If there is one mantra that should be carved in stone in the Hollywood Hills it’s “never say never.” In what could only be described as improbable five years ago is amazingly close to reality: Harvey and Bob Weinstein are days away from reclaiming Miramax Films.
Launched in 1979 and named after their parents Max and Miriam, the Weinstein’s company went from no-name indie outfit to Oscar-winning and box office power by the late 1990s. It was acquired by Walt Disney Studios in 1993, but both Weinstein brothers stayed on board to shepherd such hits as “Pulp Fiction,” “Scary Movie,” “Scream,” “Trainspotting,” “Flirting with Disaster,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Bridget Jones Diary.” They also became premier award season players spending millions to allegedly make more millions on Best Picture winners “Shakespeare in Love” and “Chicago” along with players such as “Gangs of New York,” “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat.” Things turned sour by late 2004 though when outgoing Disney CEO Michael Eisner had had enough of the brothers and made sure their contracts to run the company were not renewed.
In the years that have followed, the brothers formed a new outfit, The Weinstein Company, but have not had anywhere near the success they had while Miramax was theirs. After some successful years under Daniel Battsek (including partnering on “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood”), Disney has now decided to get out of the Miramax business and put the entire catalog and name up for sale (which this pundit thinks is a huge mistake they’ll regret years from now).
Sensing a shot to reclaim their baby, the Weinsteins have recruited billionaire Ron Burkle and investment group Fortress-Colbeck as partners but are also dealing with a competing bids from investors Alec and Tom Gores and third challenge from the shady David Bergstein and his European partners (Bergstein is so corrupt he makes the notorious Weinsteins look like angels). Following a reported face to face site down between Harvey Weinstein and current Disney CEO Bob Iger, the brothers increased their bid to $600 million which is close to the $700 million Disney wanted. Over the past 24 hours, however, the negotiations have heated up with the Weinsteins/Burke receiving a five-day exclusive negotiating window and a new terms on the table. The agreement could be reached if Disney includes two of Miramax’s last upcoming releases: the animated “Gnomeo and Juliet” and the Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman comedy “The Switch.” Deadline.com is now reporting the buying price is at $625 million, but that both sides are now haggling about complete rights over “Project Runway” (which both co-own), plays, sets and more. If a deal can be wrapped up, it will be one of the most amazing turnarounds in Hollywood History. Maybe.
While there is no doubt some excitement in Hollywood that the Weinsteins could restore some luster to the independent film business with Miramax back in their hands it’s unclear where they’d get the money to do so. Buying a company is one thing, having the cash to make movies is another. The Weinstein Company’s upcoming slate for 2010 includes a slew of critically acclaimed small indie acquisitions such as “The Concert,” “Nowhere Boy” and “Blue Valentine,” but the only profit center they have is the already delayed “Piranha 3-D” (and even that is a question mark). Is Burke and Co. providing the brothers with more overhead to get back in the game? Can the duo even return to their former glory in a movie business thrown upside down by the shrinking home entertainment market? Moreover, after 31 years the Weinsteins have enough enemies and colleagues who say they’d never work with them again to pack the 7,000 seat Nokia Theater. Can they really pull of an amazing comeback in 2010?
As we’ve learned, never say never.
Look for more on the status of Miramax as the story develops on HitFix.