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Disney Offers Plan to End Miramax Discord

Under its proposal, Harvey Weinstein might launch out on his own next year, sources say.

August 13, 2004|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Long-feuding family members Walt Disney Co. and Miramax Films finally look to be on the same page -- at least conceptually.

Disney presented in a meeting this week a framework for negotiating a possible deal that was first floated by Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein to launch his own independently financed movie operation. Under this plan, Weinstein's younger brother, Bob, would continue to run Miramax's successful Dimension Films unit for parent Disney.

Sources described the meeting Wednesday at Disney's Burbank studio as a collegial and productive start to what could be weeks, if not months, of intense negotiations. Several economic and contractual issues must be worked out, sources said. A final agreement is not expected until the fall.

Disney and Miramax declined to comment.

Before negotiations between the parties can begin, a detailed financial analysis of Miramax and the Weinsteins' employment contracts has to be completed, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Meanwhile, a person close to New York-based Miramax confirmed that the company would lay off about 70 of its nearly 500 employees today at its offices in Manhattan and Los Angeles. Many of the cuts are expected in publicity and marketing.

The Weinsteins and Disney have been feuding for more than a year over the brothers' compensation and other financial issues such as how much money Miramax is allotted each year to make and market its movies.

Under Disney's proposal, sometime next year Harvey Weinstein would leave and begin operating autonomously with outside financing. Sources said Weinstein hoped to still use the Miramax brand name to market and distribute his movies.

In any case, securing outside funding would give Weinstein the financial and creative freedom he has increasingly craved.

Tensions between Weinstein and the Disney brass have escalated over the years as Weinstein's appetite to pursue more-expensive movies and ambitious business ventures have irked his corporate boss, Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner.

The strained relations boiled over in the spring when it was disclosed that Eisner would not reconsider his refusal to let Miramax release filmmaker Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" because of its strong political message.

In a highly public feud, an angry Weinstein let it be known that he wanted out from under Disney, which in 1993 bought the feisty independent movie company that he and his brother founded and named after their parents 25 years ago.

Eisner has on several occasions publicly expressed displeasure at Weinstein for veering far from Miramax's roots as a top distributor of profitable art-house films and instead producing more costly pictures such as "Cold Mountain" and undertaking such risky offshoot business ventures as the ill-fated Talk magazine.

But the Disney chief executive has gone out of his way to praise Bob, the more low-profile Weinstein brother, who has remained focused on Miramax's Dimension label, producing moneymakers on more-moderate budgets, including the "Spy Kids," "Scary Movie" and "Scream" franchises.

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