New chief Battsek starts buying game at label

The article was update at 6:04 p.m.

With Disney’s official announcement Monday that Daniel Battsek had been tapped president of Miramax Films, the company landed back in the acquisition business, effective immediately.

Move would make the new Miramax one more invigorated presence on the fest circuit, with Toronto coming up, along with the Weinsteins’ new company and HBO and New Line’s Picturehouse label.

Company’s pace of acquisitions slowed markedly since founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein ankled to form a new company.

Disney also disclosed Miramax’s first announcement of an acquisition for the new regime: Label has picked up helmer Scott Marshall’s laffer “Lucky 13.”

Battsek will report directly to Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook. The Weinsteins remain as co-chairmen on a non-exclusive basis through Sept. 30. They reported to chief Mouseketeer Michael Eisner, not to Cook.

New HQ

Company will remain headquartered in Gotham, but Disney is scouting for a new location for the offices. Under the Weinsteins, Miramax had expanded to more than 400 staffers at its largest point, housed in no fewer than four downtown sites. One location remains in SoHo and three in Tribeca.

U.K. native Battsek was still in London when the announcement came. He said, “I’ll be moving to New York very shortly and we’ll be making every effort to connect with filmmakers and the community to make sure we get the right projects.”

Cook cited Battsek’s “savvy business sense, combined with his inspired enthusiasm, team spirit and great taste in material” as reasons for the hire.

“Team spirit” was particularly important to the Mouse House leaders, who had a frequently stormy relationship with the Weinsteins.

Battsek is certainly a friendly face for Disney: He has long been part of the studio’s team and has strong relationships with Cook and other execs. His previous post was executive VP/managing director of distribution and production for Buena Vista Intl. U.K.

During his 10-year tenure at BVI U.K. he impressed Disney toppers by leading the label to the top of the Distributor Market Share chart for 2003. It was the first time the Disney label had finished first.

He also created BV-owned shingle U.K. Comedy Label and built it into an important production company. It delivered “Calendar Girls,” “High Heels and Low Lives” and upcoming Miramax release “Kinky Boots,” from helmer Julian Jarrold.

It was reported months ago (Daily Variety, April 1) that Battsek was the leading candidate for the Miramax post and the exec was known to have been apartment-hunting in Gotham.

But under Disney’s agreement with the Weinsteins, they were unable to announce his appointment until after July 1.

Busy sked

In the meantime, the company has been out of the buying business, though it has had a busy release schedule this year. Twelve films, including “Sin City,” “Hostage,” “Bride and Prejudice” and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl” have bowed under the Miramax banner, and the company has four releases due in August and five in September.

Battsek will start his tenure by hiring his executive team and building a fresh slate.

The stakes are high for him and Disney. Miramax may be one of the few labels in the business that moviegoers recognize and identify as a quality mark with the Weinsteins in charge. Battsek will be charged with maintaining the brand with far fewer resources than the Weinsteins commanded.

“That’s all about making the right choices in terms of the filmmakers we make films with and the films that we acquire with that label,” Battsek said. “We’ve got to make some very smart choices and protect that fantastic Miramax name.”

Rudin’s role

No details were forthcoming about what kind of films the label will produce and distribute, the number of films it will release, or the role of Scott Rudin in contributing to its slate.

Sources familiar with Disney’s thinking have said Miramax will have a $350 million annual war chest to cover development, production and P&A. It will release six to 10 films a year, most costing $12 million or less.

The hiring of Battsek further suggests that Miramax will once again focus on low-budget productions and negative pickups, as it did when Disney acquired it from the Weinsteins.

Some of those productions are certain to come from Rudin once he finishes his Paramount deal and comes to Disney.

Rudin’s Par pact expires in September 2006, but he can leave at any time thanks to a “key man” clause in his contract.

If he wants to bring existing projects to Disney, though, the Mouse House would have to acquire them in turnaround, for development costs plus interest and overages.

So it may be many months before Rudin’s Par obligations are wrapped enough for him to set anything up at Disney.

‘Lucky’ start

“Lucky 13″ fits with the likely direction of the new Miramax. Comedy from director Scott Marshall, son of Garry, preemed at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in February and took the audience award.

Toplining are “Spy Kids” star Daryl Sabara, Jeremy Piven, Jami Gertz, Garry Marshall, Doris Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Cheryl Hines.

Other pics on the slate include Richard Gere starrer “Hoax,” directed by Lasse Hallstrom, and Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” which has moved to the Miramax label.

Battsek and the Weinstein Co. will work together on “Breaking and Entering,” “Derailed,” “Matador” and “Mrs. Henderson.”

Bob and Harvey Weinstein issued a statement saying, “We’ve enjoyed working with Daniel Battsek in the past and think he’s a great executive. We wish him much success at the company and look forward to our future collaborations.”

Prior to coming to BVI U.K. in 1992, Battsek was managing director of Palace Pictures, which had a run of success from 1985 to 1991 with “Mona Lisa,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “The Crying Game.”

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