Before the 1999 Oscars, Saving Private Ryan was believed to be a shoo-in to win Best Picture. Shakespeare in Love pulled off a huge upset and beat Spielberg’s World War II epic. Disgraced movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, spearheaded the shocking upset for his romantic comedy. 20 years later, Hollywood Reporter looks back at the questionable methods Weinstein used to help propel Shakespere in Love to the shocking victory.
Some of the highlights of Hollywood Reporter’s Oral History of the upset are below:
Between the December 1998 rollout of Shakespeare and final Oscar voting a few months later, rumblings of a Miramax “whisper campaign” grew and nearly sparked war.
PRESS I started to get all these calls from press saying, “Harvey Weinstein has hired publicists, including Murray Weissman, and, just so you know, they’re trying to get us to write stories saying that the only thing amazing about Ryan is the first 20 minutes, and then after that it’s just a regular genre movie.” I mean, I knew Harvey was spending a ton of money, but that was the first time I was exposed to the idea of a “whisper campaign” against another movie. I heard that Harvey had basically gone around hiring people who were old-timey publicists, who were just thrilled to be thought of and to get the work, and sent them out with this idea. So I went to Steven and I said, “Listen, just so you know, this is getting ugly.” And Steven said to me — I’ll never forget this — “No matter what, I do not want you to get down in the mud with Harvey Weinstein.” That was the exact quote. I said, “Are you sure?” And he said, “I don’t want any negative campaigning.” I said, “OK.”
SPIELBERG It’s not that I got “turned off” by it. I didn’t. There was fierce competition before 1998-99. There’s always been competition. Back in the ’40s and ’50s, there was bloc voting — the Academy members at Fox were voting against the members at Warner Bros. and they were all being trounced by the voters at MGM. I mean, this is not foreign to anyone who has had experience growing up in this town. It’s just a reality, something we live with.
You can read the entire oral history here.