What Kara Frederick learned from negotiating with Harvey Weinstein

‘Something wasn’t right’: What Kara Frederick learned from negotiating with Harvey Weinstein

Watching Working with Weinstein, a documentary ABC’s 4Corners broadcast on Monday telling the stories of several British women who say they were abused and harassed by the disgraced movie mogul they worked with, I thought of the observations Kara Frederick recently shared with me.

The Sydney-based Frederick, who is a Silicon Valley native, a former Goldman Sachs executive and general partner at VC firm Reinventure, has a unique perspective on the subject.

“When I was in New York a decade ago I negotiated directly with Harvey and Bob Weinstein about investing in the Weinstein company,” Frederick said. “We spent several months with colleagues debating the term sheet and ultimately we didn’t invest, for which I feel fortunate.”

While Frederick was not aware of, and did not encounter, Weinstein’s alleged predatory advances, what she and her peers observed was off-putting enough to walk away from a deal.

“He didn’t conduct himself in a way I ever would or in a way that was respectful,” she said. “Our deal team – myself included – felt something was off about the way things were handled. We didn’t do the deal and ‘not feeling right’ was a contributing factor.”

The red flags took different forms.

“Some of it is instinct: a feeling you have when you are across the table negotiating with an individual. You won’t learn every detail of a person’s life but you can get a sense,” she said. “It became clear in our discussion that we might not have been told the whole truth.”

Indeed, they were not. And while many of the most abhorrent experiences individual women faced with Weinstein happened behind closed doors, there was plenty of trauma inflicted in public too.

With virtually every day that has passed since October last year, when the New Yorker first published the allegations against Weinstein, it has been apparent that his capacity and propensity to violate, harass and bully those around him was limitless. His modus operandi in terrorising those in his orbit was not exclusively private.

In Working with Weinstein, the producer of Shakespeare in Love and My Week with Marilyn, David Parfitt spoke about being “physically assaulted” by Weinstein after a film screening.

“He pinned me up against a Coke machine and threatened all sorts of stuff. It was very scary. He was just furious that the film, and our version, worked. If he goes for you, it spewed out. It’s vicious, it’s dirty, it’s a lot of swearing, it’s a lot of unpleasant stuff.”

Another producer and longtime Weinstein collaborator, Stephen Woolley, spoke in Working with Weinstein about the guilt he carries because of the damaging way he treated staff.

“That is a failing that I have — and other producers at that time — of allowing him to quietly bully his own people,” Wolley said.

Why? Why was Weinstein free to harass and bully with impunity for almost three decades?

The simple answer is because he was the powerbroker. He was the movie man everyone wanted to work with and held all the cards.

“I believe there were a lot of people who were aware who were potentially benefitting so they didn’t say anything,” Frederick said.

The incentive and benefits of staying quiet, kept people quiet for a long time but Frederick says as Weinstein’s power base gradually started to shrink this changed.

“TV starting eating film and [Weinstein’s] bread and butter was films. Harvey became much less powerful and less relevant so the incentives changed.”

Frederick says looking at how we can collectively change incentives will be the key to eradicating systemic bullying and harassment. She says the power of institutional investors and board directors to escalate the treatment of staff can’t be understated, and she is is seeing signs of change.

“In the US conversations are happening in LPs and boardrooms where they are asking ‘Why is this happening? and ‘What can we do about it?’,”she says.  “ I even  feel that I have had a personal interest in what has transpired. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and am hopeful that these conversations are becoming much more productive and are turning the spotlight on how to be positive change agents.”

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