Mira takes it to the max with niche

Company's goal is to establish talent, create buzz

NEW YORK — When it comes to blurring the line between independents and studios, Miramax Films is the gold standard.

In its early days, the company was an indie focusing on smaller pics such as “The Crying Game” and “Cinema Paradiso.” It signed on with corporate parent Disney in 1993, and now its slate includes big-budget, star-driven packages like “Gangs of New York” and “Cold Mountain.”

Given its business plan and the scope of some of its projects, it can’t be considered an arthouse division of a major. But despite high-profile mainstream movies like “Chicago” and “Chocolat,” operating chief Rick Sands says the Miramax mission remains unchanged.

“Everybody’s looking for the next ‘Greek Wedding’ or ‘Amelie,’ but it’s not just about the next breakout hit,” Sands tells Variety. “Those films are very few and far between, and Miramax understands that. That’s not really why we distribute arthouse movies. We’re looking to establish certain directors and certain talents because it’s part of our heritage and our brand.”

The prime raison d’etre for specialty divisions, Sands says, is now marketing, given the studios’ inability to shape release campaigns for smaller movies.

“It’s a completely different animal,” he says. “It’s publicity-driven and review-driven. You have to know how to do that and you have to want to do it.”

He says that the mid-range between big and small productions is now the real fear zone.

“The big risk today is the ‘tweeners: movies that cost between $15 million and $30 million and may or may not have known stars,” explains Sands. “Those are very difficult to sell to the public, to international distributors and to television.”

That doesn’t mean they don’t try — Miramax is re-releasing the mid-budgeted “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” this summer. It failed to ignite last December.

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