Disney opts for Minimax while Harvey maxes up
Mention Miramax to someone these days and you get a one-word answer: Which?
As of this week, there is only one Miramax. The “old” one is now called the Weinstein Co. (which seems to have become its permanent name). And, despite the genetic connection, the “new” Miramax and the very new Weinstein Co. seem to be taking remarkably divergent courses.
Miramax’s parent, Disney, seems bent on making its specialty division tight and disciplined.
Disney honcho Dick Cook and new Miramax topper Daniel Battsek are trying to return Miramax to its style of 15 years ago, when it was a crusading independent, not a global production machine hungry for mainstream success.
Bob and Harvey Weinstein, on the other hand, are intent on creating a full-fledged media company.
The Weinsteins have not disclosed their plans — or their funding — to date, but sources close to their camp say an announcement will come as soon as the end of October. Speculation puts the company kickoff party in Gotham on Oct. 26, with details of its financing to dovetail with that launch date.
“We are excited about our upcoming slate and feel renewed and energized to be officially launching the Weinstein Co. on Monday and releasing the company’s first film, ‘Derailed,’ on Nov. 11,” Harvey Weinstein said.
The impending announcement, to be made with Goldman Sachs, also will illuminate the brothers’ plans for homevid distribution, as well as a series of international output deals.
Weinstein Co. had been in talks with a number of studios, including Warner Bros., to handle homevid titles, but it now seems the brothers see a greater upside in launching their own label than in partnering with a major.
The company also has inked output deals with distribs in the U.K., Italy, France and other territories, which were negotiated by new international head Glen Basner (a former Focus Features exec) as well as Tarak Ben Ammar. Ben Ammar is a board member of Weinstein Co.
The Weinsteins are expected to begin selling individual pics, under Basner, on a territory-by-territory basis at November’s American Film Market in Los Angeles.
The international division will handle sales on IFC Films titles through the Weinsteins’ strategic relationship with Cablevision, which also covers the creation of a new library for cable networks IFC, AMC and WE. The Weinsteins are said to be in talks to snap up another Cablevision net, music channel Fuse, which would serve as a cable component in their plans.
Some key players — including Basner, former Artisan Pictures prexy of development and production Richard Saperstein and onetime Loudeye prexy of digital media solutions Larry Madden — are in place and have moved into the company’s new office space in Tribeca. And last week, the Weinsteins named Miramax vets Matthew Cohen and Gary Faber as marketing co-heads.
While not officially announced, former Miramax acquisitions execs Agnes Mentre (in Gotham), Michelle Krumm (in Los Angeles) and Maeva Gatineau (in London) are expected to make the transition to the Weinstein Co.
But the company is still missing a key exec: production chief. The brothers had been in talks with Apartment 3B Prods.’ Jennifer Klein to take the post, but the talks fell through.
Though the Weinsteins have yet to unveil specifics regarding financing for their company, bankers have been saying privately that there is no dearth of available funds these days, or of willing investors. The process may also have been slowed down because the brothers were asking for hard-driving terms.
A person close to the deal said the terms were a sticking point, but that the deals were negotiated up to four weeks ago, and the brothers are sorting out who they want to bring on as financial partners in the new venture.
In a statement last week, a Weinstein Co. spokeswoman said the company “is confident that it has the operational capacity and financial resources” to carry out its business plan. Under securities laws, she added, the company is prohibited from discussing financing arrangements.
Aside from its acquisitions, the company has several films in production: Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering,” John Madden’s “Killshot,” Kevin Smith’s “The Passion of the Clerks” and the latest “Scary Movie” pic.
The company will distribute its own films domestically.
The Weinsteins clearly are maintaining the style of business to which they’ve long been accustomed. The brothers have been meeting with producers and attending fests, keeping a high profile.
By contrast, Battsek is keeping a low profile: No interviews, no speeches, no press releases.
The new Miramax will have an annual budget of $350 million — roughly half of what the Weinsteins were used to — to cover development, production and P&A. It will release six to 10 films a year.
Miramax doesn’t have a full exec roster yet. Since Buena Vista Intl. vet Battsek moved from London to New York to run Miramax, he has quietly bought a pair of pics in Toronto that hint at the new style for Miramax.
Disney does not want Miramax to continue making $100 million gambles such as “Gangs of New York,” “Cold Mountain” and “The Aviator,” which at times directly competed with its own pics.
Instead, Disney wants a company like the early Miramax, which released a manageable slate of arty films that vied for awards.
In Toronto, Battsek bought docu “The Heart of the Game” for about $1 million and South Africa’s Oscar submission this year, Gavin Hood’s audience fave “Tsotsi.”
During the fest, Battsek wouldn’t confirm whether he was even bidding on pics. It’s an uncharacteristic tack for a new company at a festival. For example, Paramount Classics, under new boss Brad Grey, made a statement at Sundance by snapping up the John Singleton-produced “Hustle & Flow” in a deal worth $13 million overall to the producers.
In contrast, Miramax and Battsek made a statement by declining to make a statement.
Clearly, the Disney division isn’t interested at this point in turning itself into a splashy entity. That could change with any influx of films from Scott Rudin, with the producer’s deal moving from Par to the Mouse House. It’s thought a few of his projects may be funneled through Miramax.
On its surface, “Heart of the Game” seems a logical pickup for a Disney label — the pic is an uplifting sports docu about a girls basketball team. While it does contain some prickly themes – the team’s star gets pregnant, drops out and then fights her way back onto the team — it’s still far removed from some of the more controversial pics the Weinsteins brought in during their tenure.
“Tsotsi” — which was compared favorably at Toronto to Miramax’s gritty 2003 release “City of God” — tells of a township hoodlum who learns to care for an infant after he shoots the child’s mother.
The Weinsteins founded Miramax in 1979, and it was acquired by the Walt Disney Co. in 1992. As of Sept. 30, the Weinsteins’ contract was officially up, but Disney retains the Miramax name and library.
After a year of difficult negotiations, Disney and the Weinsteins ended talks in March on an amicable note.
Disney so far this year has released 21 films from Miramax and Dimension. Highlights included “Sin City,” which grossed almost $75 million domestically.