Harvey Weinstein had plenty to smile about last night: After launching a heavy slate of movies at the Toronto Film Festival, including August: Osage County and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, he had managed to buy Can a Song Save Your Life? a chased crowd-pleaser that his Weinstein Company acquired for $7 million with a promised $20 million ad spend. Directed by Once’s John Carney, Can a Song stars Keira Knightley as a songwriter nursing a breakup with her rock star boyfriend, played by Adam Levine; A&R executive Mark Ruffalo convinces her that she should record her own album, and the two embark on a joyful trip across New York City to put it all together. The movie has real mainstream potential — in addition to a sure-to-sell soundtrack and a potential Broadway adaptation down the line — and bidding for Can a Song went into the wee hours of the morning, with Weinstein successfully fending off studio suitors like Lionsgate and Fox Searchlight. So what did he do to close the deal?
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” Weinstein said last night at a Four Seasons dinner thrown by Tina Brown, who at that moment was still at the Daily Beast. He admitted that after hours of negotiation, “we lost the plot,” though when director Carney happened to mention he was a fan of director Joe Mankiewicz, Weinstein saw a chance to assert his cinematic boda fides and best his studio rivals. “I said, ‘I can name five movies he’s directed. Can the other guy name five movies? I bet he couldn’t do two.’” Weinstein laughed. “That actually worked!”
Here, then, is a Mankiewicz primer that Lionsgate acquisition execs might want to study up on: One of Hollywood’s most versatile, impressive directors, Joe Mankiewicz helmed All About Eve, A Letter to Three Wives, Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra, and Suddenly, Last Summer, among many other classics. If future bidding wars happen to come down to a cinema-trivia competition at five in the morning, forewarned is forearmed.