Harvey Weinstein on smoking with Kate Moss—and his failed social network.
There are two things that come very easily to me: rooting for New York sports teams and making mistakes. One of my all-time classics happened when I took a plane to England and ran into Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista on the flight. They were both dating friends of mine and couldn’t have been happier to see me. They wanted to initiate me, as I was a two-pack-a-day smoker, into their habit of smoking in the bathroom on the plane. So, whenever one of them was there, I got away with it. But the one time I tried it myself, I got caught. I said to the attendant, “When I smoked with Kate Moss, you never busted me,” and he replied with the magic words: “You are no Kate Moss.” Could there be a truer statement? They nearly arrested me, and I had to go to court and pay a small fortune for my activities.
In business, one of my all-time doozies was when I first started the Weinstein Co. I bought controlling interest in an Internet company called A Small World. The company functioned just like Facebook, except it was exclusive—you could only sign up if your friends were already in. It originated just weeks before Facebook got big. I thought this idea was way ahead of its time and we could sell advertising and eventually memberships. The first thing we did was concentrate on selling ads. Meanwhile, all the other sites concentrated on services to make theirs better. I ignored the technology and went after the bottom line. When I make a movie, I never think bottom line. I just think of how good the movie can be and sometimes I go over budget because I have a vision. But here, I clearly was in way over my head. The great thing that guys like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the Google guys have in common is they treat their technology like it’s art, and I suppose in the hands of virtuosos like them, it is. The other social sites kicked my butt. I sold the company for a loss to a techie who immediately improved services and has turned the company around. So as my dad used to say, ‘horses for courses,’ and when it came to running this company, I was no thoroughbred.
But my favorite mistake happened two years ago, when I had the opportunity to buy The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Two friends in London told me there was a book they loved. I read the book and thought it was great. Then I heard they were making a movie out of it. I got the people to show us the movie to see whether we’d want to distribute it in the United States, and everything about it in my gut said, “Do this—there’s a franchise here.” But my team said, ‘No, we should focus on bigger movies,’ and I let the committee overwhelm me. I didn’t listen to my very significant gut, and when I say significant, I mean size, geographically. And that was a big bloody mistake—an economic mistake, a company mistake. If you’re going to be in the business we are, it has to be because you want to champion movies that are different. This year, we got The King’s Speech, Blue Valentine, Company Men, and part of The Fighter. Small movies are intensive, but they’re so worth it. It’s what we have to do to be who we are.