×

H’wood heat behind indie Mirage

Oscar winners Pollock, Minghella talent-friendly

NAMES: Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella

DESCRIPTION: Producers, writers, directors

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: These Hollywood vets know more than a thing or two about indie film production.

Who would have thought a grizzled Hollywood player like Sydney Pollack could set an example for the next wave of indie producers?

Mirage Enterprises, the shingle he runs with Anthony Minghella, may be based in Beverly Hills, but it structures its deals in a time-honored indie tradition: offsetting risk by deferring production fees and securing salary deferments from talent; and combining offshore financing with studio distribution. Mirage exited its last studio deal, at Sony, last year. Now, Intermedia puts up production and development funds and overhead.

True to the spirit of his early career as an acting teacher, Pollack seeks to surround talent with a supportive — and unusually collaborative — working environment.

“I have to dissuade people from the idea that I’m anything but a support system,” says Pollack.

Minghella echoes that sentiment: “I want to feel that any director or writer at Mirage is treated the way I as a writer or director would want to be treated,” he says.

Yet the company’s financial objectives are modest.

“It was never set up to become a public company and sell stock and have a board of directors,” says Pollack. “It’s a little group of people who set out to minimize risk.”

Studio cushion

That may sound altruistic coming from the only Hollywood shingle run by two producers with their own best-director Oscars. But it belies a combination of creative and business skills that give Pollack and Minghella considerable wiggle room in their dealings with Hollywood partners.

“It makes an executive’s job really easy,” says Miramax co-prexy of production Meryl Poster. Pollack and Minghella, she says, “are talent-friendly. They know the nuts and bolts of producing. There’s really nothing they don’t know.”

Mirage has had its share of disappointments: Last year’s “Up at the Villa,” a USA Films release, grossed $2.9 million Stateside; “Blow Dry,” out this year from Miramax, had a domestic B.O. of $600,000.

But by and large, the formula appears to be working. Minghella became Pollack’s partner last year after Minghella directed both “The English Patient” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” for Mirage.

Nowadays, the director-producers are busier than ever. In the wake of hits like 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility” and 1998’s “Sliding Doors,” each of which grossed close to $100 million worldwide, the company has amassed a slate of eclectic, often risk-taking projects, many of them European and literary in tone.

‘Mountain’ man

Mirage just opened a London office to serve as headquarters for Minghella, who’s about to start casting “Cold Mountain,” from the bestselling Charles Frazier novel. Pic, which Minghella scripted, will be a co-production of Mirage, Bonafide, Miramax and MGM.

Intermedia has just greenlit “The Assumption,” a Walter Salles love story about 15th century Florentine painter Fra Lippi with Juliette Binoche and Benicio Del Toro, co-produced by Minghella’s wife, Carolyn Choa.

Also forthcoming are “Heaven,” Tom Tykwer’s first English-language pic, based on Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieslowski’s last script, and “The Quiet American,” a Graham Greene adaptation with Michael Caine and Brendan Frasier — both to be distributed Stateside by Miramax.

For Pollack, whose long career as a director has, as he puts it, hit “a rut of making big, expensive movies with big movie stars,” it’s also an opportunity to make smaller pictures that don’t fit the obvious studio mold.

“These are the kind of films I wouldn’t get offered,” says Pollack.

In the wake of a summer of tentpole pyrotechnics, in which studios all but abandoned the quest for serious movies and big ideas, Pollack is happy to take up the slack.

“Are you in the fast-food business or not?” he asks. “Mind you, I love McDonald’s hamburgers. I don’t always want a bottle of Chateau Lafite. But I want it most nights.”

More Film

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    North American Box Office Declines From Last Year With Weak Presidents Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” easily won a tepid Presidents Day weekend with a $34.2 million at 3,790 North American locations, estimates showed Monday. Overall domestic moviegoing for 2019 has plunged 22.1% to $1.24 billion as of Monday, according to Comscore. That’s $350 million below the same date a year ago and the lowest figure at this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content