Disney nearly ‘maxed out

Ongoing projects may be abandoned

This article was updated on December 14, 2004.

Is Miramax Films in Neverland?

The mini-major will launch on Thursday a year-long celebration of the its 25th anniversary, complete with parties hosted by Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh and a retrospective overseen by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Earlier this week, Miramax parent the Walt Disney Co. reached a landmark of its own: On Monday, in its annual Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the Mouse House made its first official acknowledgment that its relationship with Bob and Harvey Weinstein may be coming to an end.

“The company does not expect business at its subsidiary Miramax to continue at the same level beyond the September 30, 2005, date on which the current contractual relationship with the co-chairmen (Bob and Harvey Weinstein) will end,” Disney said.

Also at stake, according to the filing, were ongoing projects that “may be abandoned or otherwise impaired.”

The filing also acknowledged that Disney and the Weinsteins remain in negotiations “regarding the future of our business relationship.”

Amid the ongoing contract talks, the Mouse House has sought to paint the Weinsteins’ company as a spendthrift that’s strayed too far from its roots.

Disputing Disney

Miramax and its genre arm, Dimension Films, contend that the mini-major is an annual moneymaker, disputing Disney’s assertions that the division has lost money three of five years running.

However, for all of its corporate turmoil, Miramax has been on something of a winning streak. The company was criticized for sitting on martial arts epic acquisition “Hero,” but a summer release saw the pic top $53 million in the U.S. and open at No. 1. The modestly budgeted “Shall We Dance” came on the heels of a dry spell for star Jennifer Lopez but has waltzed to more than $56 million. Meanwhile, “Finding Neverland” and “The Aviator” should get big boosts from awards season buzz.

Over the past year, Miramax has taken major steps to cut back overhead. It’s now operating at particularly lean levels and continuing to cut corners as Oscar pushes loom.

Sticking together

People close to the situation say Disney wants to scale back Miramax to lesser levels as it doesn’t want a division making big-budget wide releases.

It has become more clear that however the talks go, Bob and Harvey Weinstein are a team that will stick together. Earlier, one possible scenario had the brothers breaking up, with Dimension residing in the Mouse House, but people close to the talks say the Weinsteins will now more than likely be paired in any endeavor.

In 2003, Miramax pulled in a company-best $1.2 billion in worldwide box office. Last week, Miramax said its overseas unit, Miramax Intl., was on a record pace at the box office this year. The unit has racked up nearly $560 million without having yet flown “The Aviator” in theaters overseas. “Finding Neverland” has opened abroad so far only in the U.K.

The foreign bump came largely from films including “Scary Movie 3,” “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Cold Mountain,” “Shall We Dance,” “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over,” “Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World” and “Hero.”

However, films like “Cold Mountain” and, previously, “Gangs of New York,” gained Harvey Weinstein a rep as being hungry for mega-budgeted brass rings.

Discussions of profitability have largely targeted Miramax. The last five rollouts at Bob Weinstein’s Dimension — “Kids 3-D,” “Scary Movie 3,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Bad Santa” and “Starsky” — took in more than $425 million domestically on total budgets that add up to almost $200 million. Dimension split costs on “Starsky” and “Santa.”

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