Friday is becoming the day for Disney to break dramatic news over the past few months. First, the surprise acquisition of Marvel Enterprises in August, then the not-so surprising departure of studio head Dick Cook (at least to those on the Disney lot) and now the expected and disheartening restructuring of Miramax (and at any moment, the not so secret revelation of Rich Ross as new head of the studio).
In a statement today, Disney announced the specialty division would be restructured with marketing and distribution moving to the companies Burbank headquarters. The talented Daniel Battsek, who took over Miramax when the Weinstein brothers departed a little over four years ago in Sept. 2005, will remain in New York to run creative, development and production. More importantly, the studio also said the company will reduce the number of films its releasing a year although what that means exactly is still unclear.
It’s no secret Miramax had a difficult 2009 with disappointing results for Kristen Stewart’s “Adventureland,” Michelle Pfeiffer’s “Cheri” (a truly botched campaign), the recent comedy “Extract” and Clive Owen’s “The Boys Are Back” which opened with barely a whimper in limited release last weekend. The studio still has the Robert DeNiro “Everbody’s Fine” set for release in November. although whether Disney theatrical marketing and distribution will take over the marketing on the dramedy or if it will be the New York team’s last gasp remains to be seen (will update with an answer when provided).
The writing on this move had been on the wall for sometime, however. Disney’s partnership with Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider’s DreamWorks is expected to produce between four and six non-family releases a year, many of which could be in the prestige vein. Just at Paramount alone, DreamWorks released Oscar players such as “Dreamgirls,” “Sweeny Todd,” “Flags of our Fathers” and the upcoming “The Lovely Bones.” That’s a lot of adult fare when you brought Miramax into the mix. Clearly, someone had to go or be downsized. Additionally, Miramax had barely been in the acquisitions game having made no significant since Peter O’Toole’s “Venus” out of the 2006 Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals.
Sadly, besides most of this year, Miramax had a tremendous amount of success under their current set up even rivaling (much to their dismay) the “glory years” of the Weinsteins. Between 2006 and 2008 Miramax released Best Picture winner “No Country for Old Men,” Best Picture nominee “The Queen,” multiple nominee “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “There Will Be Blood” (internationally), “Becoming Jane” (a summer indie hit), “Happy-Go-Lucky” and Meryl Streep’s “Doubt” (which would have been a best picture nominee if the ten nod system was in place last year). Still, the disappointing, but mediocre returns for quality fare such as “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Hoax” and “Smart People” could not have sat well with the parent company. And the botched attempt to sell “Blindness” last year as a genre thriller had to be a huge eyesore on the books in particular.
With Disney not providing details on how many films Miramax will now shepherd, it’s just another sign of a dramatically changing prestige picture landscape. Picturehouse was already missed (although reconstituted thankfully in a smaller set up at the new Apparition) and the brief shining life of Paramount Vantage is almost an afterthought in movie history. Fox Searchlight is still in the game, but without Peter Rice to protect it, can it still thrive under its new bosses at big Fox? Overture Films wants to be a serious player, but hasn’t broken through beyond a few nominations (although that could change this year). The Weinstein Company’s financial troubles are well documented, but somehow they still manage to stay in the game. Summit is certainly a player this year with “The Hurt Locker,” but is that really part of the “Twilight” studio’s long term strategy? Right now, the most stable prestige player appears to be the incredibly consistent Sony Picture Classics, the broadening its base Focus Features (thank you “Coraline”) and Lionsgate (and many would have laughed at that assertion for the mini-Lion just a few years ago).
Oh, how times change. Makes you almost afraid to see what the awards season game will resemble a year from now.