As distressed assets go, the Weinstein Company has lately been causing its financial backers and shareholders no small amount of actual distress. Much of the mini-major studio’s brand value is inextricably tied to co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein and their alchemical skill at attracting top talent, squeezing maximum profit out of genre schlock, and reliably conjuring awards-season gold — seemingly on strength of the brothers’ brash personalities alone. But in the wake of Harvey’s still-metastasizing sex scandal, TWC has been under pressure to either file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, sell its assets to a third party, or simply shut down.
So the news Thursday that the embattled indie distributor had narrowed a field of about 20 potential buyers down to six finalist bidders — and could be soon sold for “less than $500 million” — came as something of a head-scratcher. Heavily leveraged, with reportedly more than $520 million in debt (including loans to various film and TV productions, tens of millions more in corporate debt, and approximately $100 million in profit participation and residuals still owed to talent from TWC movies and TV series), the Weinstein Company was hardly what you’d call a thriving business. According to The Wall Street Journal, nearly half the money from the purported sale would go toward fulfilling preexisting financial obligations.
So in what world is “less than $500 million” for the Weinstein Company a good deal? With Harvey already fired and Bob all but certain to resign as a contingency of the sale, the company will have effectively lost its secret sauce. And with a substantial portion of TWC’s film library already sold nearly a decade ago, even many seasoned industry observers have been wondering: What assets does TWC still possess to justify the nearly half-billion-dollar price tag?
Even with its litany of financial woes and “toxic” association to innumerable sexual assaults and serial predation, TWC still has plenty of moneymaking potential. Let’s break it down:
Last year, Harvey Weinstein bragged to Deadline that TWC’s TV division alone was worth “anywhere between $500 million and $900 million.” He may have been gilding the lily, but the company’s television side plowed into Peak TV with unvarnished gusto, producing and co-financing a string of expensive, high-profile series that will now be a core component of any deal.
In addition to TWC’s long-running reality fashion show Project Runway on Lifetime* (with two spinoffs and four more in the works), the company produced two projects for Viacom’s revamped Paramount Network: the mini-series Waco (starring Taylor Kitsch as Branch Davidians cult leader David Koresh, set to air this month) and Yellowstone, a ten-episode scripted drama written and directed by Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Over at Amazon, the Weinstein Company controls the rights to Julian Fellowes’s Doctor Thorne (a drama adapted from Anthony Trollope’s Victorian-era novel) despite the streaming service cutting ties with TWC in October.
And the Weinstein Company TV library stands as a crazy cupboard of disparate (if not potentially lucrative in years to come) content including such series as Mob Wives, Jennifer Lopez: Dance Again, HBO’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and a six-part adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace that aired on the Lifetime, A&E, and History networks in 2016.
After a string of flops compelled a major debt restructuring in 2010, the Weinstein Company sold more than 200 titles from its 350-movie library to Goldman Sachs and the insurance company Guaranty Ltd. But according to Harvey, TWC now controls the rights to a catalogue of some 525 titles it has accumulated over the last ten years. That includes such Quentin Tarantino touchstones as Inglourious Basterds, The Hateful Eight, and Django Unchained, Best Picture Oscar winners The King’s Speech and The Artist, a festival’s worth of Sundance-anointed indies (Fruitvale Station, Cutie and the Boxer, Bachelorette), even genre fare like Scary Movie 5 and Piranha.
Then there are TWC’s unreleased movies. In November, the company sold the domestic distribution rights to Paddington 2 to Warner Bros. for $28 million (a month later Warners also acquired, for an undisclosed price, one of the Weinstein Company’s splashiest upcoming projects: The Six Billion Dollar Man, set to star Mark Wahlberg). But it still retains production credits on the upcoming Robert De Niro comedy The War With Grandpa; Polaroid, a teen horror flick; and The Upside (a remake of the French box-office smash Les Intouchables starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston). TWC’s erstwhile 2017 awards-season hopefuls — The Current War, a period drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, and Mary Magdalene (with Rooney Mara in the title role and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus) — also have yet to receive theatrical distribution.
Projects in Development
Although Hollywood’s top talent agencies stopped sending scripts to the Weinstein Company months ago as one side effect of the scandal backlash, TWC has a backlog of more than 60 projects in various stages of development that carry considerable value as the company attempts to sell itself off.
Among them: Elvis, a ten-part television biopic that’s touted as the first scripted series ever to shoot at Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate. There’s an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Breathing Method (in conjunction with Jason Blum’s low-budget/huge margin-generating Blumhouse Productions); a Richard Pryor biopic directed by Lee Daniels, co-starring Oprah Winfrey, Kate Hudson, and Tracey Morgan; and a big-screen blowup of the 1982 David Hasselhoff–starring Knight Rider that John Cena and Kevin Hart were circling last year.
Looking Back for the Future
In 2010, the template for TWC’s impending sale was likely set when a consortium of investors led by Colony Capital founder Tom Barrack acquired Miramax Films — the first indie studio established by the Weinstein brothers — and its nearly 700-film library for $660 million. Although criticized for having wildly overpaid at the time, the investors reaped an unexpected fortune thanks to the meteoric rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix that licensed Miramax movies including The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love. “We have made more money than we ever imagined,” Barrack told the New York Times of the deal.
*A previous version of this article stated that Project Runway is on Bravo. In fact, it airs on Lifetime.