Back when brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein created a company that combined their parents Miriam and Max’s names into a portmanteau and started distributing independent films (stuff like concert documentaries and horror movies) in the late 70s, not many people could have predicted what a juggernaut of the art film world Miramax Films would eventually become. Somewhere around the mid 80s, Miramax, under the lead of the Weinsteins, started putting out releases like The Thin Blue Line and Sex, Lies, and Videotape though, and after that it was off to the races. By the time the mid 90s rolled around, not only was Miramax probably the leading producer and distributor of arthouse and indie films in the world, it was also an awards-generating machine whose statue-grubbing campaigns rivaled anything the big studios were doing in terms of money spent and aggressiveness.
Whether you see what the Weinsteins accomplished at Miramax in the 90s as simple capitalist greed, or as the most effective promotion of experimental and interesting cinematic art that’s ever been accomplished, it’s hard to argue that their releases and promotional tactics didn’t play a large part in creating the indie film boom we saw during that decade—which was a trend that brought us a ton of great films as well as created an entire generation of new film geeks. Once the Weinsteins were forced out of their company in 2005 by the Disney overlords who had bought it more than a decade earlier though, Miramax’s ability to generate high-profile Oscar winners suddenly took a giant hit.
As a matter of fact, by 2009 the company had fired most of their employees, was only putting out a few movies a year, and word was that Disney was looking to unload it. That happened in 2010, when Miramax was purchased by some kind of investment group headed up by Tom Barrack Jr. The first news we got out of that deal was that the new Miramax was going to now be focused more on marketing its existing film library rather than creating new content, though the occasional original script would still be produced. The new owners even went as far as to strike a deal with the Weinsteins, who were now running a new company called, appropriately enough, The Weinstein Company, to help them produce sequels to Miramax properties like Bad Santa, Rounders, Shakespeare in Love, and a few others. Needless to say, sequels to what were previously thought of as being standalone stories was not the sort of news that was viewed as being good news by film geeks, so the re-teaming of Miriam and Max’s little boys with the company they created failed to push any nostalgia buttons in anyone.
As we head into 2014 though, an expansion of that deal seems to have occurred that might actually get fans of the 90s-era Miramax library excited for the future. According to Deadline, a deal has just been signed that will see The Weinstein Company taking over development and domestic distribution of Miramax films. The gist of the deal seems to be that all of those sequels to and stage and small screen adaptations of 90s-era Miramax films they were planning back in 2010 will still be happening, but in addition to that Miramax will also be turning some cash over to the brothers to get new projects put together as well.
The quote Barrack gave Deadline about why he’s once again turning to the Weinsteins read, “Sure, we own the intellectual property in the library, and most of the intellectual properties in development, but we didn’t have the art form. If I called Quentin Tarantino and said, ‘I have a great idea how to do a Pulp Fiction TV series,’ chances are it would be a very short conversation. The ability to take all these threads and sew them into a tapestry, is really the magic elixir. We’ve all decided it’s time for a quantum leap and that’s why we’re all together.”
Barrack’s point is well taken, seeing as the fall of Miramax as a distributor of arthouse content following the departure of the Weinsteins pretty directly mirrored the rise of The Weinstein Company as the new kid on the block that took its place. While TWC started out a little slow after being formed in 2005, by the time 2008 and 2009 rolled around they were getting Best Picture nominations for The Reader and Inglorious Basterds, and in 2011 and 2012 they won the award for two films they picked up for distribution, The King’s Speech and The Artist. In recent years it has begun to look like the once great Oscar-winning machine headed up by Harvey Weinstein is again back to firing on all cylinders, but it’s now just calling itself The Weinstein Company instead of Miramax.
While this new deal between the two companies, which is said to span 20 years, is probably going to initially be used to easier get projects like those sequels to Rounders and Shakespeare in Love off the ground, or perhaps even Barrack’s proposed Pulp Fiction TV series, the potential for new creative properties to get funding and distribution is now also there in a way that it wasn’t following that first deal in 2010. Already original projects like a Stephen Colbert-scripted movie called The Alibi, which is about a service that cleans up messy situations for cheating spouses, and a script called The Ninth Life Of Louis Drax, that’s been put together by Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, seem to be in the works, which is good news for everyone sick of sequels and reboots.
With added seed money coming in from Miramax, as well as potential added income coming in from these proposed Miramax sequels, we could soon see The Weinstein-lead awards machine become even more ubiquitous than it has been over the past couple of years. With The Weinstein Company and Miramax working together, it’s not hard to imagine an eventuality where half of the movies playing in the nation’s art house theaters have Weinstein fingerprints on them in some way, and where 90% of the Oscar campaigning that happens at the end of the year is coming directly from their efforts.
As film fans we can probably look at that in two different ways. We can see the Weinsteins as a force for evil who are completely taking over the world of art cinema and crushing the chances for a lot of worthy, smaller movies to get the distribution deals and mainstream recognition that comes from winning awards, or we can see them as being a force for good, who are funding a ton of projects that are a step more interesting than the usual blockbuster fare the big studios are churning out and then putting the promotion behind them necessary to get the mainstream to actually pay attention to them. How do you see it? Are the Weinsteins dictators who are looking to bleed the world of art film dry for their own profit, or are they saviors who are goodly enough to use their influence and clout to raise the bar of mainstream cinematic output? Perhaps the real answer is that they’re a little bit of both, which is fine, so long as their efforts keep resulting in us getting to watch more good movies.