Miramax Has a Brit as New Leading Man
Brit Daniel Battsek is the new President of Miramax. He previously headed distribution and production for Buena Vista International in the UK..
Larger-than-life co-founders, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who set the company up in 1979, defined Miramax Films (named after the Weinsteins' parents, Miriam and Max) as the specialty movie studio. The Weinsteins set up an amazing record in buying or producing low-cost independent movies that produced large returns and sometimes Oscars.
The Weinsteins sold Miramax to Disney in 1993 but remained in charge and edged Miramax into more mainstream – and more costly - moviemaking, such as Gangs of New York and The Aviator. Some of those big-budget, heavily-promoted projects attracted more criticism than profit. The Weinsteins left Sept. 30 to start a new company after a series of high-profile scuffles with then-Disney-CEO Michael Eisner and other management.
BACK TO BASICS
Disney now wants to get back to basics and Daniel Battsek is to be their new leading man. As Miramax president, the mild-mannered Brit is charged with overseeing the Miramax studio (named for the Weinsteins' parents, Miriam and Max), several films in production and a library that includes hits such as Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and The English Patient.
And Battsek is also reading from a new script. In their heyday, the Weinsteins spent about $700 million annually to buy or make and market Miramax movies. Battsek has about $300 million and he has a lot more rivals to contend with, including the Wiensteins themselves.
The specialty movie business pioneered by Miramax faces lots of competition. All the majors have similar operations. Independent Lionsgate's Crash just won the Oscar for best picture. The Weinstein Co., the brothers' new organization, released 10 films in the past seven months.
"It's never been more competitive," says Dick Cook, chairman of Disney studios and Battsek's new boss. "There will be shake-ups and shakeouts. Those who are successful in picking the right movies and watching their budgets will be successful. Those that don't will fall by the wayside."
Disney can't afford to have Miramax fall. Disney's studio division, of which Miramax is a part, ended 2005 with just $207 million income, down by a whopping 69% from 2004.
"We just have to be better, smarter, more competitive," Battsek says.
Returning Miramax to its roots with low-cost independent films is something Disney can use to its advantage, says industry analyst Robert Routh. "Independent films are, on average, significantly more profitable and significantly less risky than most major releases from studios," he says.
Routh estimates seven-out-of-ten big-budget films lose money, while nine-out-of-ten independents turn a profit.
Battsek must make those sums work for him. His goal: "Make Miramax a real and sustainable force as an independent company" financially and artistically.
That will take the sort of creative touch Battsek has, as well as budget discipline and so far he's had a good start. Since Miramax was formed, its films have collected over 200 Oscar nominations and 61 wins. One came this year from Battsek's first acquisition as president: Tsotsi. The film is about a South African car thief who finds a baby in the back seat and took the Oscar for best foreign film.
But he needs more than that, according to insiders.
BRANDED BY NAME
"He needs to have some successes right out of the gate — two or three releases that make money and do well and re-establish in the public's mind that Miramax, even without the Weinsteins, is still a premier independent film company," Routh says. "They have to maintain the equity within the Miramax name ... and unless you establish a track record you can't do that."
On Friday, Battsek's second film as Miramax head, Kinky Boots, began a limited release. The film, about a traditional shoe company that moves to racy footwear to stay in business, has so far received mixed reviews.
Battsek expects to produce or acquire eight to 10 films a year. And he'll be looking to new, cost-efficient ways to promote them. "We're investigating ways to use new media environments to market movies," he says. "The Web and grass-roots components are an absolutely vital part of any marketing mix."
He's also working with the other Disney units on promotions, as well as on film acquisitions. He joined forces with ESPN to buy a movie about the New York Cosmos soccer team.
The Weinsteins now are on better terms with Disney and say they support Battsek. "I've known Daniel for years and have a great deal of respect for him, both on a professional and personal level," Harvey Weinstein says of the new Miramax president. "I've always considered him to be a friend, and we continue to have a wonderful working relationship."
While he has the backing of the Weinstein brothers, Battsek lacks the name-brand recognition and the wide industry network that helped them court A-list directors and actors and earn publicity for their movies.
Battsek, who brought strong industry relationships from his previous job at Disney's Buena Vista International in the U.K., is cultivating more and already has some headliner names on his film slate.
"I met Daniel when he was hired to run Miramax," says actor-director Ben Affleck. He is directing Gone Baby Gone for Miramax and goes into production next month. "I ... have found him supportive, intelligent, thorough and helpful."
Born: May 3, 1958, London.
Family: Wife, Luce, 16-year-old twin daughters, 11-year-old son.
Break into films: After college, moved to Australia during filmmaking boom that followed success of Mad Max and other Aussie productions. Was a dishwasher and antipasto chef in Sydney when he met filmmaker Gillian Armstrong, a customer, and talked her into letting him work on the movie she was shooting, the rock musical Starstruck.
Favorite movie: Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.