Anne Harvey, you could argue that Miramax's films have been leading indicators for what's happening at the upper end of the mass-media cultural landscape. What are the quirks of your sensibility that led you to make or distribute such disparate films as The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Sling Blade, Good Will Hunting, Life Is Beautiful, Princess Mononoke, and In the Bedroom?
Harvey I don't think that there is a specific quirk or sensibility that guides our selection of projects. My brother, Bob, and I have a deep passion for movies. We have definitely learned to appreciate innovative writing and to recognize that two of the most important ingredients for success are well-written scripts and the passion of the filmmakers. You were able to cite the above films because they did work, because audiences did respond to them. But for every Shakespeare in Love there is The Shipping News, Get Over It, or All the Pretty Horses — films I loved that audiences just did not respond to.
Anne What do you think really made the difference between the hits and the, um, not hits? Were the big, commercially unsuccessful films ones where you gave too much rein to the filmmakers?
Harvey Each film presents a unique set of circumstances, but typically, the quality of the writing is the most consistent indicator of whether a film will "succeed." There have been projects where we may have overlooked flaws in the script, thinking that a great director or a great cast would solve the problem. We can work with the filmmaker by offering all sorts of suggestions to resolve issues, but sometimes you just can't overcome them. Cultural differences across borders factor into how American audiences will respond to those films. After we acquired In the Bedroom, which received an Academy Award nomination for best picture last year, we reviewed the film with its director, Todd Field, and discussed some minimal editing. But we ultimately decided that the film would work with no changes at all. And it did.
Anne On a different note, for quite a few years, you've tried and not really succeeded at TV. How come?
Harvey Whenever you move into a new arena, there are growing pains and lessons learned. While we are very proud to have received our first Emmy nomination for Project Greenlight [for HBO] this year, we recognize that this is a slow process and that success will not come right away. We're excited about Project Greenlight 2 [also for HBO], our current animated TV series, Tokyo Pig [for ABC Family], our upcoming miniseries, A Wrinkle in Time [for ABC], and a TV film based on Miramax Books's best-selling Icebound, the Jerri Nielsen story [for CBS].
Anne Speaking of TV programs such as Tokyo Pig and A Wrinkle in Time, you have kids under 10 years old. Do you think that entertainment companies are doing right by them? Would you let your kids see Jackass or let them play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City?
Harvey Trust me: Watch-ing my girls grow up has definitely provided me with perspective. I am even working on my own adaptation of a children's book for a future project. But freedom of expression is certainly something that I treasure, so I'm not going to sit here and pontificate about how people shouldn't be making violent films or video games. I do think that the recent focus on not marketing R-rated films to kids has been constructive. And I will say that over the years, the story lines of those types of films have definitely suffered. I like a great action movie as much as anyone — but there has to be a real plot.
Anne About that adaptation of a kids' book: What kind of a project is it? Animation? Live action? And you're the one writing the script?
Harvey I'm writing the script. As for the medium, I'm at the mercy of my production executives.
Anne That should be an interesting process: Your executives giving "notes" on your script. Over the past 20 years, you've moved from Sex, Lies, and Videotape to your own adaptation of a children's book. There's a natural progression!
A version of this article appeared in the March 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.