Disney downsizes Miramax

50 jobs to be cut; Battsek will remain as president

Disney's downsizing of its Miramax specialty division is the first step in a broader reorg of film operations, following the departure of Dick Cook as studio chairman two weeks ago.

As part of the revamp, Disney CEO Bob Iger is expected to name Rich Ross, president of Disney Channels Worldwide, to succeed Cook.

If that job does go to Ross, he'll have been spared the unpleasant task of clipping Miramax's wings since the studio announced Friday that it will reduce the number of movies Miramax releases annually and that most of the company's marketing and distribution activities will be taken over by the parent studio, based in Burbank.

By January, about 50 jobs will be eliminated, leaving about 20 employees in the unit's New York office.

Disney said that Daniel Battsek will remain as Miramax president, overseeing development and production out of New York.

The trimmed-down Miramax will release only about three movies per year.

The unit has released four movies so far this year --"Adventureland," "Cheri," "Extract," and "The Boys Are Back" -- and has "Everybody's Fine," starring Robert De Niro, on deck for a Dec. 4 opening. With $16 million in domestic grosses, "Adventureland" has been Miramax's biggest 2009 title.

Last year, Miramax released eight films, the highest-grossing of which was the drama "Doubt."

Next year, Miramax is slated to release "The Tempest," the Shakespeare adaptation directed by Julie Taymor; the Helen Mirren thriller "The Debt"; romantic drama "Last Night," starring Keira Knightley; and the Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman rom-com "The Baster."

For 2011, it has been developing "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," a supernatural thriller that has not begun production.

Those titles are said to be still on track.

Further changes are in store for Disney's larger film team, which over the coming year will also begin to distribute DreamWorks films. Once Disney's planned acquisition of Marvel is complete, the studio pipeline will be charged with delivering movie adaptations of Marvel comics.

If Iger does put Ross in charge of the movie operations -- it's not clear if he will also inherit Cook's title -- Ross is expected to emphasize the sort of cross-platform branding that has marked his successful tenure at the Disney Channels, where he rolled out such brands as "High School Musical," "Hannah Montana" and "That's So Raven."

A newcomer to Hollywood's film community, Ross has spent his career working his way up through the TV ranks. He worked at Nickelodeon and then FX before joining Disney in 1996 as a senior vp, programming and production. He has held his current post since 2004 and oversees channels, including Disney XD, a new channel targetting young boys, in 163 countries.

Once a new exec is installed atop Disney's film operations, the studio is expected to ramp up the number of movies it releases annually. In 2006, Cook cut back the studio's output to 12-14 movies a year. But that proved a risky strategy when a number of films came up short at the boxoffice this year.

With the arrival of DreamWorks, Disney is in the process of changing course once again as it aims to release 23-24 movies per year -- and that doesn't include any of the movies that may eventually materialize out of its Marvel acquisition.

But with Miramax effectively downgraded to a label, how well its movies will fare in the new line-up is an open question.

Disney acquired Miramax, founded in 1979 by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, in 1993. The Weinsteins operated Miramax fairly independently of Disney until 2005, when, after repeated clashes with then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner, they were bought out.

In its current incarnation under Battsek, who was handed the reigns after the Weinsteins' exit, Miramax has boasted such Oscar-winning hits as "The Queen" ($56 million domestic) and "No Country for Old Men" ($74 million domestic).

It has also served as a primary pipeline for Disney-based producer Scott Rudin, who has released a number of titles through the division. Rudin, whose deal is with the Walt Disney Studios, is expected to remain part of the family.

Disney's downgrading of Miramax echoes the steps that Paramount took early in 2008 when it folded Vantage's marketing, distribution and physical production into that of the parent company. In the case of Vantage, that proved to be the beginning of the end.

Disney president Alan Bergman said in a statement that the moveswill allow Miramax "to focus on its greatest strength: the creation of high-quality entertainment."

Borys Kit reported from Los Angeles; Steven Zeitchik reported from New York.
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