By Indiewire | Indiewire August 16, 2004 at 2:00AM
Next Step Towards the New Miramax? 65 Employees Cut at Leading Indiewood Company
by Eugene Hernandez
Email auto-responders at Miramax told much of the story late Friday. While the email auto-response message is especially useful in August when taking vacation time, at Miramax late last week the notifications gave insight into the changes taking place inside the company. "I am no longer at Miramax. If you need to get a hold of me my personal email is…," read one auto-response, while another said sharply, "I will be out of the office forever. No longer working with Miramax."
13% of Staffers Cut
Miramax Films laid-off 65 of 485 employees on Friday, cutting 13% of its workforce. The publicity, marketing, and production areas of the film company were especially hard hit, mostly cutting middle management and lower-level staffers. The changes, while anticipated and at smaller levels than originally speculated, add to questions about the fate of the company. Insiders are clearly hoping that the move is a step towards things settling down a bit as the Miramax prepares to release ten new films in the coming months.
"This is no reflection on anyone's performance, it is simply an effort to bring staff levels in line with our smaller release slate," explained company spokesman Matthew Hiltzik, adding plainly, "This has nothing to do with Disney."
The company has faced uncertain times of late given ongoing attention paid to Harvey and Bob Weinstein's discussions with corporate parent Disney about their futures at the venture. A widespread scenario has Harvey Weinstein leaving to start a new company but distributing his movies through Miramax with younger brother Bob staying to run the successful Dimension Films unit. Those talks are ongoing and it is expected that the situation will be resolved in the next six weeks or so. How such a move would affect the remaining 420 company employees is certainly unclear. Company COO Rick Sands, who still has more than a year left on his contract, is expected to leave Miramax in the coming months.
As the discussions with Disney continue, Miramax is gearing up for what is typically an important period, awards season. Ten films are on tap for the company through the end of the year, ranging from smaller projects to larger Oscar hopefuls. This year's total number of releases will be 18, compared with 22 last year and 31 in 2002. In March of that year the company cut 17% of its staff but had grown back to a larger size recently. Dimension Films, run by Bob Weinstein, only saw slight cuts on Friday, while the Miramax Books division was not affected.
Ten New Films on Tap
Miramax will have a busy few months with ten new films set for release by the company. Lasse Hallstrom's "An Unfinished Life," with Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford, Josh Lucas, and Morgan Freeman is the story of a rancher raising two teens, while "The Aviator" is Martin Scorsese's look at the life of Howard Hughes, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, with Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, and Cate Blanchett also on board. Shona Auerbach's "Dear Frankie" stars Emily Mortimer in the story of a mom raising a deaf son, and Marc Forster's "Finding Neverland" stars Johnny Depp. The buzz title is the story of J.M. Barrie's journey to bring Peter Pan to the stage in London. Also featured in the anticipated film are Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman.
A pair of long-awaited Asian films will also be released. Zhang Yimou's action hit "Hero" stars Jet Li and Maggie Cheung and is finally making it to the U.S., as is the acclaimed "Infernal Affairs" from Wai Keung Lau and Alan Mak. The action adventure crime story, starring Andy Lau and Tony Leung, was a hit on the international film festival circuit and has already spawned sequels.
Also targeted for a 2004 release are Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab's doc "Paper Clips," Gurinder Chadha's Bollywood musical "Bride and Prejudice," John Madden's "Proof" with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal, and Peter Chesolm's adaptation of the Japanese film, "Shall We Dance" with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez.