Disney/Miramax Downsizing = Bad News For Indie Films

Not long after The Weinstein Company announced that they'll be cutting their staff from 125 to 90 comes the news that Disney is planning on downsizing its label, Miramax. This is a downer for the already "browbeaten indie film community."

Variety reports that the larger Disney studio will now handle certain, "marketing, distribution, operations and administrative support functions from its Burbank headquarters." That amounts to an almost 75% reduction in their staff down to just 20 remaining executives. Although Disney isn't naming names for now, a series of meetings next week will say who stays and who goes. Word is that some of the people let go will be from the production and development side of things, with such rumored names floating around as production prexy, Keri Putnam, and acquisitions veep, Peter Lawson.

The remaining Miramax slate that's been lined up - which includes the dramedy Everybody's Fine and the John Madden thriller, The Debt - will be overseen by Daniel Battsek. Miramax is said to have already been morphing from being "acquisition-heavy" to in-house production (and co-production). Genre fare has become prevalent for the label with Mike Judge's Extract being a notable example. Such upcoming genre projects like the thriller Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and the Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman comedy, The Baster are further examples of Miramax's new way of working.

Some people say that Miramax's restructuring is a sign of things to come - the label disappearing altogether. The concentration on indie/genre fare looks good on paper, but, for example, their Extract has only made $10.8 million so far on a wide theatrical release (from an $8 million budget, not including marketing) - was that just one of the signposts Disney/Miramax needed to start downsizing?

The label's situation is being compared to that of Paramount's sub-label, Paramount Vantage: At first, Vantage folded its marketing and distribution into the larger Paramount company, just allowing for a small staff to acquire and produce genre stuff. But thereafter another wave of layoffs came along, and Vantage was eventually put to an end. Could we possibly see the same thing happen to Miramax at some point in the future?

So what does this downsizing mean, exactly? Well, to the average movie goer it may not seem like a big deal, but down the road it means less and less smaller films will see the light of day. Some filmmakers are already very upset about the downward changes at Miramax, because they see it as less likely for films to be picked up at Sundance next January. Even though over the last few years, Miramax have made less and less buys, it's the notion of "one less buyer" to pick up films that's the problem.

One sales agent has reported that U.S. distributors can now play things out however they want when it comes to buying films at festivals and the like, particularly how they deal with paying the "sellers." The sales agent said - "People are behaving really badly. They're basically saying, 'We'll pay you whenever we want to pay you, no matter what the contract says... There were 20 places to distribute your film before, and now there are 10."

Miramax is one of those labels that's always been around ever since I can remember (it was started in 1979 by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and acquired by Disney in '93), being one of the more prevalent companies (the logo sticks in my mind more than most studio labels). It's sad that the downsizing will likely mean less indie films coming from their neck of the woods, and maybe even from other places as a result. I think (and I hope I'm not alone here) that the smaller stuff is just as important as the huge, widely known stuff.

We'll keep you posted on just how much Disney downsizes Miramax and on what the "indie ripple effects" will likely be. For now: What do you make of this? Would less indie films from Miramax (a prolific distributor of them) affect your moviegoing or do you only swim in the blockbuster pool?

Source: Variety

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