Friday, November 6, 2009

The End of Miramax (and Independent Film?)

If you hadn't heard, Disney has all but closed down Miramax, the company formally created and owned by the Weinstein Brothers. This is the studio that created and/or distributed some of the most prestigious films of the past twenty years including Pulp Fiction, The Crying Game, sex, lies, and videotape, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, The Queen, and No Country for Old Men. writer Andrew O'Hehir has written an article about the significance of Miramax to recent film history (comparing it to United Artists in the late 1960s and early 70s) and pointing out how the collapse of Miramax is symptomatic of a larger problem facing independent film. Here is an excerpt:

Magnolia Pictures president Eamonn Bowles, who worked at Miramax in the '90s, sees the company's near-total desiccation as just another chapter in a lengthy and necessary restructuring of the film marketplace. Over the course of the last two years, numerous other studio specialty divisions and small indie distributors have disappeared, including Picturehouse, Warner Independent, Paramount Vantage, THINKfilm and New Yorker Films.

"The landscape has changed a lot since last summer, when all those companies closed down," Bowles says. "The market has gotten back to a more sustainable level. Those companies whose basic M.O. was to chase the Oscar at any cost created an absolutely false marketplace." He suggests that surviving companies like Magnolia, Sony Pictures Classics, IFC and Zeitgeist, who focus on marketing quality films to niche audiences, are now in a stronger position. "Producers are the ones who may be hurt by this, because there are fewer players with fewer resources, and it's a buyer's market. But we've done very well since last summer. It's inherently a more reasonable situation."
Reportedly, the Weinstein's are attempting to buy back the Miramax name from Disney, but there is no telling if that deal will go through, as Disney may want to hold onto the label for appearance's sake and for the impressive catalogue of titles under the Miramax name.

I worry what this means for independent film in the near future. On the one hand there is a re-balancing of the marketplace pointed out in the excerpt above, but what Miramax and specialty divisions of major studios offered was the ability to distribute independent features on a national basis and get them into theaters in smaller markets. Without that distribution mechanism in place, it will be much harder for independent filmmakers to get their movies seen.

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