By Indiewire | Indiewire December 1, 1999 at 2:00AM
DECADE: Miramax Ten Years Later - How Do You Spell Indie, Part 2
by Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE
indieWIRE's conversation with Mark Gill continues...
iW: When you are talking about acquisitions, are you talking about movies
that have been acquired after they were made or movies that are acquired at
a certain stage?
Gill: In this case, we are talking about movies that are acquired either in
post-production or altogether finished. So we're not really talking about
co-productions. But we had a surprisingly large year of acquisitions. It's
iW: Because the impression is that you're not as active in places like
Sundance and Toronto.
Gill: That's correct. That's absolutely correct. There was one year at
Cannes where Harvey bought ten movies. And usually we're buying one or two
now. Some of that created the problem that was famously highlighted at the
Independent Spirit Awards last year, "The Shelf Award." The shelf is clear,
and part of the reasons there were so many acquisitions last year on the
schedule was getting some of these movies off the shelf. Like "Iris
Blonde," for example, or "Children of Heaven," or "B Monkey." So finally
the shelf has been cleared. But on balance, you'll see that it's going to
be about half acquisitions, half productions.
iW: Even as we look to 2000 in terms of a percentage breakdown, now that
the shelf is clear?
Gill: It's going to be about half and half, it was just a little more this
year because there was a little more shelf clearing to be done.
iW: Miramax has clearly changed in terms of its reach, producing for
television, publishing with Tina Brown and Talk Magazine. Five years from
now, how will you or someone at your level see Miramax having changed, if at
all, as it continues to grow into new areas and adapt to a marketplace as
you were saying?
Gill: Boy, there's no way to know, and you can only sound stupid or
presumptuous when you answer this question, right? [laughs] The core
business is obviously film, and that I don't think will change, which will
be dictated largely by Harvey and Bob. And television is not an easy
business, but to the extent that we are able to leverage some of the film
relationships that we have into TV, like Kevin Smith doing the "Clerks"
animated series, then hopefully that'll be a good business as well. And
Talk Magazine is so new and it's so hard to know where it's headed, but
financially it's doing extremely well, and the one thing you can definitely
say about Tina Brown is every time her rivals have said she's in trouble,
she succeeds, so even if there's sniping in New York publishing circles --
which there certainly is -- I think you've got to give the magazine a couple
of years before you know really what it's going to be and who the readership
is and how it's going to work and all that. But so far financially, as I'm
sure you've seen, the number of ad pages sold has been astonishing, so
financially it's off to a good start, but we'll see.
iW: Whether this comes from being an observer of Harvey and Bob Weinstein
or in terms of working closely with them, what's your sense of the kind of
business people they want to be in the next five to ten years? Are they as
excited primarily about film as they seem to be about other areas, or do you
see them moving more into these other directions?
Gill: Film is clearly the thing that by far motivates them the most, and it's
where they spend most of their time. But Harvey said something that I think
was wise, or at least astute judgement, which is that as much as he likes
doing that, he'd also like to have a second act. So the magazine is in some
ways his second act. And television to a certain extent for both Bob and
Harvey. But television is something that spins off more readily or more
accessibly. There's just so many places where you have somebody coming in
to talk about something and it's easiest to talk about film and television
possibilities, or it's easy to say, "Oh, that film would make an interesting
television series," or "OK, hmm, we don't love that movie for theaters, but
what about for a network premiere" -- that sort of thing.
"The shelf is clear, and part of the reasons there were so many acquisitions
last year on the schedule was getting some of these movies off the shelf.
Like "Iris Blonde," for example, or "Heaven," or "B Monkey." So finally
the shelf has been cleared."
iW: Clearly you know indieWIRE has been focusing on it...a lot of young
filmmakers have been looking at the emergence of digital technologies,
whether in terms of distribution on the internet or new ways of distributing
in movie theaters, or new ways of producing movies (or entertainment content
if that becomes a new buzzword some day). How do you see Miramax addressing
some of these emerging technologies into their core business?
Gill: I guess two or three things. As I'm sure you know, "The Ideal
Husband," along with "Star Wars," was the first film to be played in
theaters digitally. So obviously we're very interested in that. And we
clearly are looking at digital production even for films that we make
irrespective of those that are made in the outside world. My feeling is
that the minor leagues of the film business, the farm teams, are in serious
trouble. It's basically either you know rich dentists or people who can
invest in a movie, or you're dead in the water. And that's all about to
change. There will be many more Robert Rodriguez-es out there who can go
make a movie that looks a lot better than "El Mariachi" did and show that
they've got talent for very little money, and get exposure for it not
through ICM as Robert happened to, but through iFilm or Atom Films or pick
your favorite one, there's a lot of them out there. And I think that will
make a whopping difference in how filmmakers get developed and how they have
an opportunity to do something that isn't a career hit-or-miss, sort of
"Chutes and Ladders" contest.
So many people get one shot. They direct a movie, it gets picked up by a
distributor and then it's a make or break moment. If it hits, they're in
the gravy, and if it misses, many of them are almost never heard from again.
And maybe what the internet will allow, and soon it's going to be broadband
-- whatever you want to call it -- will be some middle ground where the
financial expectations are more realistic and where people can build their
talent, build their careers without having the sort of 99-1 flashing odds in
their face all the time. To answer your question about what we're doing on
the internet specifically, we've got some fairly interesting things we're
looking at, we just can't quite talk about them yet. The deals aren't in
place yet, but you'll see quite a bit of new stuff coming out of us in the
iW: Readers have sometimes criticized us at indieWIRE, or questioned us, about
the way that we treat, if you will, or cover Miramax as an independent
company alongside companies like the former October Films, or pick your
company -- Strand, Sony, Fine Line. Whether it's an indieWIRE reader or a
new filmmaker just getting out of film school, why should they consider
Miramax along side those others and not closer to a New Line or the studios?
Gill: Well, New Line without Fine Line you couldn't really consider a home
for a first-time filmmaker, but New Line has Fine Line so that changes
things occasionally. That's not quite true but you get my point. Miramax
by contrast, has a ton of films from first-time filmmakers. Whether we buy
them at Sundance or make them. There's a kid named Kris Isaacson who was an
assistant in the Development Department who's now made "Down To You."
There's an amazing number of first-time filmmakers floating through the
place. And although the press is for the big hit movies, there's still
"Children of Heaven "which we buy for $50,000 and we succeed in turning
into, and this is hilarious, the highest grossing Farsi language movie in
American history [laughs]. The only reason I even bring it up is that
people have forgotten we're in that business too, and it was an Academy
Award nominee and we're very proud of it. It did about a million bucks,
we're happy. It beat "The White Balloon," so....
"All of our competitors that are smaller than us would love to re-define us
so they don't have to compete with us in that area. They would love to say,
'Oh, they don't really do that anymore,' and they try to all the time. But
the simple fact of the matter is, we do do it quite a bit."
And the other thing that factors into this is that all of our competitors
that are smaller than us would love to re-define us so they don't have to
compete with us in that area. They would love to say, "Oh, they don't
really do that anymore," and they try to all the time. But the simple fact
of the matter is, we do do it quite a bit. We're looking at several films
that were very modestly budgeted pictures with modestly budgeted
acquisitions. Of course sometimes, in the fantasy of all filmmakers,
modestly budgeted pictures with substantial acquisitions [laughs]. But
however you slice it, the point is that relatively modestly made movies have
a shot and oftentimes do really well.
iW: What did you guys think of the success of "Blair Witch," and did you
feel at all surprised by a company like Artisan taking it to such an
incredible success? You might expect Miramax to have done that, put it that
Gill: Sure, well absolutely. But one of the other fallacies of this business
is that only Miramax can do that. And it clearly isn't true. Russell
Schwartz has been doing it for years, Sony Classics from time to time,
"Howard's End" that they hit out of the park, Fine Line had "Shine." It
does happen that a variety of these other companies are good at it. Artisan
clearly, that is a phenomenal achievement and we're all very impressed by
that. Good for them. We can't exist in this business expecting to have
everything. It just isn't going to work that way. They did a great job
By the way, I think they also did a great job with "Buena Vista Social Club"
and "Pi." So they're a good distributor, great for them. The great news
about it is there is room for them and for us and for USA and for Sony
Classics, and Fine Line and a few others. If you want to drop down a step,
to the Strands and so on. And Lions Gate too. There's enough room for a
good number of companies to be in the business. There are probably too many
at the moment and some of them I'm sure will not be here in three or four
years, but there is room for at least a dozen companies to do this
successfully and co-exist.
iW: Clearly in all these discussions, the conversation always gets to
Miramax. Right along side of the fact that more movies are being made, the
fact that the marketing has changed, Miramax is also discussed as one of the
influential factors in the past ten years of independent film. Despite the
criticism that we get occasionally, it was crucial that we talk with you
guys as part of this conversation.
Gill: Just remember that you're getting that criticism from people with a
very, very well-defined self-interest in redefining the category. That is
the crux of it right there. If "Children of Heaven" and "God Said Ha" and
"The Harmonists" and "Iris Blonde" and "My Son the Fanatic" and "Lovers on
the Bridge" and "Get Bruce" and "Guinivere" and "The Grandfather" and
"That's the Way I Like It" and "Princess Mononoke" are not independent
movies, I don't know what is. In between that of course are some bigger
movies, but the simple fact of the matter is, we're still doing a lot of
iW: So, it's easy to pick on the movie that gets the most attention? For
example now, I can't turn on the TV without seeing a picture of Matt Damon
or Jude Law or Gwyneth Paltrow in a commercial for "The Talented Mr.
Ripley." That becomes an easy target, but I'm sure you guys are used to it.
Gill: Yeah. That's the price of admission unfortunately [laughs]. It's
actually a pretty good problem to have, I'd say.