The CEO of the new 101 Studios speaks about its first major release, his start as a child actor and — in depth for the first time since the start of the #MeToo movement — his years working with Harvey Weinstein.
"It's sort of a thing that just sucks you back in," the veteran film executive David Glasser says of the film business as we record an episode ofthe 'Awards Chatter' podcast at The Hollywood Reporter's Los Angeles offices. "It's what I know. It's all I know."
Back in January, the 48-year-old launched 101 Studios, a global entertainment studio which is behind the recently released director's cut of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's The Current War, a period drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla and Tom Holland as Samuel Insull. The original cut premiered to a mixed response at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, back when it was a property of The Weinstein Co., of which Glasser was then president and COO, and it was scheduled to be released that November.
Why wasn't it? Because of the explosion of the #MeToo movement, which began on Oct. 5, 2017 with a barrage of allegations against The Weinstein Co.'s co-founder and co-chief, Harvey Weinstein.
Glasser did his best to keep the company afloat after Weinstein went down. But, at the time, anything and anyone associated with the disgraced mogul — including Glasser — was being looked at with suspicion, as people mused about who had known and enabled Weinstein's misconduct. On Feb. 17, 2018, a month before The Weinstein Co. filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, its board of directors voted unanimously to terminate Glasser. Glasser, for his part, said through his attorney that he had been "scapegoated," and suggested that it was the board itself which had failed to stop Weinstein.
That period — which Glasser had never publicly discussed in depth prior to this podcast — was a trying one for him, and he even considered leaving the business and working in real estate. But 20 months later, he has returned with 101 Studios and, somewhat surprisingly, The Current War, a film that he felt Weinstein rushed for its Toronto premiere, but that he came to believe could be vastly improved with just a little more work. "At first I sort of scratched my head and I said, 'No, I'm not going to have anything to do with their films,'" he remembers — but then he reconsidered. "[I said,] 'I don't now if we can ever get the patina of TWC off of it, but you know what? I want to give this a shot.'"
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett & Norman Lear.
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Glasser is the product of a "show business family" — his father worked in music and his mother was a casting director — and he himself got his start as a child actor, appearing in commercials, on TV shows and in films until he turned 18. "I was never gonna make it a full-time job," he says, and he walked away from it, briefly trying his hand at college before dropping out to focus on filmmaking from the other side of the camera. "I went to a college of reality, is what I call it," Glasser says in reference to the next few years of his life, during which he began working in foreign pre-sales and international distribution, starting a company called Cutting Edge that was later bought by another called Splendid. "Whereas others get a diploma, you get knocked down, you get sued, you get beat up, you don't make a smart decision, you get in business with the wrong person, and that's how you learn."
Many of the early films Glasser worked on "were not of the highest-quality," he admits, "but they were fun." Moreover, they paved the way to a job at the Yari Film Group, where he excelled at negotiating deals — "I went up against Harvey a couple of times," he remembers — and rose to the position of chief creative officer. Those interactions with Weinstein ultimately led to an offer to work as president of international sales at The Weinstein Co., the bicoastal operation Weinstein and his brother Bob established after being forced out of Miramax. "The content is what attracted me," Glasser recalls, and he started on the job in 2008. "Organically, I sort of got pulled into an additional role of having some creative say and some deal say."
Glasser, who eventually graduated to the title of president and COO, calls working for Weinstein the "toughest job I've ever faced in my career," elaborating, "It breaks you." But he stuck around for eight years because, he says, he was energized by his colleagues and the films on which they collaborated, which included The Reader, Vicki Christina Barcelona, Inglourious Basterds, The King's Speech, The Artist, Silver Lining's Playbook and The Butler. In Aug. 2015, though, he left the company — "I got to the point where I was fried," he recalls. He entered into discussions with DreamWorks Animation, among other rivals, but a month later he was convinced by Weinstein to return with a new three-year contract and a mandate to, among other things, expand the company's TV business.
Glasser was famously described by the Weinsteins as their "third brother," a moniker he snorts at. "Their 'third brother' in the sense of, you know, making them money, right? I don't think it was family dinners and Thanksgiving I was being invited over for." He emphasizes that their relationship was "never" personal. "It was business." Does he regret his decision to return to them in Sept. 2015? He acknowledges, "In hindsight now, yeah." One of the projects that the company was making upon his return was The Current War, and its bumpy TIFF experience disheartened him. "The movie was rushed to be there," he says, adding, "It wasn't ready, it just wasn't."
On Oct. 5, 2017, the world changed when the New York Times story containing allegations against Weinstein came out. Glasser, who was always based in LA while the Weinsteins operated out of New York, said he had been made aware by journalists, about a week earlier, that articles were forthcoming. But when they hit, it was worse than anything he could have expected. He says that when he couldn't get anyone on the phone in New York, he knew that "a storm was coming." A day after the article ran, he finally connected with Weinstein — "the last conversation I ever had with him," he points out — and, he continues, "I said, 'Come on! What the fuck?! If any of this is true, okay, which it sure looks like it is, you need to do the right thing for all of these people here [the company's employees] and stand down." Glasser adds, "When I was on the phone with him the last time, it was, like, complete, utter denial. You know, [Weinstein insisted] I'm wrong and why am I believing everybody else? And that was the last time I spoke to him."
For the next four months, Glasser tried to steady the ship, but there was only so much that anyone could do. He explains, "That shadow was cast across anybody — anybody that had touched business with our company, or any of the other companies that were going through it momentarily afterwards — 'Who knew what?!'" Glasser has always maintained that he knew only that Weinstein was "always" having extramarital affairs, but never had reason to believe that Weinstein was also engaging in non-consensual behavior. Moreover, he emphasizes, "We all at the company didn't know, 'Did money come out of the company [to silence accusers]? Did it go to any people?'" He says he asked questions of the board, but couldn't get answers, and wound up out of a job himself, leading to insinuations that he had been deposed for protecting Weinstein. "I think there's a lot of stuff across the board that was inaccurately portrayed," he says now, adding later, "I've learned to look back on it and realize that I can't be upset about that because there are people in a lot worse position than myself."
Glasser confirms that he has read the recently published books by the authors of the Weinstein exposes, Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey's She Said and Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill. His review? "I think they're super, phenomenal reporting. I have an incredible respect for, obviously, what all of you guys do. And I think, you know, look, it's well done on their part. It's incredibly in-depth and well done journalism."
At that point, Glasser questioned if he even wanted to remain a part of the film industry. He recalls, "I just looked at the business and said, 'Look at what's just happened to all of these people!' And that was probably one of those moments when I go, 'What am I doing? Do I want to go and work somewhere? Or do I want to go and do something else?'" Ultimately, the married father of three decided to give Hollywood another go. He set up 101 Studios, raising $300 million in funding and declaring a mission of telling true stories that create cultural conversations. He bought back The Current War from Lantern, the private equity firm that acquired the remnants of The Weinstein Co. after it fell apart. And he invited Gomez-Rejon to "take another crack at it," financing $125,000 in reshoots on top of re-editing that the director did in tandem with his mentor, Martin Scorsese, an executive producer of the film.
All in all, efforts to resuscitate and re-release The Current War — "almost an impossible task," in Glasser's view, especially because he insisted on retaining the same title as the original version, even though that one stood at just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes — cost 101 Studios some $15 million, "not cheap," Glasser emphasizes. But he has no regrets, pointing out that the director's cut now possesses nearly twice as high a Rotten Tomatoes score as the original. "I couldn't be prouder of the movie and of the talent and partners and everybody — and my team," he states. "I think this team is going to go really far, because they were given every roadblock that you can imagine — everything you can imagine that would have been against you to try and release a movie — and they did it."