Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film

ISBN: 0684862581
ISBN 13: 9780684862583
By: Peter Biskind

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About this book

DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES chronicles the rise of independent filmmakers and of the twin engines the Sundance Film Festival and Miramax Films that have powered them. Peter Biskind profiles the people who took the independent movement from obscurity to the Oscars, most notably Sundance founder Robert Redford and Harvey Weinstein, who with his brother, Bob, made Miramax an indie powerhouse. Candid, penetrating and controversial, DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES is a must read for anyone interested in the film world."In DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES, Biskind takes on the movie industry of the 1990s and again gets the story....Peter Biskind captures his era as John Dunne did that of the Zanucks." Frank Rich, The New York Times"Dishy, teeming, superbly reported and packed with lively inside anecdotes...[a] juicy and fascinating expose." - Entertainment Weekly

Reader's Thoughts

Josh Cornelius

I enjoyed Biskind's 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' more, like so many others. It's not so much the writing but the spirit of the game in the 90s that makes this book different. Since this one is so Weinstein-centric and so much of their world revolves around dollars, the book gets pretty dense at times with money talk. Bob is sketched as the Luigi to Harvey's Mario, by which I mean he sits a large portion of the book out, relatively undeveloped. Most of the book is solely dedicated to above and below the line people telling us what an angry, greedy slob Harvey is, giving a lot of backhanded praise lest they need his help again on the way down. Harvey, as written by Biskind, doesn't have a lot of nuance. The real meat of the book for me centers on some of the larger late 90s acquisitions - films like Sling Blade, The Apostle and Good Will Hunting.This book came out in 2004 and doesn't include anything on the Weinstein Company or the recent death of Bingham Ray. Still, it's an important book and tells as much a story about how much Hollywood was shaped by Miramax as anyone could. Biskind is going really important work here, even if the focus of the book, Harvey Weinstein, is relatively loathsome.


After Biskind's book, I cannot think about the film industry the same way again. Filled with episodes of backstabbing, double-crossing, petty rivalries, idiotic disputes, and all sorts of people dragging all sorts of other people through the mud, my eyes have been opened. Most of the book is dedicated to the vivid portraiture of Harvey Weinstein - the pseudo-Messianic figure who rules over his company, Miramax, with an iron fist. (Though his brother Bob is also clearly no pushover.) If there's a reason for the chopping of a star from the rating, it is the weird frame that Biskind tries to construct around Sundance. Of course, telling the story of the rise of independent film in the 1990s is impossible without Sundance - but most of the Sundance bits feel unimportant. Particularly in the latter half of the book, the Sundance sections consist mostly of Robert Redford's various shirkings of responsibility. The Weinstein sections, on the other hand, are commanding - even thrilling. Who knew that such blatant douchebaggery was lurking behind pictures so warm-hearted as Good Will Hunting or Shakespeare In Love? I sure didn't.


Far worse than "Easy Riders Raging Bulls" wayyyy more interested in the politics of movie making and creating a sensationalistic list of things that Harvey Weinstein has done, than providing much meaningful insight into independent film or the directors behind them.


the book was held my interest b/c all the movies and directors are right in my formative wheelhouse of film-watching. "IF" all the stories about Harvey Weinstein are true, I am amazed that the man's heart is still beating (wait...what heart!?).The book comes in at a bloated 480pgs. There were some stories and interviews that could've been dropped. This book needed an editor like Harvey "Scissorhands" to come in and shave about 100pgs from it. That would have been more manageable. As it was, i was "grinding it out" reading about people and studios that I wasn't familiar with.Highlights: background on Kevin Smith's dealings with Miramax; how little money Matt Damon and Ben Affleck made on films for a long time; interviews with Linklater and Ethan Hawke; stories of the tirades that Harvey would go on.Recommended for films fans of that era.

Sam Quixote

I'm one of those who came of age in the `90s and who loves film, remembering all the great films that that decade produced is great fun as well as finding out how they came about from the mouths of the filmmakers themselves. That said, I loved the book but it goes further than talking about the directors and actors, to the guys who held the purse-strings and the exposure, namely the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, who created Miramax and Dimension, and Robert Redford, the movie star who founded the Sundance Film Festival. You read about the Weinsteins' humble beginnings as concert promoters onto small films released on tape, and then small pictures released widely to garner a small profit. From there they go large, getting more pictures, some of which gain success enabling them to seem attractive to a massive corporation like Disney who then buys them and gives them the financial clout to corner the market on low budget films. Redford starts Sundance which then grows, after the initial few years, into a recognisable entity and then comes to be regarded as the place to have your film shown at, given how guys like the Weinsteins go there to buy films. The Weinsteins themselves come across as monsters. Both screaming and abusing staffers, making them wait hours for meetings, docking pay, threatening them, throwing furniture. They really seem like bipolar ogres smashing around to get what they want. Redford comes across as a control freak who is unable to make decisions and thus contributes greatly to the Sundance brand failing to become as mainstream as he had hoped. Contributions are from many recognisable faces, from the superstar directors Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and Kevin Smith to actors Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Even Harvey Weinstein agrees to contribute to the book (Redford declines as he holds grudges). Biskind uses these to create a vivid and compelling portrait of the `90s throughout. While some might say the narrative is repetitive (Weinstein doesn't change nor does Redford and the anecdotes rarely differ - Redford bumbling about, Weinstein screaming foaming at the mouth) I found it too interesting and could easily have kept reading until the present day (it stops at 2003). I loved it, as a fan of good writing and a fan of film, it's a fantastic read and utterly great fun. Here's hoping Biskind does a follow up of the `00s.

Drew Raley

A dead-eyed sequel to his book on The New Hollywood, Biskind desperately trowels on the gossip. Unfortunately, the figures at the center of this installment are less than compelling. Dennis Hopper sat in a chair surrounded by exploding dynamite for an audience. Harvey Weinstein recut some middlebrow awards-bait films. Coppola actually lost his mind in the Philippines, having mortgaged his house and shattered his Godfather Oscars in a fit of rage. Steven Soderbergh got angry at Robert Redford for not spending much money to promote a tame Depression-era story about a boy forced by circumstance to eat magazines. Jack Nicholson WAS Jack Nicholson in the '70s. Quentin Tarantino apparently has horrible BO and no new ideas. D&DP is a damp squib compared to Easy Riders Raging Bulls dynamite chair.

Mark R.

It's not easy to imagine a more thorough (and entertaining) report on independent and quasi-independent filmmaking from 1989 and beyond. Biskind starts his book by noting that it's a sequel of sorts to his chronicle of filmmaking in the 1970s, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" (which I have not yet read but certainly will, in the not-too-distant future). His introduction provides a summary of the time between that era of film school-educated directors and the indie explosion of the early nineties, providing a necessary background for the main story. The two companies Biskind focuses on are, as the title suggests, Miramax and Sundance, organizations that, as the author describes, did much more than commercialize independent film--they "combined the DNA" of Hollywood and the independent scene. Biskind takes on figures like Harvey and Bob Weinstein and Robert Redford with seemingly little concern for retaliation--a theme of this book. He portrays each man not as a good or bad, but as flawed (and often greedy, mean, and somewhat demented) geniuses who changed independent filmmaking for the best and for the worst.

Stephen Parker

Gangs of New York was a pretty okay movie, dude.


After 100 not really interesting pages, here arrives the true Indie figures of the American cinema : Tarantino, Soderbergh, Coen brothers, David O. Russel, etc... And the book becomes suddenly much more intense, and we can easily relate to all the adventures of this bunch of idealists who thought they could build a New Hollywood, or at least make the films they wanted to make. However, there was a big obstacle : Harvey Weinstein. He is truly the Hero of this book, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. And in the end, we cannot help admiring him and fearing him of course, for all his misdeeds. On the other hand, we have the more polite and sleek Robert Redford, the opposite of Weinstein : the one who had a big ambition for Sundance but which ambition never truly materialized, because of his doubts, his self-consciousness, his unreliability, and in the end... his total lack of interest in the true independance of filmmakers. A good sequel to EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS, even if this book talks less about art and filmmakers, sometimes, than producers and budgets.


Having read "Easy Riders and Raging Bulls" - I thought I'd check out the sequel, about indie cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. The subject itself seems very interesting and is worthy of being studied in greater depth. There was an excellent book to be had in the subject matter - it's just that Biskind didn't write it. While I can't fault his research and scoring interviews with most of the key people involved, which seem impeccable - I didn't find the various machinations and double-dealings quite as intriguing as the ones in "Easy Riders..", which seems a shame, as the 1990s, in their own way, were just as revolutionary as the 1960s had been.The main points I got from the book are: 1) The Weinstein brothers, contrary to their working-class hero image, seem to be sociopathic thugs not above using outright intimidation to get what they want and 2) Robert Redford is pretty unreliable and fickle.There's other stuff about Quentin Tarantino (he likes being famous - who knew?), Kevin Smith and Steven Soderbergh, but while they've made some excellent films, they aren't exactly charismatic personae. Sure, they're guys you can hang out with, but would you want to? At least Biskind does cover some of the women involved in independent film, like Allison Anders, instead of focusing entirely on the 'boys club' of "Easy Riders...".After a while, I was bored of reading dollar signs and which indie set-up was going to score the hit of the year. If you're into the business side of the film business, this is the book for you.

Andrew Hathaway

Biskind takes a look at the second wave of independent film making but it lacks the hedonistic charge and insights of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Part of it is because so many of the events outlined here entered the public eye as they were happening so the shock of some of the stories is lessened. The other issue is that, well, it just wasn't as interesting a time. It's more stories of inflated egos than creative torment, and watching an artist struggling to create is more insightful than watching a rock promoter finagle his way to the top. Good, but not great.

RK Byers

best book I've read on the film industry since "You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again."


I'd been loaned Easy Riders, Raging Bulls way back when it came out, and wasn't too crazy about it. The film did a better job condensing that story to its salient points and doing away with Biskind's business-heavy and often trivial writing. So, when I saw this for only a pound in a store, I felt that would be just about the right amount to pay for a second ride on the Biskind train. And I was right.While the tale of the rise and assimilation of independent film, Sundance and Miramax is certainly interesting (to anyone interested in film), Biskind belabours the story with too much jargon, Variety-speak, business technicalities, financial details and far, FAR too many metaphors (most often badly mixed). So, I come away from D&DP with a good story badly told. About half through it, I'd already decided I'd never read it again and so will not be keeping it. It'll be passed on for some other poor body to suffer through.


Very amusing description of the US independent film scene during the 1990s, especially of its business aspects. I am not sufficiently familiar with the field to judge each argument on its merits. In any case the notion that during the 90s there was an attempt to create a middle ground between the traditional independent film scene and large Hollywood studios, an attempt that eventually failed, makes sense.


This is a book of office gossip: who stabbed who in the back, who screwed up the big deals, who did or didn’t say x about y. Except that it’s a book of office gossip about the movie industry, so of course we’re all interested. Starting with Sex, Lies and Videotapes winning the main prize at the Sundance Film Festival and ending with Martin Scorsese failing to win an Oscar for Gangs of New York (I still like that movie), this is a book about the rise of independent film in the 1990s and it’s colonization of the Hollywood mainstream. I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve been lucky enough to have lived through a great age of cinema and perhaps one that’s now at an end (with perhaps There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men as it’s last flourish), so this is an inherently compelling subject and Biskind is a skilled enough writer to milk it for all it’s worth, even setting aside an extensive address book that puts him in touch with all the major players. Disproving the Hollywood cliché that your leading men need to be sympathetic, the main players here are the Weinstein brothers, Bob and Harvey, the old-style media moguls behind Miramax. Obviously not the most pleasant of people (and they got worse with success), this book makes clear that no one else can claim greater responsibility for the invasion of the cinematic mainstream by a host of maverick talent, from Steven Soderbergh and Kevin Smith to, of course, Quentin Tarantino. So, this is a book of office gossip and it does it’s job thrillingly. A must read for anyone interested in the movies.

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