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Miramax, Disney acting like buddies

Talks likely to conclude at the end of month

NEW YORK — With Miramax on a roll with such Oscar contenders as “The Aviator” and “Finding Neverland,” talks with parent company Disney have taken a more conciliatory tone and are likely to conclude by the end of the month. The pending deal essentially guarantees an ongoing relationship between the Weinsteins and the Mouse House.

The Weinsteins’ contract is up in September.

Details are beginning to emerge as to what a revamped Miramax might look like should the Weinsteins leave the fold to form a new venture, with the company becoming much more of a captive label for the studio than an autonomous, free-ranging mini-major.

Word that the talks are reaching a conclusion came as Disney shareholders prepared to meet in Minnesota today. The Disney board met Thursday in Minneapolis in advance of today’s shareholders meeting, but the conglom wouldn’t disclose its agenda.

Whether Miramax was discussed by the board or not, Miramax’s upbeat performance of late has apparently given the unit new leverage in the negotiations.

Latest scuttlebutt suggests a newly configured Miramax would operate with a smaller staff and budget and likely roll out only about four to six productions and smaller acquisitions per year to keep a toehold in the specialty film business.

Various high-profile names have been floated to take the reins at the company, but with limited output and Disney control, Buena Vista Motion Picture Group head Nina Jacobson could oversee the company solo or with a counterpart.

Pickups prime financing

The Weinsteins have picked up a number of high-flying films lately — including “The Matador,” “Wolf Creek” and Stephen Frears’ latest, “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” There has been speculation that the recently bought films would likely travel with the brothers if they walk.

Having a slate of finished films in place would be a significant step in raising money for any new entity.

“It’s easier to raise money if you have a slate of pictures, with real names,” an insider said, “rather than simply having things in development. That way, you can also run your models more accurately for investors.”

Disney studio chairman Dick Cook has OK’d acquisitions and has helped the talks along.

Other recently successful Miramax titles include “Hero,” “Shall We Dance” and Dimension’s “The Darkness,” helping the unit to boost its bottom line at the same time the Weinsteins have slashed costs.

Sources within Disney have said the studio would keep a Miramax presence anchored in Gotham should the Weinsteins walk. The brothers could possibly come away with the Dimension brand.

Brotherly ties?

But it remains unclear what ties the brothers may retain to Disney through distribution of new films or profit participation on projects in the pipeline.

Miramax and Dimension’s slate includes Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City,” “Wes Craven’s Cursed” and the Jennifer Aniston/Clive Owen starrer “Derailed.”

Miramax also has been bolstered by sales of DVD titles including the “Kill Bill” franchise, “Hero” and Dimension’s “Bad Santa.”

Less high-profile efforts, including straight-to-DVD properties such as the “Pokemon,” “Bionicle” and “Air Bud” franchises, have also been bright spots.

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