By Patrick Healy – January 27, 2015 4:00 pm
On Friday, Patrick Healy, The Times’s theater reporter, wrote about a dispute between the film producer Harvey Weinstein and the “Finding Neverland” theater publicist Rick Miramontez. He describes the delicate business of getting both sides of a hot-button story.
On Thursday night, I received a juicy tip from a source on the theater beat I cover.
Harvey Weinstein, the Academy Award-winning film titan now moving into Broadway producing with the new musical “Finding Neverland,” had supposedly unleashed a profanity-laden tirade about the media strategy of his “Neverland” publicist, Rick Miramontez, a prominent figure in New York theater with a knack for helping win Tony Awards for his shows. Mr. Weinstein’s criticisms led Mr. Miramontez to resign from the “Neverland” account, a rare rebuke in an image-conscious industry where publicists usually suffer in silence when their producers lose faith in them.
I quickly found a couple of theater executives who backed up the tip, saying they witnessed Mr. Weinstein lashing into Mr. Miramontez, but they wouldn’t allow me to use their names in an article because they didn’t want to be revealed dishing about a private exchange.
So I reached out – via phone, email and text message – to Mr. Weinstein’s executive producer on “Neverland,” told her what I’d heard and requested a response by 10 p.m.
Shortly after that, I heard that Mr. Weinstein would be calling.
Musical producers and publicists aren’t usually the news; the musical is. But Mr. Weinstein is one of film’s most successful and talented producers, and his foray into Broadway is highly anticipated. He is also known as a tough character, a fiercely competitive man with high standards who doesn’t suffer fools and can be blunt and demanding with those who work for him (as well as appreciative and fun company, it should be added). Mr. Miramontez, in turn, is one of the savviest publicists in showbiz, a man who has dealt with many a big ego (for starters Bono, the Edge, Julie Taymor, and the producers of the $75 million musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”).
I pushed off my 10 p.m. deadline to get Mr. Weinstein’s side of the story. This was essential, especially given that I was working with incendiary material from two sources who were hiding behind anonymity.
At 10:30 p.m. he called from the Sundance Film Festival and quickly lit into Mr. Miramontez again – for good reason, he said. Mr. Weinstein has a great deal riding on “Finding Neverland,” and he is used to taking a hands-on approach to publicize his movies, often calling friends like Anna Wintour at Vogue or Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair to pitch coverage. He was frustrated that he wasn’t getting what he saw as sufficient results from Mr. Miramontez. (He also insisted that he used no profanity, which I found a stretch, but hey, I wasn’t there.)
From there began a wild 90 minutes: Juicy quotes from Mr. Weinstein followed by a response from Mr. Miramontez in one, two, then three emails. I was writing furiously and was about to file when Mr. Weinstein called back, shortly before midnight, to say that he wanted to amend his comments with some new, gentler ones about Mr. Miramontez.
That second phone call required a mix of delicacy and resolve on my part. His original tough comments were on the record and I told him clearly that I was still going to use them, regardless of his kinder remarks that he was giving me now.
My posture was critical in dealing with hard-charging subjects like Mr. Weinstein who are important figures on my beat (I didn’t want to needlessly alienate him by declining to use his softer comments) and often get their way (I wasn’t going to let myself or Times standards about on-the-record interviews be steamrollered).
After one more check-in with Mr. Miramontez, I filed the story and stayed up into the wee hours to be edited.
The next morning each side appeared satisfied that their views and positions were fairly reflected in the story, which was quickly picked up by other news organizations. It had been a long night, but taking the time to let both men have their say – rather than filing the story quickly with just the anonymous sources – was worth the wait (and lack of sleep).