Reimagined unit mobilizes

An official announcement isn’t due until July and Disney’s PR machine is keeping mum, but details about the shape and size of the new Miramax are trickling out anyway.

And if the early word is any indication, Harvey and Bob Weinstein and their ambitious new venture won’t find themselves facing a lot of direct competition from the company that bears their parents’ names.

The new Miramax will have an annual total budget of $350 million. It will release six to 10 films a year, including acquisitions. Most will be budgeted at $12 million and under, though studio brass will have the option of breaking that cap for a project they’re enthusiastic about.

Staff will be slashed still further; total employees will probably number about 50.

Not everything will change. The new Miramax will remain in New York, not relocate to Burbank, as some reports had indicated. It will not be folded into the Buena Vista Motion Picture Group, which comprises the Touchstone and Disney labels.

But it will be less autonomous than before. The new Miramax chief, whoever he is, will report to Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, whereas the Weinsteins dealt directly with chief Mouseketeer Michael Eisner.

What role, if any, Buena Vista Motion Picture Group prexy Nina Jacobson may play in overseeing the new Miramax is unclear. Disney has only mentioned Cook so far, but some say Jacobson plans to be part of the chain of command.

However it shakes out, the new management structure fits with Disney-topper-in-waiting Bob Iger’s plan to decentralize authority at the company, as Miramax toppers won’t be reporting to him. It also, probably not coincidentally, brings Miramax under the direct control of studio brass.

Some Disney execs have long felt that under the Weinsteins, the mini-major was behaving like a separate studio — often, a competing studio.

Kinder and gentler

The rumored budget figures would go still further toward turning Miramax into a kinder, gentler, more docile company. In fact, they’d spell the end of anything resembling the Miramax of recent years.

The $350 million annual total would limit wide releases, while a $12 million budget cap would have nixed the vast majority of the label’s recent films.

It would have left room to acquire “The Station Agent,” “Garden State” and “Bride & Prejudice,” or to make “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Frida.” But such signature pics as “Chicago,” “Kill Bill,” “The Hours” and “Shakespeare in Love” would have been too expensive.

Current hit “Sin City” would have been out too. On the other hand, so would “Hostage” — which is Disney’s point.

The Mouse House will be only too happy to put Miramax out of the business of financing high-profile, high-risk pics like “The Aviator,” “Gangs of New York” and “Cold Mountain” with Disney money.

Who will run this mini-Max is still officially an open question, but rumors persist that talks with Buena Vista Intl. senior veepee Daniel Battsek have progressed far enough that he’s apartment hunting in Gotham.

Job hits

What he’ll find if and when he takes over at Miramax’s Tribeca HQ is also uncertain. But don’t look for many of the Weinsteins’ staffers to remain.

For one thing, there won’t be jobs for most of them. Even though two rounds of job cuts hit Miramax last year — axing about 120 staffers all told — weighty Miramax was still carrying a total of about 300 employees at its Gotham, Los Angeles and London operations. That number, however, has been reduced further. As talks between the Weinsteins and Disney dragged on, a number of execs flew the coop.

Particularly hard hit were the mini-major’s PR and marketing teams, and the sprawling company, which once spanned three separate buildings in Tribeca, shuttered one facility altogether.

Yet even the slimmed-down Miramax will have more staff than most indie labels, which have around 20 employees.

While Miramax staffers have mulled whether to follow the Weinsteins to any new company they formed, few are much interested in sticking with Disney, as the two companies operated so separately.

However, the Mouse House will surely be looking to tap into expertise from some execs as the Weinsteins continue to have a relationship with the studio.

That relationship may be helped by the new mini-Max’s modest agenda. The Weinsteins have been thinking big for a long time, and they plan to keep thinking big at their new company. But the company they’re leaving behind will be content, it appears, to think very small.

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