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Weinsteins Clear The Shelf At Miramax

June 08, 2005|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

Peter Abrams, the producer of "Underclassman," says his movie was caught in the "Weinstein-Disney buzz saw." He's hardly alone.

Over the next three months, Miramax Films, founded and operated by brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, will release at least 10 movies, including seven films that have been gathering dust on the studio's shelves for up to four years. The backlog is so profound that the directors of three of those films have started, filmed and almost completed new movies with other studios in the time it has taken Disney-owned Miramax to bring their earlier films to theaters.

"To have it be sitting there just kills you," Abrams says of "Underclassman," a drama about an undercover police officer played by "Drumline's" Nick Cannon.

The release of several of the Miramax movies was held up partially by the very public divorce of the Weinsteins and Disney, which bought the studio in 1993. With the Weinsteins set to leave Disney and Miramax on Sept. 30, the brothers say they are determined before their exit to supervise the debuts of movies they produced and purchased.

"It's about us overseeing the movies," Bob Weinstein says. (More current Miramax movies that were in production when the Weinstein-Disney split commenced will be released by the brothers' new company.)

Added Harvey in a statement: "Releasing these films prior to our departure gives us the ability to continue to support the filmmakers and the projects."

In the rush to get their Miramax movies out, the Weinsteins have scheduled five films for release in one two-week span in September, often a slow month for movie ticket sales. And some Miramax movies scheduled for wide release in August will face steep competition from heavily marketed fare; "Underclassman," for example, is set to open the same day as "The Dukes of Hazzard."

The makers of "The Libertine" complained to the studio about the planned Sept. 16 release date for the Johnny Depp period drama, saying it was too early in the year for Academy Awards attention, according to three people familiar with the matter.

As for "Libertine's" awards chances being hurt by its release date, Bob Weinstein says, "That theory has been disproved by others." "Gladiator" and "Seabiscuit," Bob Weinstein says, both received plenty of awards notice despite their respective May and July theatrical debuts.

Even though the company has cut its workforce in half, Bob Weinstein says Miramax has the experience, expertise and personnel to market and distribute every movie successfully. While he won't single out any titles, he does admit some of the postponed movies may not be very good.

"Sometimes bad movies are put on the shelf," he says.

That Miramax shelf is rarely bare. The studio took nearly four years before releasing 2001's "Prozac Nation," which debuted in March on television, not in theaters. And some Miramax films still remain unaccounted for, including 2002's "Plots With a View," starring Naomi Watts and Alfred Molina.

All the same, Miramax will try to do as well as it can with the recently scheduled releases and give every film full consideration no matter how long it has been around, Bob Weinstein says.

"In our experience, there are no rules," he explains, adding that Miramax's marketing and distribution divisions are fully staffed. The studio's martial arts movie "Hero," Weinstein notes, sat on the shelf for almost two years before its debut and nevertheless grossed more than $53 million. The initial results among the new batch of Miramax releases are not encouraging. The Weinsteins purchased the British documentary "Deep Blue" in December 2003. According to three former Miramax employees, the studio believed the underwater story could become the next "Winged Migration," a hit documentary about birds that won an Oscar in 2003.

To improve its commercial prospects, the studio replaced the "Deep Blue" narration by Michael Gambon with a voice-over by Pierce Brosnan. Then Miramax dribbled the film into release. Last weekend, "Deep Blue" debuted in two theaters, grossing a measly $8,373.

Award winners affected

Harvey Weinstein's personal best-picture Oscar win came via director John Madden's "Shakespeare in Love," for which Weinstein served as a producer. Director Lasse Hallstrom's "The Cider House Rules" and "Chocolat" brought Miramax a combined 12 Academy Award nominations and two trophies. And yet both Madden and Hallstrom find themselves -- and their movies -- caught in the Miramax release rush.

Madden's "Proof," an adaptation of David Auburn's hit play, was filmed in late 2003 and stars Gwyneth Paltrow. The film was originally set for a Christmas 2004 release, but Miramax was running low on cash and slashing its staff, so decided to focus its year-end efforts on "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland."

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