MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland

Reading Public Arrogance

Two deals are, now that MGM is set at Sony, the primary focus of hummers in Hollywood… Pixar and Miramax. Both are, of course, Disney related. And both have been the subject of out and out public (as telling everyone your plans “privately” tends to be) rejection by Disney in the last two weeks.

The easy assumption is that both deals have gone south for Disney and that the studio is simply being direct and truthful.

And why exactly would you do that?

Every sane person I’ve spoken to pretty much agrees that a retooled/slimmed Miramax makes sense for Disney and Miramax and that no one can do for Pixar what Disney has done for Pixar, even if their deal is exactly the same as anywhere else and doesn’t involve any givebacks… but the givebacks are even more pie sweetening.

So why in a world of deals coming to the wire does Disney wave off both deals?

My guess is not that it is an end of the line, but a hardball comma in the sentence. Chris McGurk had MGM going to WB and was offering up the deal terms to friends and others for a week before Sony stormed back to the deal with a sweetened offer that finally pushed Time-Warner away from the table.

Read across the stories and between the lines of the last month of Disney news stories and you’ll hear, “We’re consolidating our movie brand and won’t be taking big budget risks on “adult” movies, we’ve got our network working again, what’s been messy at the parks is being cleaned up and we’re over the hump that started with 9/11.”

Miramax and Pixar are additions to the core business, they are not the core business. Whoever gets the Pixar deal is looking at $50 – $75 million in profit as a distributing entity every couple of years. And while there is no real upside, the good news is that there will be virtually no downside, as Pixar will self-finance. So the profit comes with no risk, other than the studio passing on a competitive opportunity during one of the two major animation release seasons every other year. Cynicism makes it easy to scoff and say that Disney is better off releasing fewer animated movies. But that worm can turn quicker than a desperate CG housewife. That said, it would be a win-win situation for both entities.

As for Miramax, some things have always been clear… there was never going to be a renewal at $700 million a year, Disney was never going to remove the restrictions on how much The Weinsteins could spend on any one movie without Disney approval and Disney was sure to try to make the Weinstein’s profit participation deal a little less sweet while the Weinsteins would ask for more.

But even if the annual budget for both Dimension and a severely scaled down, Revolution-style Miramax was, say $400 million or $450 million or $500 million… that is still a whole lot of somebody else’s money to play with.

It is a lovely notion that The Weinsteins can run out and get a billion dollar credit line just like that and I’m sure that someone would like to have a Scott Rudin/Joel Silver combination on their lot delivering product. But there is a reason why Rudin and Silver and Grazer and Bruckheimer and the other top producers of the day are not out there going it on their own. Spending someone else’s money is a much happier place to be.

The Weinsteins’ partner in Gangs of New York and now, The Aviator, IEG, has taken pre-sale traditions to a new level with solid business foundations and are now successful producers in the big budget game. But they are not making ten films a year and seeking to distribute another ten. They may expand to five or six or seven, but at some point, the degree of control starts to loosen and risks get greater and people lose and lose big. Is this how The Weinsteins want to spend their 60s?

Moreover, do they really want to operate without being able to use Disney as a fall guy? When you are paid the kind of money The Weinsteins have been paid as, essentially, employees, the idea of bolting for new horizons is a young person’s game… and a stupid one for most. The Weinsteins have always operated best under resistance. Where will that come from if they set up their own shop?

And how many tycoons as successful as The Weinsteins have been with Miramax have set up some other business and had anywhere near the same level of success? This town is littered with geniuses of the past. Even Barry Diller, the highest level player, has never been able to make the leap that he seems to have been seeking for so long since Fox. He has made a lot of money, but his glory days are seen, fairly or not, as historic.

The only problem with the apparent Disney strategy of turning their back on their relationships so as to spice them up is that at some point you pass the point of insult and the proud folks at both Pixar and Miramax could easily be pushed too far.

And remember this… as we ran through the summer, both Disney and The Weinsteins seemed intent on closing a deal, one way or another, before the start of the Miramax fiscal year that started 13 days ago. A key to any negotiation is controlling the clock. And it seems to me that both sides – Miramax with the New York story and now Disney with this Variety story – are trying to get a firm grip before pushing to the final tape.

The official notice of non-renewal? Meaningless. For one thing, the deal was never going to be renewed under the renewal terms that were set forth originally. Second, deal terms are deal terms and no move closes the door until another deal is done, either by The Weinsteins or by Disney, in finding new leadership for the Miramax division.

I guess, in the end, all I am saying is… don’t be distracted by flashy objects or clever news leaks.

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6 Responses to “Reading Public Arrogance”

  1. bicycle bob says:

    disney wants to put the weinstein brothersin their place. who else will give them the $ and control they get now?

  2. Mark says:

    You think they’re playing a little game of gamesmanship? Trying to get the price down?

  3. Justin says:

    Disney would do well to get rid of Bob and Harvey. Remember – Disney retains the brand name, the MIRAMAX name. They’d love nothing more, I’m sure, than to put somebody else (some Disney loyalist) at the helm of the company, all the while letting the unpredictable Weinsteins drift into obscurity.

  4. bicycle bob says:

    who else is gonna pay these guys? they’d have to go independent.

  5. Mark says:

    They have a good trach record. I’m sure they will get some good deal out of this.

  6. It all doesn’t matter – The weinstein’s have a secret weapon: They’re going to release, after all these years, “The Sercret Policeman’s Missing Ball”. Or maybe a dusty forgotten “Emannuelle” sequel.
    Disney should keep it interesting — put Christina Vachon in charge of Miramax!!!

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon