|Harvey (left) and Bob Weinstein ended their 12-year deal with the Walt Disney Co., which bought Miramax in 1993 for $70 million.
The brothers do take with them the Dimension Films label, and they will work with Disney on sequels to two franchises, Scary Movie and Spy Kids, released during their tenure.
Details of the split were made public in a joint announcement yesterday by the Weinsteins and Dick Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios.
New management for Miramax
Miramax, which will be under Mr. Cook’s purview, will get new management by July. The future of Miramax Books is up in the air, with an announcement expected later in the week.
Though the Weinsteins are leaving Disney after more than a year of wrangling and rumors, it won’t be a clean break.
The brothers will be co-chairmen of Miramax through Sept. 30, when their contracts expire, though they will be nonexclusive to the studio. During that time, they will be able to look for start-up funding for a new company, which doesn’t yet have a name. They will work with the new management team, when it arrives, on movies already in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, they will complete projects in the works and oversee marketing and distribution of upcoming Miramax movies. They will not acquire or develop new films for Miramax.
Though the brothers had a contentious relationship with Disney CEO Michael Eisner, they took a much more conciliatory tone recently when Mr. Cook took over negotiations and Mr. Eisner announced he would be stepping down from his post in the coming months. Bob Iger is now Disney’s CEO-elect.
When their new company is up and running, the Weinsteins are expected to continue a relationship with Disney. They could collaborate on more than two dozen projects, including The Matador, which the brothers bought at this past January’s Sundance Film Festival.
Some Hollywood insiders can’t imagine a Miramax without the Weinsteins; even the name is part of them –- it’s a mix of their mother’s and father’s first names. But it’s clear that Miramax will return to the kind of small, modestly budgeted films that built the studios reputation and coffers through the early years.
Back to its roots
Mr. Cook said recently that it’s a Disney priority to take Miramax back to its independent-leaning roots with artsy and offbeat films, and the hunt is on for an executive to spearhead the transformation.
Executives close to the situation said Disney intends to pare the staff to about 50 and the annual budget to around $300 million, which would more closely mirror other specialty divisions at competing studios. Miramax, which the Weinsteins sold to Disney in 1993 for $70 million, had grown to 500-plus staffers and a budget of more than $700 million annually for acquisitions, production and marketing.
Miramax had strayed from the lean posture that saw movies like Sex, Lies and Videotape, The Crying Game and Pulp Fiction rake in profits on next-to-nothing budgets, said industry analysts.
Clashed over budgets, stars
The Weinstein brothers clashed frequently in recent years with Mr. Eisner over casting expensive stars in big budget movies. Such projects as Cold Mountain and Gangs of New York were costly to produce and didn’t catch on with movie goers.
Budgets and creative control were among the thorniest issues, while the brothers also griped that Disney did not give them adequate compensation. The relationship between Mr. Eisner and Harvey Weinstein has been particularly volatile, and came to a head last summer when Mr. Eisner refused to allow Miramax to distribute Michael Moore’s controversial Fahrenheit 911. The brothers bought the rights with their own money and distributed the movie through Lion’s Gate. It went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of 2004.
Miramax, since 1988, has amassed 249 Oscar nominations, including 20 this year. The studio has won 54 times.
The specialty film world has become much more competitive in recent years, with News Corp.’s Fox Searchlight chalking up winners such as Sideways, 28 Days Later and Napoleon Dynamite. Newmarket Films had a runaway success with The Passion of the Christ, and NBC Universal’s Focus Features pulled in film fans and a recent Oscar for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.