A brash, legendary film producer’s secret to finding acclaimed movies: He reads—a lot

He reads three books and ten scripts each week.
He reads three books and ten scripts each week.
Image: Reuters/Eric Gaillard
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Veteran US film producer Harvey Weinstein has a reputation in Hollywood for being brash, intimidating, and even a bully. (On HBO’s Entourage, the not-to-be-crossed producer with a ferocious temper Harvey Weingard was reportedly based on him.) Yet Weinstein attributes his edge in the movie business to the quiet, contemplative act of reading.

“I’m a reader,” Weinstein told the Hollywood Reporter. “That’s where the sauce comes from.” Weinstein says he reads three books in a typical week and 10 scripts. At that rate, he’d breeze through an impressive 156 books and 520 scripts a year.

Weinstein says the habit helps him find and lock down projects before other studios have a chance to touch them. It’s how the movie mogul landed the 1998 Oscar-nominated indie comedy Little Voice at Miramax, the indie studio he co-founded and ran with brother Bob Weinstein:

When I was at Miramax I bought the play Little Voice. Ten companies were bidding and everybody went to the theater to watch it because they were all going to come back to the hotel to do [the deal]; I stayed in the hotel, I read the script, and then I called the guys up and said I love it. They said, “You can tell from the script?” I said, “I always read plays. So, I’m going to buy it. What do you want?” They said, “This,” I said “Great,” and everybody walked out and it was all done.

At Miramax, the brothers made indie classics like Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love. Director Quentin Tarantino still only makes films with the Weinsteins.

The brothers left Miramax in 2005 to open The Weinstein Company, which is known for acclaimed titles like Lion, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, and 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist. It also produces and distributes TV shows including director David O. Russell’s upcoming, untitled Amazon series starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore, Netflix’s Marco Polo, and Project Runway.

Weinstein says people don’t expect him—a swear-y, working-class guy from Queens in New York—to be well-read. But his literary prowess is evident in his famed film and TV slate. The Weinstein Company co-produced a TV adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s literary classic War and Peace last year, in an homage to a librarian who taught Weinstein to read as a boy. That inspired another adaptation with the BBC of Les Misérables—the Victor Hugo novel, not the musical.

Recently, Weinstein optioned the crime novel August Snow for TV. “I did it in, like, minutes,” said Weinstein. “I called the author, and sometimes they’re a fan of my work, and so it was easy in this situation to do it. There were, like, four other offers, but I could feel him on the phone and I knew he was gonna go with us—and rightfully so, because I’m going to do it right.”

It’s a trait Weinstein looks for in other business partners as well, like hip-hop mogul Jay Z, with whom he’s producing a film and docu-series about Trayvon Martin.

“I think we understand each other,” said Weinstein. “People look at Jay Z and they don’t say, ‘That’s a well-read guy,’ and people look at me and think the same thing, but we’re both extremely well-read. That’s the surprise of the whole thing, and it’s what makes it work. He’s one of the most brilliant men I know.”