Miramax president steps down

Daniel Battsek out amid changes at the Disney unit

Miramax Films president Daniel Battsek is exiting Disney's specialty film division.

The indie's remaining employees will be moved from Miramax's headquarters in New York to Burbank as Disney becomes the latest studio to back away from the specialty film business.

Disney announced plans just four weeks ago to trim Miramax's sails. It said at the time that Battsek would "continue to oversee all aspects of creative, development, production and business and legal affairs." Since then, Rich Ross has taken over as Disney Studios chairman, and he met with Battsek on Friday to discuss Miramax's future.

"With the change in direction at Miramax, we have reached a mutual agreement with Daniel Battsek that he will leave his post as president, effective January 2010," Ross said. "During his 18 years of service, he has brought some prestigious and award-winning films to the studio, from 'Calendar Girls' to 'The Queen' to 'No Country for Old Men.' We wish Daniel the very best in his future endeavors."

In an e-mail to his staff, Battsek said, "After further reflection and discussion about the change in direction for Miramax, Rich Ross and I have agreed that I will step down." He said he will use the remainder of his tenure to work with the unit on a transition plan.

Disney plans to eliminate about 50 jobs at Miramax by January, leaving about 20 employees. Miramax, which had been releasing six to eight films per year, will whittle its output to about three films annually.

Disney did not name a replacement for Battsek. Miramax already has let go of such execs as president of production Keri Putnam and vp acquisitions Peter Lawson.

Battsek was tapped by former Disney chairman Dick Cook to take the reins at Miramax after Disney, which acquired the specialty films company in 1993, bought out co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein in 2005.

A longtime studio hand, Battsek has been with Disney since 1991, when he started up a U.K. company as part of Disney's Buena Vista International distribution network. In 1998, he was promoted to senior vp at BVI U.K. As his role expanded, he began acquiring and developing British film projects for worldwide distribution.

At Miramax, he initially refocused the company -- which in its final years under the Weinsteins had strayed into such big-budget productions as "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator" -- around more limited-budgeted, specialized fare.

Battsek enjoyed an immediate success with Gavin Hood's South African-set drama "Tsoti," which he acquired at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. It went on to win the Oscar for best foreign-language feature.

Under Battsek's auspices, Miramax earned Oscar nominations and awards for such films as "The Queen," "Gone Baby Gone," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, "No Country for Old Men" and "Doubt."

Like other players in the indie arena, though, Miramax has struggled to find footing at the boxoffice this year. Attempting to reach out to a somewhat broader audience, it released Greg Mottola's "Adventureland"; the comedy was the company's top grosser for 2009 at just $16 million domestically. Stephen Frears' period love story "Cheri," starring Michelle Pfeiffer, attracted just $2.7 million, and "The Boys Are Back," a family drama starring Clive Owen, has brought in less than $700,000 after five weekends of limited release.

Miramax's final release of the year, "Everybody's Fine," starring Robert De Niro as a widower looking to reconnect with his children, is set for release Dec. 4.

Miramax has a handful of other titles awaiting release in 2010: the romantic drama "Last Night," starring Keira Knightley; Julie Taymor's Shakespeare adaptation "The Tempest"; the Helen Mirren starrer "The Debt"; horror tale "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"; and the Jennifer Aniston-Jason Bateman comedy "The Baster."
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