Earlier today, Peter wrote up a piece on movie mogul Harvey Weinstein explaining how The Weinstein Company created their division Third Rail as a dumping ground for movies they feel have only "ancillary value." Harvey and his younger brother and business partner, Bob, have been under a bit of an attack since ditching Disney/Miramax for their own shingle back in 2005, with a lot of sharks swimming the waters surrounding them, just waiting for enough money to bleed through the Weinstein's fingers.
An article over at the Sunday Telegraph by Tom Teodorczuk goes into some fairly good detail about the troubles facing the beleagured brothers. You can read the full piece yourself to see his analysis; suffice it to say that the Weinsteins have yet to bring that old Miramax magic to their independent shingle, probably for a variety of reasons, not the least of which include the troubles facing the indie film world generally. As Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells, quoted in the piece, notes, "The Weinsteins have suffered from the same pressures affecting the indie film sector that everyone else faces. There is a glut of product owing to hedge fund firms now investing in films."
Amen to that. The loss of indie film arms at major studios, including Warner Independent and Picturehouse, and the financial troubles hitting THINKfilm, are broader indicators that the indie film business is undergoing a major period of transition; it seems to be mostly the Weinsteins' public personalities that's making them more personal targets in the case of TWC's situation, along with the privately-held company refusing to disclose any financial details that might shed light on how things are going there.
The Weinsteins also seem to have bungled the release of more than a few films lately; among them was Grace is Gone, which premiered at Sundance in 2007 to great reviews and seemed a sure shot to revitalize star John Cusack's career. The Weinsteins acquired the film at the fest for a relatively spendy $4 million, but gave it a paltry release with minimal marketing, and it made just $50,000 in the US (just over $650,000 world-wide, according to Box Office Mojo). Grace is Gone is an excellent film, with Cusack's best performance in years, and with broader marketing and a wider release, it seems it could have (and should have) easily made back TWC's initial investment. Fortunately for Cusack, he also starred in 1408, released by the Weinstein's horror division, Dimension, and that film fared considerably better.
Another case in point is the marketing of Control, the critically-raved biopic about Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis; the Weinsteins acquired that film at Cannes, and it seemed like the perfect film for an Oscar push, but didn't get a solid nudge that direction, although it did end up grossing $7.8 million worldwide. The Weinsteins are smart guys, so it's all the more puzzling why they've seemingly bungled the release and marketing of some solid films.
Meanwhile, more than a few indie filmmakers, unsaddled as the studios are by the bulk of layers of managerial decision-makers, have taken to finding new ways to distribute and market their films themselves. Grassroots efforts bolstered films like Apart from That, Four Eyed Monsters and Darius Goes West, while other filmmakers are looking to various iterations of online distribution models as a means to cut distributors out of the picture altogether. And SnagFilms, the latest effort by former AOL president Ted Leonsis, last week announced a partnership with indieWIRE which could herald a major on-demand distribution model avenue for indie films, especially documentaries, which have struggled to gain audiences over the past couple years in theaters. If the Weinsteins are smart, they'll start looking to new models as well, finding ways to turn the tide of the current indie downturn into an opportunity to reinvent the industry for the modern, internet-savvy cinephile.
No, I wouldn't count the Weinsteins out of the running just yet, much as their detractors might like to see them fail. They may not achieve their goal of being in the black by 2008, but I expect they've not yet run out of tricks up their sleeves; in time, we may still see The Weinstein Company becoming the big player Miramax was under the Weinsteins' guidance. Harvey's been focusing on diversifying the company's holdings, adding television and fashion (including the successful show Project Runway) to their slate; maybe now's the time for him to refocus his considerable smarts and energy into getting TWC back on track.
What TWC needs is a year of some solid, Oscar-worthy releases with the weight of the Weinstein muscle behind savvy marketing pushes to revitalize the company's rep. With other indie distribs struggling, the time is right for TWC to take the lead in reinventing the industry to both support independent film and get their company on a profitable upswing. Here's hoping as we look to the end of 2008 and head into 2009 that the Weinsteins position themselves to take advantage of the floundering in other studios and make their company a solid giant in the indie film world.