How the Oscars Killed the Indie Buzz

Yet if, from one angle, Shakespeare in Love and Life is Beautiful can be seen in retrospect as signaling a high point for Miramax, from another they might be perceived as initiating the company’s downward trajectory-in terms of its status with the press and its broader impact on the specialty business.


Gwyneth Paltrow takes home Best Actress award in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love.

As Alisa Perren asserts in her work, Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s, the seventy-first Academy Awards Ceremony in 1999 showcased Miramax, a film distribution company’s, overwhelming success in Hollywood. She explains, “As the century was ending, Miramax was a dominant niche film company in an industry increasingly overrun with well-funded indie divisions” (Perren, 177). The successful company had two films Shakespeare in Love and Life is Beautifulnominated for multiple Oscars on March 21, 1999. With heavy competition in the category for Best Picture, including most significantly, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryanit seemed unlikely that Shakespeare in Love would win the biggest award of the evening. Saving Private Ryan seemed like the natural winner compared to the light-hearted comedy about Shakespeare’s attempt to write his most famous play. However, Miramax took home multiple wins including, Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, and Best Actor for Life is Beautiful. It was clear from the evening’s results that Miramax was a major player in the film industry and one that dramatically shaped the Hollywood ideal in the late 1990s. However the results of the awards ceremony left many questioning Miramax’s business practices and attracted scrutiny of their “brutish” behavior (Perren, 178). As Perren explains, “Previously, the press might have celebrated Miramax for its aggressive promotion of art to the masses. Yet now it was being depicted with growing frequency as a belligerent brute that used money, relationships, and fear tactics to dominate the marketplace” (Perren, 178). This depiction of Miramax is important because it shows the gradual disapproval of independents after “the year of the indies” in 1996 sparked an increased interest in independent films. Ultimately, following the 1999 Oscars, Miramax could no longer sustain their image as an underdog company.Stories surfaced about Miramax’s demands in business deals that left other companies with a bad taste in their mouth. Suddenly, Miramax fell out of favor. The company lost their ability to claim that they were a start-up company scrounging for success after their incredible success at the Academy Awards. Whether they capitalized on their owner, Disney’s name and success to garner their multiple awards or not, the once small company seemed like a major distribution company at the end of the 1990s. Perren quotes October Films cofounder, Bingham Ray, who claimed, “They’re a major studio and their philosophy has changed. Their philosophy is now the philosophy of a major studio” (208). As one of the key players in the indie industry, Miramax’s fall hit hard and ended the infatuation with “the year(s) of the indie”.


Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s.: University of Texas Press, 2013. Print. Texas Film and Media Studies Series.

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