Exex ‘Maxed out

Staff exodus accelerates as Burnham books gig

NEW YORK — When Miramax Books topper Jonathan Burnham hightailed it to HarperCollins to become publisher this week, the defection was just the latest in a string depleting Miramax’s ranks. The exits come as co-heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein continue to hash out an exit agreement with parent the Walt Disney Co.

As speculation has swirled over which Miramax employees the Weinsteins may take with them to any new venture after contract talks with Disney close, many of the mini-major’s high-level execs are not sticking around to field offers and are instead streaming to the competition.

The impressive level at which many of them are finding outside offers is turning heads.

At mammoth HarperCollins — which houses imprints from ReganBooks and Harper Entertainment to William Morrow, Fourth Estate and Ecco — Burnham will be senior veep and publisher of the Harper hardcover imprint.

Brad Weston — a co-prexy of Miramax genre arm Dimension who left earlier in the week — is on the verge of signing a deal that would make him a co-prexy of production at Paramount. Par has refused to confirm.

Earlier in the year, Miramax vet Rick Sands went from the company’s chief operating officer to prexy-chief operating officer at DreamWorks. Also in January, the Gersh Agency tapped acquisitions exec Arianna Bocco to head a new independent feature packaging unit, while fellow acquisitions exec Matt Brodlie headed to Sony’s TriStar label.

The slow pace of the contract talks may be to blame for some of the burnout at Miramax. Staffers, who have been largely kept in the dark and told to sit tight, have been on edge too long.

The wait could be over soon, however, as the deal is destined to be completed any day.

Miramax brass have insisted speculation over which employees may travel with the brothers to any new venture is baseless, as formal offers cannot be made until the Disney deal closes and a new venture is funded.

While production people at the mini-major have little to do at this point, other departments are harried, as they prep as many as 22 pics to hit theaters in the next six months. Many of those films are acquisitions that still require post-production boosts.

Particularly thinned out are Miramax’s praiser ranks.

Exec veep of PR Cynthia Swartz is said to be mulling an exit, which Miramax denies, and Amanda Lundberg, exec VP of worldwide publicity, is already segueing out of the picture for maternity leave. Miramax flacks at lower levels have been leaving to launch their own boutique firms, including Weiman Seid’s Fat Dot and Dina Wise’s Wise & Co.

On the international front, after less than a year as prexy of Miramax Intl., onetime UIP chief Michael Williams-Jones stepped down March 1 from the mini-major’s U.K.-based operation, which is expected to shutter within the year.

Weinstein was apparently hoping to hold on to Burnham, but with Disney’s plans to fold Miramax Books into its Hyperion brand and Burnham’s contract expiring, staying held little allure.

HarperCollins’ hardcover authors include Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Wells, Dennis Lehane, Lemony Snicket, Joyce Carol Oates, Neal Stephenson, Meg Cabot and Cynthia Voight.

Michael Morrison, prexy and group publisher of the HarperMorrow division, said Burnham’s contact with Hollywood will be an important asset for the publisher.

“As the publishing industry evolves, the connection to the West Coast and to Hollywood will be a big plus,” he told Daily Variety. “The types of books that Jonathan has worked on, both at Miramax and in the U.K., are a strong match and fit perfectly for us.”

Burnham will report to Morrison.

While at Miramax, Burnham worked on books by Rudolph Giuliani, Queen Noor of Jordan, Madeleine Albright and Plum Sykes, as well as books by Variety editorial staff, including “Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession” and an upcoming 100th anniversary tribute to Variety.

Burnham will work with Harvey Weinstein again, as Weinstein is writing his memoirs for HarperCollins.

Harvey Weinstein still has a core of loyal key execs around him who will support the company’s plans until the end. As one said at a recent Miramax event prior to the Oscars, “You never leave the castle before the king.”

At Dimension, however, it seems that the company’s other co-prexy, Andrew Rona, will also step down, as will exec veep of business and legal affairs Andrew Gumpert, who is acting as a figure in the talks with Disney.

When any new venture the Weinsteins might launch is fully funded, the brothers could certainly generate enough coin to lure back bodies and make some bold moves.

Miramax and Dimension’s slate includes a number of productions that have been repeatedly shelved for later release dates, in particular John Dahl’s WWII feature “The Great Raid,” John Madden’s “Proof” and Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm.”

However, Miramax has achieved some significant successes out of pics that have had their dates shift, including “Finding Neverland” and “Hero.”

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