I'm Getting Increasingly Annoyed with Miramax
It's Oscar time again, which forces me to think about how much I hate Miramax. Okay, hate is a strong word. How I'm getting increasingly annoyed with Miramax. Not the Miramax of before, but today's Miramax. And on that note, there may not be a Miramax for much longer, at least as we know it. Disney bought Miramax a while ago. Back then, Miramax , led by Harvey and Bob, the brothers Weinstein, was a small independent studio known primarily for financing very good artsy films. The name "Miramax" is a combination of their parents' names, Miriam and Max. Under Disney, they mushroomed into something bigger. Bob developed Dimension films, a small but profitable subsidiary skewed towards younger viewers. Their successes include the Scream and Scary Movie franchises. Miramax's ambitions grew. The films they chose to finance and/or distribute were from diverse genres, and they switched from smaller films to huge epics and lame general release comedies. The Miramax of today is not the one I remember, the one I like.
Rumors are circulating that Disney and the Weinsteins are currently in negotiations to have them leave the label. The Weinsteins are not satisified with Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Disney claims that Miramax has not been profitable the past few years, while the Weinsteins claim otherwise (yet last August laid off a large number of their staff). First, there is the Eisner effect. He is a very polarizing figure, especially in recent years. The rumor is that there is no current Pixar/Disney agreement because of Eisner, and some speculation that similar reasons underly the potential Miramax/Disney split. Both Eisner and Harvey are very big alpha male types, so it may be hard for compromise on either side. There are a few things Disney (Eisner) did that particularly irked Harvey. The first was the refusal to produce a trilogy of movies you may have heard of called The Lord of the Rings. Disney did not want to take the monetary risk of making three movies at once. History showed that this was a horrible decision. These three movies were freakin' huge, reaping millions of dollars at the box office, critical acclaim, and more. Then, Eisner pulled the plug on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, claiming it was too political. The publicity around this decision, along with the mood in the country helped it earn a huge gross. For both these films, Harvey stayed on as producer, selling the to other studios. These are good decisions by Harvey, probably the only good ones in a long time.
As a person, Harvey Weinstein is an extremely powerful man. His blessing can make a movie, and some say his curse can do other things. Like Eisner, he can be an incredibly polarizing person. I have not met him personally, so everything I relate about him is purely from various things I have read. I will say that I have an incredible amount of respect for him. I like his taste in films (well, earlier taste in films) and he wields a tremendous amount of influence in Hollywood. There are plenty of stories about people who loved working with him, and plenty of stories about people who didn't. He is rumored to have an extremely short temper, and can be very testy.
New vs. Old
When Miramax first came onto the scene, they had two major types of films; hip ones or costume dramas. Pulp Fiction, Clerks, The Crying Game, The Opposite of Sex, and Reservoir Dogs were just a vew. These films showed a nice sense for diversity. They typically enjoyed critical and commerical success. Commerical success relative to their budget, or course.
Now they have releases My Baby's Daddy, View from the Top, My Boss's Daughter, Darkness, Starsky & Hutch, Jersey Girl, Duplex, Ella Enchanted, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and Shall We Dance? These films flopped in most aspects of the word.
Sure there are good films sprinkled throughout, but these tend to be big blockbusters that are made primarily as vehicles to win Oscars. Which brings me to my next point...
Oscar Advertising
I'm less interested in the Oscars every year, and I have Miramax and Harvey Weinstein to thank for that. Weinstein helped promote the idea of heavily campaigning for Miramax films to win. It got pretty bad with huge "For Your Consideration" ads in various trade papers and places like the Los Angeles Times and Variety. Because this tactic seemed to work, other studios joined the fray, and upped the ante. Screeners were sent out to try to entice Acadmey members to watch the movies, and it felt dangerously close to bribery (not to mention the potential impact of piracy). The Academy actually clamped down on this last year because everything revolving around Oscar campaigns was beginnging to get out of hand.
Regardless of how good a film is, Miramax will campaign the hell out of it to try to win an Oscar. It's gotten the point where people grumble that some of the films aren't worthy of Oscar, yet Miramax pushes to have them nominated. Why? Oscar nomination are the seal of approval from the Academy, and usually translate to increased sales for both tickets and DVDs. Below is a list of films made (or distributed) by Miramax and the year it was nominated. The list is not all inclusive. I've tried to earmark the majority categories. The films from earlier years tend to be better than the more recent ones. I've bracketed some of the questionable choices. I mean - Chocolat? Come on. Thankfully, most categories ignored Cold Mountain, which had the feel of a film made just for Academy Awards. City of God was nominated thanks to a campaign that lasted nearly a year (after it didn't get a Best Foreign Picture nod), and other films like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Chicago, and The Barbarian Invasions were merely good and not great.
1993 - The Crying Game
1995 - Pulp Fiction
1996 - Il Postino
1997 - The English Patient
1998 - Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Brown, The Wings of the Dove
1999 - Shakespeare in Love, Life is Beautiful
2000 - The Cider House Rules, Music of the Heart, [The Talented Mr. Ripley]
2001 - Chocolat, [Malena]
2002 - In the Bedroom, Iris, Amelie
2003 - [Chicago], The Hours, [Gangs of New York], The Quiet American, [Frida]
2004 - House of Sand and Fog, Master and Commander, [Cold Mountain], City of God, Dirty Pretty Things, [The Barbarian Invasions]
2005 - [Aviator], Finding Neverland
Bad Sites
We (Haro, Mongoose, and I) have noticed that in some cases, Miramax decides not to make a unique site for a film. Instead, they use a generic looking site with a minimal amount of information. Yes, I am criticising the quality of their websites. Yes, I know how ironic this is given what you are currently looking at. The difference is if I were marketing a film, I would shell out the extra money to produce something at least a bit serviceable. Miramax's budget is probably over 7 figures. They can probably get a decent site for $5K, and at least this way, they could get some additional awareness out. Below is a list of 'sites' offered by Miramax. They look suspicisouly similar. I'm sure there are more, I just got sick of looking.
My Baby's Daddy
View From the Top
The Human Stain
Shall We Dance?
I'm Not Scared
The Magdalene Sisters
Paper Clips
One of the first things you'll notice about the list above is that on the whole, these films tend to suck. Some sat on the shelf for a few years. But the choices are still odd. Yes, View from the Top sucked, but its stars included Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, and Mike Meyers, so you figure they would do something more. There were high expectations going into The Human Stain (although it later bombed), so why not produce a site in line with those expecations? I'm Not Scared and The Magdalene Sisters got decent reviews. Paper Clips is getting good reviews, and will hopefully go the route of Finding Neverland. Miramax did a sneaky thing here - they had their generic site up. However, once it began attracting extremely positive reviews, they built its own site and changed their links.
There is another issue with older sites, which, to be fair, is an issue with many other companies. After a while, they stop maintaining the sites and the url is simply gone. I found a bunch of these too. In this case, they could at least do what they do here, and redirect the link to their current site.
Botched Releases
There are three particular films I want to focus on, to show how Miramax botched things up. Mongoose has already summarized some of them in his reviews.
Hero followed on the heels of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This put it in a unique position to reap millions of dollars in profit. Not only that, it starred bona fide stars like Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi, the lesser known (but equally talented) Donnie Yen, and art house and international stars Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. It's director, Zhang Yimou, was highly respected by critics. Hero picked up a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2003 Oscars (it lost). All of this set it up as the successor to Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now, marketing a foreign film is tricky. Stupid Americans have no desire to read subtitles. The primary way to ensure a success is to start small and expand slowly. Hopefully, reviews are good, so word-of-mouth, both from audiences and critics, will cause more people to want to see it. That's what happened with Crouching Tiger. Miramax bought the domestic distribution rights to Hero, then just sat on the film. Why? It could have clearly made a fortune by releasing it, and could capitalize on the fact that it was Oscar nominated. China saw it in 2002. It finally hit American theaters in late August, 2004, nearly two years after it was complete. By this time, Miramax gambled on a wider distribution. Trailers had the bizarre "Presented by Quentin Tarantino" tagline, which I still do not understand. Tarantino's name associates the film with over-the-top violence, which Hero does NOT have. This was a lyrical, poetic, and stunningly beautiful film. In this case, Miramax's gamble paid off, and it made a killing.
Shaolin Soccer
Shaolin Soccer was a huge smash in Asia in 2001. It had a goofy story - soccer + kung fu, some cheesy special effects, and two Asian mega-stars, Stephen Chow and Zhao (Vicky) Wei. Chow is known as the Jim Carrey of Asia. Wei is quite possibly one of the most beautiful women in the world (okay, she is bald in this film). It was wildly popular in Asia, and Miramax acquired domestic distribution rights. Trailers appeared, and everybody laughed, especially when a lady used martial arts to parallel park her car. And the film never came out. Then, word came that Miramax decided to dub the film. People protested, and the film never came out. Then, Miramax decided it was going to un-dub the film. And the film never came out. Miramax kept pushing the release date back, giving no concrete reasons as to why. They effectively killed any sense of momentum for the movie themselves. When it finally did come out in 2004, it was given a piddly release in a few theaters, and died a quick undeserved death.
Prozac Nation
Ever heard of a movie called Prozac Nation? Didn't think so. Yet, it boasts an impressive cast - Christina Ricci, Anne Heche, Michelle Williams, Jason Biggs, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. Prozac Nation is an adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel's novel about drugs and a girl's first year at Harvard. It was Ricci's pet project, and was finished in late 2000 and at that point in time was a hot property. Word of mouth was all over the place, and there were all sorts of reasons given to why it was continually postponed. At this point, I doubt it will ever see the light of day. Oddly enough, we were given a VCD from Asia of the film, so at some point, we'll have a review up here.
So what does this all mean? Probably nothing. Miramax, barring some catastrophic and protracted battle with Disney, will continue to push itself off as a larger studio. I think they're stretching themselves too thin, worried more about profits than quality. They became a name by focusing on quality, and recognition and profits followed. Miramax needs to get back to basics. The Miramax name today doesn't really stand for anything. Dimension is humming along nicely, so I don't forsee or want any change there.

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