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Miramax: a shadow of its former self

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Today’s announcement that Disney Studios will be significantly downsizing its indie division Miramax came as little surprise to those in Hollywood. The mini-major that had once been the gorilla of the independent film business under the tutelage of Harvey and Bob Weinstein has been seen as the next likely target for Disney CEO Bob Iger, who surprised everyone last month with the shock firing of studio chief Dick Cook. Now Miramax, which has been run by president Daniel Battsek for the last four years, will only release three films a year, as opposed to the 6-8 mandated for the division previously. The biggest hit to the industry will come from the loss of jobs. Disney plans to lay off as many as 50 people of Miramax’s 70-person staff by January. It’s not clear what divisions those will come from but considering Disney intends to market and distribute Miramax’s few annual releases through its parent company, the majority of the losses are likely to come from those two departments. The indie business has been suffering for some time and the loss of jobs are unlikely to be absorbed in this shrinking business.

Miramax was purchased from the Weinsteins back in 2005, and for some time it looked like the new regime was holding on to the old  Weinstein magic. It scored big financially and at Oscar time with No Country for Old Men, and even though the Daniel Day Lewis-starrer There Will Be Blood was an expensive film, it earned the studio an Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis. This past year Doubt was nominated for five Academy Awards but only grossed $33.4 million. Few of Miramax’s latest releases have connected with audiences, or critics, at the box office. Of its recent films, Adventureland, Cheri and Mike Judge’s comedy Extract, none have grossed more than $16 million. The studio just opened the Clive Owen-starring drama The Boys are Back in six theaters. It has grossed $69,000. The company’s next film, the Robert DeNiro-starrer Everybody’s Fine will open on Dec. 4.

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