Disney Announces Split With Weinsteins

The Walt Disney Co. and Miramax co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein today announced a settlement that will end the Weinsteins' reign as co-chairmen of Disney-owned Miramax Films when their contract is up in September.

In what both sides described as an amicable settlement, Disney (parent company of ABC News) will retain ownership of a library of more than 550 films created by the Miramax and Dimension studios during the Weinsteins' tenure under the Disney umbrella. Miramax will remain a Disney property, and the Weinsteins will retain ownership of the Dimension Films studio. Disney plans to announce replacements for the Weinsteins in July.

"The Weinsteins are true motion picture pioneers, and all of us at Disney wish them well in their new venture," Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, said in a conference call announcing the agreement.

The Weinsteins plan to start their own film distribution and multimedia company, and will immediately begin seeking financing for the firm, which will be called "The Weinstein Group" on an interim basis.

"This will finally give Bob and I the entrepreneurial opportunities we have sought," Harvey Weinstein said.

Outside of the rights to the Miramax and Dimension library of film titles and the Weinsteins' retention of Dimension, neither side disclosed any financial details of the settlement.

Founded by the Weinsteins in the late 1970s, Miramax is credited by many in the movie industry with reviving independent film and reintroducing the genre to mass audiences and big-box office profits. With movies like "sex, lies and videotape" and "Pulp Fiction," Miramax helped launch the careers of directors such as Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, and the studio became known for aggressively marketing its films to critics and film festivals. The Weinsteins fiercely campaigned for Academy Award recognition for their films, a tactic now widely used in Hollywood.

The Disney-Miramax relationship began in 1993 when Disney acquired the studio for a reported $80 million. The 12-year partnership produced ticket sales in excess of $4 billion and garnered 15 best picture Academy Award nominations, including best picture winners "Shakespeare In Love," "The English Patient" and "Chicago."

But the relationship soured over the past several years as the Weinsteins and Disney executives sparred over profits, creative issues and controversial movies like Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which harshly criticized President Bush's handling of the country after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Disney refused to distribute the film, and it later went on to earn more than $100 million for Lions Gate Films.

Some of the turmoil surrounded what Disney board members saw as a shift from the low-budget, independent films that defined the studio's earlier years to a willingness to fund more ambitious, expensive epics like Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" and Anthony Minghella's "Cold Mountain," neither of which earned big profits.

Miramax also sank money into a book-publishing venture and a startup magazine, Talk, which was a bust.

The Weinsteins had a contract to run Miramax as co-chairmen through September 2005, but the Disney board decided not to renew the contracts. The company's incoming chief executive officer, Robert Iger, announced plans to sever ties with the brothers earlier this month, and negotiations between the two parties had been ongoing.

Disney's Clark said the company felt that too much money was being directed toward movie production costs, and the company is expected to operate Miramax on a much smaller budget than the reported $700 million it was spending annually under the Weinsteins.

Harvey Weinstein said the brothers' new venture will release 15 to 20 films next year, some of which will be co-financed with Disney. And the new Weinstein venture will retain the services of Tarantino, Minghella and Kevin Smith, among other notable directors. The Miramax name, created in homage to the Weinsteins' parents, Miriam and Max Weinstein, will remain Disney's. But Harvey Weinstein suggested the discussion of rights to the name might not be complete.

"I think that was the toughest part of the whole negotiation," he said. "Maybe that whole story hasn't been written yet, but maybe it has."