Dimension genre guru takes Mira to the Max

Label offers parent a no-lose situation

As grosses plateau on Miramax’s arthouse fare and Harvey Weinstein ventures into the terra incognita of Tina Brown magazines and potential TV shows, the dependable mainstay for the company has become the 6-year-old Dimension label, run by younger brother Bob.

With horror, sci-fi and action as its mandates, the banner covers every film you’d never expect to see from tony Miramax.

“With Dimension, you know what kind of movie you’re doing,” Bob Weinstein boasts. “It ain’t going to be ‘Wings of the Dove’ or ‘Good Will Hunting.’ Our label means something.”

Dimension also is moving into bigger-budget action territory, with “Rambo” and “Total Recall” franchises on the horizon and even children’s films like “Air Bud: Golden Receiver.”

Dimension has a number of high-profile projects in development, including Quentin Tarantino’s “Forty Lashes,” based on an Elmore Leonard novel, and the submarine-set “Proteus,” from “Pi” helmer Darren Aronofsky.

Weinstein is also eager to set up pics with such helmers as Adrian Lyne and William Friedkin, both of whom have been in talks to direct for Dimension.

And maximum Bob, who leaves the premieres to Harvey, oversees the division like a manic father or a crazed scientist, extremely hands-on and rabidly active in the development and production of every feature.

“I’m responsible for Dimension, but there’s never been any competition. For 15 years before Dimension, Harvey was out front,” Bob says. “But I read every script. It’s not my nature (to be out front).”

While Miramax rode high on Oscar wins for “Good Will Hunting” this year and “The English Patient” in 1997, Dimension got down and dirty with a $103 million domestic gross on “Scream,” which came out in 1996, and $101 million on the 1997 release “Scream 2.”

Dimension last year accounted for 45% ($190 million) of Miramax’s total grosses ($419 million) with just three releases: “Scream 2,” “Operation Condor” and “Mimic,” along with the carryover box office from the first “Scream.” (By comparison, Miramax’s 55% share was divided among 21 films, as well as carryover on four more Miramax titles.)

$120 million, so far

This year, Dimension’s gross totals already are past $120 million, or 37% (though the Weinsteins predict the ’98 share will level out near 30%).

The hefty total comes thanks in part to the $52 million-plus that the Jamie Lee Curtis starrer “Halloween H20” has earned. And Dimension is hoping its Christmas release will be its biggest grosser ever: “The Faculty,” written by “Scream” scribe Kevin Williamson and directed by “From Dusk Till Dawn” helmer Robert Rodriguez.

Those numbers are a far scream from the under-$6 million gross totals for the typical Miramax arthouse hits like “Smoke Signals” and “Next Stop Wonderland.”

No-lose situation

For Miramax, Dimension offers a no-lose situation. Bob rarely lets budgets climb higher than $30 million. “Halloween H20,” for example, cost just $17 million. And the gross potential from teens thrilling on chills far outweighs the cash outlay.

“You can do $50 million to $75 million without any adults coming to the movies,” Bob chirps.

Though Bob and Harvey’s names are on everything together as Miramax co-chairmen and often exec producers, it’s clear to most of the schlock horror/sci-fi community that Bob is the man.

“He’s such a fan of that genre and he knows his shit,” Rodriguez says. “That’s the scary thing. He truly enjoys the movies and tries to make the best picture possible.”

Bob takes pride in his knowledge and keen understanding of the schlock horror/sci-fi oeuvre, if you will.

“Quentin (Tarantino) says: ‘I know that you secretly like ‘The Exorcist’ better than ‘Wings of the Dove,’ ” says Weinstein. “It’s true. I do.”

Weinstein’s respect for the genre helped convince Wes Craven, the creator of such classics as “Nightmare on Elm Street,” to sign a three-picture deal with Miramax before “Scream” was released. “Bob brings a tremendous amount of intelligence, respect and diligence to make genre films,” says Craven. “He doesn’t see them as schlock.”

Right now, Craven is helming “50 Violins” starring Meryl Streep for Miramax. The opportunity to direct a non-genre pic was a powerful incentive to sign his three-pic deal with Miramax, Craven says.

Two years ago, Dimension defied conventional wisdom by opening Craven’s “Scream” during the holiday season, traditionally reserved for Oscar contenders.

The teen horror pic’s gross nearly doubled the $52 million take of the “The Crow,” Dimension’s top-grossing film up until that time. “Scream” and “Scream 2” each finished within range of Miramax’s box office champ, “Good Will Hunting,” which grossed $138 million domestically.

The success of both “Screams” revitalized the dormant genre market and awakened Hollywood’s interest in ensemble-driven scary movies with attractive young thesps.

Will Dimension score a Christmas hat trick with “The Faculty”? Weinstein thinks so. Bob describes the pic as “The Breakfast Club” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

“Faculty” is already benefiting from a unique marketing relationship with apparel-maker Tommy Hilfiger that featured such young thesps as Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, R&B singer Usher and Elijah Wood in a back-to-school advertising campaign.

In what has been a lackluster year so far for distributors of arthouse fare, Miramax could use another megahit from its genre division to keep its momentum going.

But Weinstein says he can afford to be choosy with the Dimension label. “I’m picking less,” he says. “I don’t need to fill the pipeline.”

Franchise opportunities

Unlike Miramax, Dimension has the opportunity to create and to acquire franchises. “Hollywood is built on franchises,” Weinstein says. “Miramax never had that ability. You couldn’t have a ‘Piano 2’ or ‘My Right Foot.’ With Dimension, the opportunity to have a franchise is there. But it’s not as easy as putting a Roman numeral after the title of the movie.”

Dimension has both created franchises and bought them. The label was created when Bob persuaded Harvey to pick up “Halloween V” in the early 1990s. “Hellraiser 3” was the first Dimension-produced film, in 1992.

In early 1997, Dimension outbid 20th Century Fox and Live Entertainment to pick up the theatrical sequel, prequel and remake film rights to the sci-fi actioner “Total Recall.”

Like Miramax, Dimension favors low budgets for its films. Bob Weinstein knows better than to try and compete with the studios when it comes to special effects. The company’s foray into f/x with Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic” was not encouraging. With a budget of $30 million, the story of mutant cockroaches was Miramax’s most expensive film to date. But it grossed just $25 million.

‘Bob’s’ or ‘Harvey’s’

Insiders say that new employees at Miramax are often labeled “Bob’s” or “Harvey’s,” in reference to the distinct personalities and styles of the two indie kings.

Harvey’s are quick-tempered and outgoing and love to be surrounded by willing staffers to whom they constantly can delegate a litany of impossible tasks.

Bob’s are strong, silent types. They prefer to earmark particular people — both inside and outside the company — with whom they can deal with on an exclusive basis.

As for filmmakers, Bob Weinstein forges tight relationships that often leave A-list helmers coming back for more.

Rodriguez says he invited Bob down to Austin, Texas, where he was editing “The Faculty” out of his garage.

“He was in my editing room for two days on a movie that I have final cut on,” Rodriguez says. “I couldn’t imagine doing that anywhere.”

(Benedict Carver contributed to this story.)