Miramax bolsters its ties to Oz market

Minimajor looking for hands-on role in major territories

SYDNEY — When Miramax swooped down on Phillip Noyce’s “Rabbit-Proof Fence” last May, collaring the rights to North America and several major foreign markets, a big piece of the pie was missing: Australia/New Zealand, which had been secured by indie Becker Entertainment.

Miramax is determined not to let the coveted Oz rights to Aussie films slip through its fingers again — one of the driving forces behind last week’s confirmation of David Collins in the new role of director of distribution, marketing and publicity for Miramax Australia.

The initiative also bolsters with Miramax’s strategy of taking a more hands-on role in several major territories. The minimajor has a European marketing/distribution/co-prod/acquisition operation in London and a similar venture in Rome.

“This enables us to more closely control our own distribution and marketing,” explains Rick Sands, Miramax chairman of worldwide distribution. “We’re doing this slowly and it’s possible we will do it (elsewhere). It’s a territory-by-territory decision.”

Sands says hiring Collins signals a “more aggressive approach” to co-developing, co-producing and acquiring movies with Australian talent.

“If we had had the structure with David in place (earlier), we might have had a better chance of getting Australia and New Zealand rights to ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence,’ ” he adds. “We’re looking for the next ‘Strictly Ballroom’ or ‘The Dish.’ ”

Based in Sydney, Collins will work closely with Victoria Treole, Miramax’s long-standing Oz production and acquisitions exec. He was New South Wales general manager for Roadshow Film Distributors and before that director of distribution for Polygram Filmed Entertainment/Universal Pictures,

In distribution, he will liaise with sister company Buena Vista Intl., whose Melbourne-based banner is releasing Miramax’s current slate of some 15 films. The strengthening of the Miramax-BVI relationship marks a departure for Miramax, which had chiefly sold its films to Roadshow.

However, Sands does not rule out renewing the relationship with Roadshow down the track, noting, “We decided to go in another direction with the present slate after running a bunch of numbers, but that does not prevent us from working with Roadshow again.

“They are a great distributor,” he says.

BVI does fork out minimum guarantees for Miramax’s films — Sands says it’s the “market rate” — but one source indicates the studio does not necessarily pay top dollar for Oz and New Zealand.

But it’s clear that deals are structured in a way that means Miramax stands to earn more from BVI for films that go into overages than it would get from a third-party distrib such as Roadshow. “We hope there will be more upside,” Sands agrees.

Collins says he’s “terrifically excited at the challenge of working with Miramax” and sees his role as complementing the efforts of the BVI Oz team. Among the upcoming releases that Collins will shepherd are “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (which bows Nov. 15), “Serendipity” (Jan. 24), “The Shipping News” (Jan. 31) and “Kate & Leopold” (TBA).

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