End of an era as Disney finally sells Miramax
Appropriately timed on a busy entertainment news day to stay as under the radar as possible, the Walt Disney Company has finalized an agreement to sell its Miramax division to an investment group lead by Ronald Tutor and Colony Capital. The price of the sale is somewhere between $650-675 million, but effectively ends the 16-year relationship between the legendary indie label and the Disney corporation. It also means the hopes of the company's original founders, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, to reacquire the mini-major are effectively dead. The company is not expected to officially change hands until the end of the month.
If you've never heard of Tutor or Capital, you're probably don't work in the real estate or construction sector. Tutor is an LA construction magnate and Capital is an equity firm that has traditionally specialized in real estate transactions. The two parties are now taking the lead on maximizing the 611 films in the Miramax library which include Oscar winners "Shakespeare in Love," "The English Patient" and "No Country for Old Men." Other pictures in the deal include "Pulp Fiction," "She's All That," "Kill Bill" and "Scream." The partners reportedly plan on hiring an experienced film executive to manage the property and either invest or produce up to three films a year. At least, that's the plan right now.
Disney decided to let go of Miramax in a new strategy to concentrate on film properties that primarily have franchise and/or merchandising value. The prestige pictures that primarily filled Miramax's slate didn't lend itself to that corporate mantra, but it's still bizarre that Disney would drop a "brand" so associated with quality and ground breaking films. It currently ranks with the firing of popular studio head Dick Cook as one of CEO Bob Iger's most puzzling and possibly worst decisions since taking over for Michael Eisner in 2005.
The Weinsteins tried to work with billionaire Ron Burkle to re-acquire Miramax, even planning on making the announcement at Cannes in May, only to have talks break down over a variety of issues.
The only good news amongst the Tutor/Conoly acquisition is that embattled and controversial film producer David Bergstein, who was once part of the group's key players, will now have no involvement in the new company. That will give at least some relief to filmmakers whose pictures are no longer under the "safe" Disney umbrella, that their features aren't in dangerous hands.
What Tutor/Conoly really expect to accomplish with a new Miramax isn't clear. Will it strictly be a library for old features that dabbles in releasing a film here and there? Will it be the company name for a film and TV investment entity similar to Legendary Pictures or Relativity Media? Or, will they attempt to bring financial and critical glory back to the brand by building a new mini-major? Curious and curiouser.
There are currently three Miramax titles Disney is expected to still release and distribute. Those include "The Switch" on Aug. 20, "The Debt with Helen Mirren on Dec. 29 and the Guillermo del Toro-produced thriller "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" on Jan 21, 2011.
Do you think Miramax is effectively dead? This pundit certainly does.
For the latest entertainment commentary and breaking news year round, follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory .
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