In 1989, Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax studio took the gamble of distributing the British movie Scandal. Michael Caten-Jones’s account of the 1961 affair between married government minister John Profumo and model Christine Keeler had been struggling for seven years to find a backer. The film was highly profitable for Miramax and boosted Weinstein’s career as a bankable producer and distributor.
In the years that followed, Weinstein went on to become one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. His empire crumbled in October last year when he was hit by several scandals of his own. Weinstein now faces more than 80 allegations of sexual harassment and rape.
It began in Britain for Weinstein in more ways than one, the Channel 4 documentary Working with Weinstein reveals. The documentary, which was aired in the United Kingdom on February 20, adds new perspective to a story told countless times.
It focuses on the producer’s professional ties with British talent and the lesser known faces that eventually helped expose him. The film has been narrated by Zelda Perkins, a former assistant at Miramax who publicly broke a non-disclosure agreement last year that had forbidden her from speaking about her experiences with Weinstein.
“Britain made Harvey Weinstein into the most powerful man in Hollywood,” a voiceover says. “In return, Weinstein helped create a golden age of British film, bringing award and riches.”
Through interviews with former employees of his companies and British producers with whom he collaborated, the documentary paints a disturbing picture of a man who consistently used his influence to engage in a spectrum of inappropriate behaviour, which, when not sexually exploitative, was often manipulative and aggressive.
Weinstein’s modus operandi, according to Perkins and others interviewed, included solitary meetings in hotel rooms, massage requests, invitations to step into the shower, and the inability to take no for an answer. Laura Madden, a former executive at Miramax, had her first unpleasant encounter with Weinstein when she was a little over 18 and was assisting on the production of Into the West (1992) in Dublin. “I think my first introduction to him was going into his hotel room,” she said. “I remember going into the suite, where he was, and being surprised to see room service had been ordered and there was a bottle of champagne.”
She explains how Weinstein praised her work and asked him to come work with him in London, but the conversation soon segued into the producer asking her for a massage. He later asked him to join him in the shower, she alleged. He continued to behave inappropriately with her over the years, Madden said.
The documentary goes beyond individual experiences and establishes a culture of terror and silence around Weinstein. Madden says that she and a few other employees had started to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible while in office, covering themselves up in large bulky coats, for instance, and trying to visit him in twos and threes. Michelle Franklin, a former assistant at the Weinstein Company, that was started in 2005 after the brothers left Miramax, spoke of how several employees were required to sign non-disclosure agreements.
At a particularly poignant moment in the documentary, Perkins, who left Miramax after signing the non-disclosure agreement following the attempted rape of a colleague, spoke of how she watched the producer go from strength to strength while her career ended at that point.
Beyond the sexual misconduct, working with Weinstein also meant tolerating his bullying nature. Gaia Elkington, a former assistant at The Weinstein Company, describes how the producer yelled vile abuses at her at an airport before arbitrarily firing her. British producer David Parfitt, who collaborated with Weinstein on many movies, including the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, alleged that Weinstein physically assaulted him when they were working on the 2011 Michelle Williams-starrer My Week with Marylin.
“It was very scary,” Parfitt says in the documentary. “He was just furious the film in our version worked...there wasn’t enough of Marilyn in the film and that he wanted more Marilyn”.