Miramax, With More Pix, Execs, Strides Into Its Second Decade

Miramax Films enters its second decade with modest expansion plans including new executive hires and a goal of self-sufficiency based on its library.

Co-chairman Bob Weinstein, who formed the privately held distribution firm with brother Harvey, projects 16 to 18 pics for release in 1991 by Miramax and its labels Millimeter and Prestige.

Prestige, run by Mark Lipsky, “gives us the ability to do more, while we don’t have the pressure of a major to keep 1,800 screens filled,” Bob Weinstein says. He notes that the company’s biggest p& a commitment ever will be for Bill Duke’s “A Rage In Harlem,” which opens in the spring at 800 to 850 theaters.

Another wide 1991 release is Stephen Frears’ “The Grifters,” which bowed at 800 screens on Jan. 25, a week after its Los Angeles relaunch. Pic had a one-week Oscar-qualifying release on both coasts in December.

Miramax also has three pics eligible for the foreign-language film Oscar (company won last year with Italy’s “Cinema Paradiso”): China’s “Ju Dou,” Germany’s “The Nasty Girl” and Spain’s “Ay, Carmela.”

More commercial fare

Harvey Weinstein says a major objective for 1991 is the beefing up of the Millimeter division with new executives. Designed to handle more commercial, mainstream films than the traditional specialized Miramax label, Millimeter will launch Lizzie Borden’s thriller “Love Crimes” in May.

“We have over 120 films currently in our library and the rights are coming back to us for the earliest ones,” Harvey says. “With the ability to relicense these films we should be in a position to fund all our overhead costs… by 1992.”

Miramax’ recent surge to leadership among specialized independent distributors was propelled by a 1988 equity finance and revolving credit line provided by Britain’s Midland-Montagu Investment Group. Currently Miramax draws on a $30 million Chase Manhattan credit line to fund its acquisitions and marketing as well as to back production commitments.

Unlike most companies of its size, Miramax remains a close-to-the-vest operation in which the Weinsteins are directly involved in most aspects of marketing and creative campaigns.

“The two of us wrote and produced over 1,000 radio spots when we were promoting rock concerts and film series in upstate New York prior to forming Miramax,” Harvey recalls. “We still come up with about 95% of the copy lines for our films.”

Find the missing number

Miramax, which successfully released Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” in 1990, has two other Greenaway pictures in store, with the British director’s 1988 film “Drowning By Numbers” opening in May from Prestige. “Peter came up with the idea of pulling out one of the 100 numbers he’s planted references to in the film and we’ll be releasing the picture with that change… to see if the critics and buffs are awake,” Harvey says.

Greenaway’s latest, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” entitled “Prospero’s Books,” does not have a release date because it involves intricate and time-consuming visual effects, per Harvey. “Peter hopes to complete the picture in time for the Cannes Film Festival,” Harvey says.

The Weinsteins also include other company execs such as Lipsky in their campaigns. For “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge,” the Oscar hopeful from Merchant Ivory, three separate campaigns have already been developed. The Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward starrer expands to over 200 screens in February.

This approach will be repeated on “Rage In Harlem,” an adaptation by John Toles Bey of Chester Himes’ novel. The black cast includes Forest Whitaker, Danny Glover, Gregory Hines, Robin Givens, Franklin Ajaye and Toukie Smith. Film is a co-production of Miramax and Britain’s Palace Pictures.

Bob Weinstein says ” ‘Rage’ is not a homogenized version of Chester Himes. We resisted pressure from international distributors to have white characters written into the piece, and supported our decision by taking a financial obligation for such territories as Japan and Italy where all-black films have not performed well.”

With “Harlem” as well as “Lenny Henry Live And Unleashed” (a concert film starring the British comic) on tap, Harvey has commenced aggressive recruiting of black executives to work at Miramax in both marketing and distribution to give input to the launch of these films.

Madonna due in May

On Miramax’ 1991 roster is the concert film “Truth Or Dare,” produced by and starring Madonna. It will open exclusively in May in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., followed by national bookings.

While many of Miramax’ pictures are foreign imports, another domestic entry will be its summer rerelease of David Lynch’s debut feature, “Eraserhead,” a ’70s midnight movie hit when first launched by Libra Films. Rights reverted to Lynch who pacted with Miramax for the relaunch.

From Britain, Miramax has a quartet of spring releases: Greenaway’s “Drowning By Numbers”; Philip Ridley’s debut picture as director, “The Reflecting Skin” (the company’s current release, “The Krays,” was scripted by Ridley); David Leland’s “The Big Man”; and Mike Hodges’ U.S.-lensed Goldcrest effort “Black Rainbow.”

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