Miramax Films chief Mike Lang came into Cannes determined to dispel the notion that his backers handed $660 million over to Disney simply to manage a film library. Lang met me at the Majestic Friday alongside Rob Lowe, the strategic advisor and an investor in the Miramax deal, one of several he and Colony Capital’s Tom Barrack are planning. Lowe has taken an active hand in poring over a trove of screenplays left behind by Harvey and Bob Weinstein when they exited Disney to form The Weinstein Company. Lowe and Lang feel that the best of those scripts—50-75 of 650 are make-able. Fresh productions, coupled with a plan to soon hire an executive to spearhead film acquisitions and development, positions Miramax to make a content play that Lang and Lowe said will replenish the library and keep it viable.
Describing the process of poring over projects that Disney didn’t seem to care about after the Weinsteins left, Lowe said it was “a lot like that final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the warehouse with all those crates stacked up. Boxes and boxes of scripts and material, none of it catalogued. We’d get five from the bottom of a box, and find a script by Anthony Minghella that he and Sydney Pollack were working on before they died. It’s called The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, it’s a great script, and if it was good enough for Minghella and Pollack, it is certainly good enough for me.” They expect to begin productions by next year and between those and pickups, Lang said Miramax should be able to generate at minimum three films each year and as many as seven.
Lang said Disney was too big to be preoccupied with exploiting the library like they are doing (a Blu-Ray version of Pulp Fiction is one example) and same with scripts. “Bob and Harvey spent hundreds of millions developing these projects, and when they left, you got the feeling it all started shutting down,” Lang said. Said Lowe: “Some of these are 90% there, at the level where you begin engaging talent and getting ready to make a movie.” He and Lang also liked The Alibi, a comedy written by Stephen Colbert about a service that cleans up messes and creates alibis for the likes of married men caught cheating. There was another raucous wedding comedy by the writers of Wedding Crashers.
Lang said that an exec should be in place in time for Miramax to be a buyer starting with the Toronto Film Festival. While it is a chore to recast the image of the company from library manager to content provider, Lang said the Cannes crowd has been receptive. They hold a big lunch for buyers Monday.
“People are rooting for another player in the marketplace,” Lang said. “We will find a strong executive. Capital is not an issue.” How serious they get in the distribution space remains to be seen; Lang said the company will become very aggressive in digital distribution and said if they don’t have TV pilots in contention for next season, they haven’t done their jobs. The content play, Lang and Lowe feel, will go a long way toward dispelling my suggestion that they might have overpaid for the Miramax library.
“The idea we overpaid is comical,” said Lang. “We’ve got over $300 million in receivables, our leverage to cash flow is lower than any company our size, we’ve got an under-exploited library and a path already to pay back our investors. There are very few real movie brands out there, and this is one of them. We see a big upside here.”