plateau, facing increased competition from many of the start-up specialty film outfits and studio classics divisions it helped spawn.

"Harvey was no longer going to markets and festivals and competing with three other guys; it was now 14," Weinstein said.

In the early '90s, by which time Time Warner-owned New Line Cinema had formed its own art-house label, Fine Line, he figured it was time to strike back.

"I said to Harvey, 'Let's compete against those who were competing against us," Weinstein recalled.

To Weinstein, it made sense to increase Miramax's profitability by acquiring and producing cheap movies--some were bought for as little as $1 million--that could be marketed to teens and exploited on video, DVD and television.

The film that put Dimension on the map was the 1994 release "The Crow," about a rock guitarist who returns from the dead on Halloween eve. Paramount Pictures dumped it after the film's star, Brandon Lee, was accidentally shot dead on the set of the movie shortly before the production wrapped. Weinstein is credited not only for taking a risk in buying the movie but also for devising a creative way to sell it.

"Everyone else saw it as a loud, screeching, hard-metal action film, and Bob said, 'There's a great love story here.' So he did a romantic campaign," recalled Cary Granat, the former president of Dimension. It worked. The film grossed $51 million.

Hip Edge for Slashers

Weinstein pointed his film company at the types of movies he enjoyed while growing up: Hitchcock thrillers, horror flicks, sci-fi classics such as "2001: A Space Odyssey" and comedies such as Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles." He picked writers and directors who would bring a hip sensibility, irreverent humor and popular young ensemble casts to the screen. Weinstein said the reason he liked writer Kevin Williamson's "Scream" when he read it is it took "Halloween" to the next level.

Some parents might have blanched, but movie critics pointed out how "Scream," about a serial killer terrorizing a picturesque small town, was both genuinely grisly and highly amusing.

"It's scary and self-knowing at the same time without being a parody," said Weinstein.

Veteran director Wes Craven, creator of the classic "A Nightmare on Elm Street" series, said he originally passed on directing "Scream" for Dimension because he was tired of being pigeonholed as a horror director. That was until the strong-willed Weinstein convinced him otherwise. Craven recalls Weinstein saying, "I don't want to do some schlock horror film. I want to raise the genre."

The "Scream" franchise (which grossed nearly $300 million) and last year's "Scary Movie" ($157 million)--which is a clever sendup of horror movies that included everything from the "Scream" series to "The Blair Witch Project," inspired a crop of studio look-alikes.

Last year, thanks to "Scary Movie" and "Scream 3," Dimension not only accounted for $75 million of Miramax's $145 million in profit, but its eight releases also collectively grossed nearly as much as competitor New Line's 28 films ($330 million versus $395 million, respectively).

And as Weinstein proudly boasts, he did it without the infrastructure of a studio: His company did it with a 40-person staff.

"There's no question that Bob has become the powerhouse," beamed Harvey Weinstein. "He . . . is the most profitable on a return on investment basis [of] any studio."

Harvey Weinstein bristles when asked whether he's resentful of his brother's success at a time when Miramax has struggled at the box office with such recent disappointments as "All the Pretty Horses," "The Yards," "Vatel" and others.

"I couldn't be prouder of Bob. I'm the biggest fan of my brother's success. It's phenomenal what he's done." To put the relationship into perspective, Harvey Weinstein recalled the time DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg asked him, "How does it feel to wake up every day knowing your brother is carrying you?" He quipped, "It's what you must feel like every day working with Steven Spielberg."

Bob Weinstein is equally prickly about any suggestion of sibling rivalry with his lifelong partner, best friend and only brother.

"I want my due, but not at the expense of my brother," said Weinstein. "Harvey and I get along great. There's no 'who's bigger or who's better,' " he insisted. "We were partners early on--conspirators in raiding the icebox and rounding up the boys to play baseball" at the Flushing, Queens, apartment where they grew up.

Filmmakers who have worked with both brothers agree that the two couldn't be more loyal to each other.

"There is an incredible link," said director Craven, who has made all three "Scream" films for Dimension and "Music of the Heart" for Miramax. "They fight more bitterly than you can imagine, but nobody comes between them."

The shrewd, street-smart sons of an equally competitive diamond district dealer, the Weinsteins credit their father with encouraging them to always stick together.

"My dad had eight brothers and sisters who were not close," Weinstein said. "So, it was very much on his mind to make us close. He told us, 'It's good to have someone in your family that you trust completely.' "

But as those who know him will affirm, Weinstein trusts very few people.

Rob Moore, a former top business executive at Disney Studios who oversaw Miramax's deals for seven years, recalled once saying to Weinstein, " 'Bob, you still don't trust me after all these years?' And he said, 'Rob, there is only one person I trust, and that's my brother.' "

On a business level, Dimension gave Weinstein a new kind of fierce independence. From its inception, he has made all creative decisions and is maniacally hands-on in everything from picking scripts and casting to meticulously designing each marketing campaign. He sits with vendors cutting trailers and commercials. He even tells talent what to say on talk shows.

"He's a work machine," said "Scary Movie" director Keenen Ivory Wayans. Although, at times, his obsessive focus on the details of making any one movie can cause "conflict and disagreements," Wayans, currently shooting "Scary Movie 2," said, "It's passion. You know this person is invested in what you're doing."

Kevin Smith, who made Miramax's "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" and is shooting Dimension's comedy "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," said, "It's a mixed blessing to have someone so involved." When Weinstein began "paying too much attention" to a relatively minor detail--casting his film's "day players," actors with one or two lines of dialogue--Smith told him, "Don't sweat" the small stuff.

Revelry, Not Rivalry

While Harvey Weinstein's personal interests have driven him far beyond the movies, into offshoot businesses such as Talk magazine and Talk Miramax Books, Bob Weinstein has stayed 100% focused on making and marketing six to eight films a year and diversifying Dimension's brand beyond horror movies.

Coming up are films such as "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," a straight-ahead comedy; "The Others," a psychological thriller set during World War II starring Nicole Kidman and produced by her estranged husband, Tom Cruise; "Imposter," a sci-fi thriller from "Kiss the Girls" director Gary Fleder; and a chiller from Rodriguez called "Nerveracker."

With "Spy Kids," Weinstein got to flex his trademark mass-marketing muscles. The film opened on 3,100 screens, armed with a $15-million promotional tie-in with fast-food giant McDonald's--something you'd never see with a Miramax art film.

"I don't have to have a cocktail party or do a fund-raiser or a special screening for politicians or schmooze the movers and shakers of the world to sell" Dimension films, said Weinstein, taking an inadvertent swipe at his brother.

At his recent Oscar party at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Harvey Weinstein hosted such Hollywood luminaries as Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand. Two years ago, he cajoled his pal, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, into hosting the New York premiere of "Shakespeare in Love."

That same weekend, Bob Weinstein was back home at their cramped company offices in Tribeca, in overdrive, poring over every print ad and TV spot about to break on "Spy Kids."

"Everybody's success is not achieved in the same way," explained Weinstein. "Harvey has a particular style for success, and I have my own style."

Never short on sports analogies, he winced when asked how he feels about emerging from his brother's shadow and referred to how legendary Yankee Lou Gehrig reacted when asked the same question about his famed, more high-profile teammate Babe Ruth.

"He said, 'I've been happily basking in his shadow,' " Weinstein said. "He was at ease with himself and who he was. . . . I feel no competition. I play my own game. I know who I am, and he knows who he is."

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