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Miramax Films is the art-house/independent film division of The Walt Disney Company, and acts as both producer and distributor for its own films or foreign films.

Founded in 1979 by Bob and Harvey Weinstein and headquartered in New York Citymarker and Cambridgemarker, Massachusettsmarker, Miramax was a leading independent film motion picture distribution and production company before it was acquired by Disney in 1993. The Weinsteins operated Miramax with more creative and financial independence than any other division of Disney, until 2005 when they decided to leave the company and founded The Weinstein Company. When the Weinsteins departed in late 2005, Miramax Films was operated by Daniel Battsek who reported to Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

History

Founded by the brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein in Buffalo, New Yorkmarker in 1979, the company was named by combining the first names of their parents Max and Miriam, and was originally created to distribute independent films deemed commercially unfeasible by the major studios.

The company's first major success came when the Weinsteins teamed up with British producer Martin Lewis and acquired the U.S. rights to two concert films Lewis had produced of benefit shows for human rights organization Amnesty International. The Weinsteins worked with Lewis to distill the two films into one film for the US marketplace. The resulting film The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (US Version) was a successful release for Miramax in the summer of 1982. This release presaged a modus operandi that the company would undertake later in the 1980s of acquiring films from international filmmakers and reworking them to suit US sensibilities.

Among the company's other breakthrough films as distributors in the late 1980s and early 1990s were Scandal, sex, lies, and videotape, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and The Crying Game. The company also made films such as Pulp Fiction, Heavenly Creatures and Shakespeare in Love.

In addition to those successes, Miramax acquired and/or produced many films that did extraordinarily well financially. The company became one of the leaders of the independent film revolution of the 1990s. Miramax produced or distributed seven films with box office grosses totalling more than $100 million; its most successful title, Chicago, earned more than $300 million worldwide.

The company was also exceptionally successful in securing Academy Award nominations for its releases and a large number of the nominations resulted in Oscar wins.

In 1992, Miramax began a deal with Paramount Pictures for VHS and TV distribution of certain Miramax releases. Paramount would also distribute theatrically certain releases that might have commercial appeal (such as Bob Roberts, though video rights to that film were owned by Live Entertainment - which is now Lions Gate Entertainment). Paramount still owns video rights to some of these films today, while TV distribution is now with CBS Television Distribution.

In 1993 Miramax was purchased for $70 million by The Walt Disney Company. Harvey and Bob Weinstein continued to operate Miramax until they left the company on September 30, 2005. During their tenure, the Weinstein brothers ran Miramax independently of other Disney companies. Disney, however, had the final say on what Miramax could release (see Fahrenheit 9/11, Kids and Dogma, for examples). Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment division releases Miramax output.

Miramax operated, until 2005, the label Dimension Films, specializing in genre films and created the Spy Kids, Scream and Scary Movie film franchises.

Since the acquisition by Disney, the Weinsteins had many problems with Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, due creative and financial differences. Eisner was reluctant to give as much creative freedom and financial support for the Weinsteins, who over the years increased the budget for their productions. Disagreements between the two came to the point that negotiations to extend the contract with the Weinsteins in Miramax, were terrible.

After extensive negotiations and much media and industry speculation, on March 30, 2005, Disney and the Weinsteins announced that they would not renew their contractual relationship when their existing agreements expired at the end of September 2005. Disney's film studio consortium, Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group assumed control of Miramax, which was projected to have a smaller annual production budget. The Weinsteins started a new film production company called simply The Weinstein Company, and took the Dimension Films label with them. The Miramax name remained with the film studio owned by Disney. Production at Miramax was taken over by Daniel Battsek, who formerly was head of Buena Vista International in the UKmarker. Battsek refocused Miramax to produce films of high quality but low budget. Maple Pictures now hold the rights to distribute Miramax films in Canadamarker in 2008.

In October 3, 2009, Disney announced the slashing of Miramax in a 70%, and reducing the number of releases from 6 to 8, to just 3 films per year. The label's marketing, distribution and administrative functions, which had operated independently, will be folded into the parent studio in Burbank. The move becomes effective in January 2010.

In October 30, 2009, The Walt Disney Company announced the resignation of Daniel Battsek as President of Miramax Films, effective when the transition from the studio in New Yorkmarker to Burbank were completed.

Criticism

Miramax has come under criticism for its editing, dubbing, and replacing the soundtracks of various foreign films it releases. One notable example is Iron Monkey, which though released subtitled, had its subtitles altered to remove the political context of the story, had scenes trimmed and changed for violence and pacing, and had the soundtrack changed, removing the famous Wong Fei Hung theme. Other films that they have altered in this way include Shaolin Soccer, Farewell My Concubine (theatrical release), The Thief and the Cobbler and Jet Li's Fist of Legend.

Peter Biskind's book Down and Dirty Pictures claims that the Weinsteins have sometimes dealt dishonestly with filmmakers.

Under the Weinsteins, Miramax had a history of buying the rights to Asian films, only to sit on them without releasing them for some years. One example of this is Hero, a 2002 Chinese martial arts film. It languished in Miramax's vaults for two years before it was salvaged with the intervention of Quentin Tarantino. And sometimes Miramax purchased films only to never release them. An example of this is Tears of the Black Tiger, a Thai film. After changing the ending of the film, Tears of the Black Tiger sat in Miramax's vaults for five years until its rights were purchased by Magnolia Pictures in 2006.

The "no cuts" policy was highlighted when Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein suggested editing Princess Mononoke to make it more marketable. In response, a Studio Ghibli producer sent an authentic katana with a simple message: "No cuts".

One reason for the delays and non-releases of films was an accounting scheme the Weinsteins used to shift potential money-losing films to future fiscal years and ensure they would receive annual bonuses from Disney, while trying to bar retailers from legally exporting authentic DVDs of the films.

As a result of the Weinsteins' actions, a number of Asian producers who sold their distribution rights to the company refuse to do so for their subsequent films.

Defenders of the company point out that prior to Miramax most of the films purchased by the company would have had little to no chance of achieving U.S. distribution other than by very small distributors with minimal marketing expertise and funds. They also state that the purpose of the company's aggressive re-editing technique was always to try help the films find a broader American audience than they might otherwise find.

"I'm not cutting for fun", Harvey Weinstein said in an interview. "I'm cutting for the shit to work. All my life I served one master: the film. I love movies.".

Miramax is also accused of ignoring their more artistic, less audience-friendly films, especially when directors refuse to re-cut them to make them less challenging. Dead Man, which director Jim Jarmusch refused to re-cut, got a very limited release and critics have accused the Weinsteins of burying the film. Tarantino, among other directors working with Miramax, have happily re-cut their films to the Weinsteins' liking.

Miramax Family

Miramax Family (also known as Miramax Family Films) is the family division of Miramax Films created in 1991. Some films distributed by them are:

List of Select Miramax films

To see the full list visit List of films released by Miramax Films

Further reading

  • Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film by Peter Biskind (Simon & Schuster, 2004)


References

External links




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