There’s a book called Down And Dirty Pictures that chronicles the rise of Miramax and Sundance in the 1990s as “independent” film went mainstream when studios like Miramax realized they could make films for close to nothing and push them out in wide distribution deals to turn a profit. That book had it’s final chapter written today.
The 1990s independent strategy gave birth to many a boutique distribution company when Miramax started making major bank and pulling Oscar nominations. New Line splintered off, as did older and deader acquisition companies like USA Films (kept partially alive in Focus Features).
When the 2000s reared their ugly, superhero/vampire heads, many of the formally “independent” companies were absorbed by the larger studios or disappeared into the dark night. Now, the company that was the figurehead of the new model of independent distribution is on its way to being sucked up by Disney and reducing their release schedule to 3 pictures per year.
Miramax has been dying a very slow death since the Weinsteins left to head The Weinstein Company. TWC has barely kept itself afloat with Inglorious Basterds all but saving the studio and keeping it in the black for Oscar season. Miramax hasn’t been doing so well this year with Adventureland, The Boys Are Back and Extract all under performing.
Now, what seems to be the death knell has sounded:
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.
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.
This is certainly the end of an era, adding on to a disappointing performance for Indie films this year. With Toronto and it’s neighboring festivals resulting in a small amount of sales and with folding studios all around us, the question remains: what is the new format for independent cinema?
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