Inside Move: Less is Moore in fracas

'Fahrenheit' pullout could burn helmer's paycheck and singe Mouse

HOLLYWOOD News that the Mouse House would not allow Miramax to distribute Michael Moore‘s latest screed against the Bush Administration raised numerous questions — about free speech, the role of studio-owned “independents” and the fate of Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

But an equally burning question is just how much money Disney is forfeiting, if any, by barring the Miramax machine from distribbing the pic.

The Mouse House has not enjoyed a happy Q1 at the box office, so any windfall, one would think, would be a good thing.

Moore’s own “Bowling for Columbine,” which was distributed domestically by United Artists, brought in $120 million between domestic theatrical and DVD sales.

As for Moore, his interest is in finding the most robust distribber possible — if the Miramax machine is indeed, as seems likely, derailed. That’s because the helmer will make most of his moolah only after the movie recoups its negative costs.

The director couldlose tens of millions if his pic ends up with a distribber with significantly less clout than Miramax — one not able to wrangle advantageous terms from exhibs or prime the DVD pump.

Any potential new distributor would need to pay for the movie’s budget ($3 million-$5 million), respect Moore’s pre-negotiated deal — and likely pay Miramax a producers fee. Disney, for its part, is advising Miramax to have nothing to do with the movie, financially or otherwise.

Miramax execs, for their part, are passionate about the pic, and would prefer to market it themselves and simply find an outside company willing to pay to physically distribute it.

So what does that mean for a crowded field of suitors, said to include Focus, Warner Independent Pictures and Lions Gate?

Conventional wisdom holds that a studio-owned specialty arm like Focus or Warner Independent Pictures would provide a bigger opening than a tiny niche player — and such units also boast well-oiled ancillary divisions to handle things like homevideo.

However, as one specialty marketing exec points out, a bigger marketing department doesn’t always mean higher grosses or profits for a filmmaker.

“A documentary like ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ did far better outside a big studio specialty division,” insists this studio marketing exec.

Why? “Because Magnolia (the distrib in question) went slow and steady, and because with all sorts of homevideo, pay TV and ancillaries, it’s a hard release to do at a studio division without overspending.”

In the meantime, it’s unclear what the B.O. prospects for Moore’s latest opus are, beyond what will likely be a huge opening weekend. (Moore is still feverishly fiddling with the movie in some undisclosed lab.)

“It could be a huge steaming turd, and it will still do business,” opines Magnolia prexy Eamonn Bowles. “The reality is it will open well everyplace it plays. Michael Moore has been anointed the patron saint of anti-corporate behavior.”