Miramax and the new Hollywood Dimension

The rise and fall of Miramax is known throughout the media world as an excellent case study of how a small independent distributor could not only rise up to compete in the big leagues with major motion picture studio films, but also produce a series of independent films and/or niche-products that were able to attract a much wider audience, and essentially “ ‘made independent films mainstream’.”(Perren,4) This caused many to question the line between independent films and Hollywood films.

Miramax founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, 1979

Miramax founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, 1979

As the first independent entertainment company to be bought by a global media conglomerate, Miramax, single-handedly evolved Hollywood’s production, marketing, distribution, exhibition and exploitation practices with the helpful aid of Disney throughout the 1990s. This was able to benefit both parties simultaneously as Disney was able to have the means to distribute such films that attract niche-audiences and have more of an art-house aesthetic, while Miramax was able to gain the marketing for their low-budget films and filmmaking aesthetic. “Miramax exploited Disney’s resources to transform a diverse set of films into multimedia franchises.” (Perren, 12) This blossoming partnership was proving to be so successful that it led to every other major media conglomerate to either develop or acquire an existing independent distribution company. “By 2000, News Corporation had Fox Searchlight, Vivendi Universal had Universal Focus, Time Warner had New Line, Viacom had Paramount Vantage, and Sony had Sony Pictures Classics and Screen Gems.”(Perren, 4) At this time, these indie divisions became the primary means through which the major media conglomerates used to finance, produce and distribute their niche-oriented films, thanks to the business model that was put in place by Miramax and Disney. Alisa Perren looks into this business model and transformation of Hollywood in the 1990’s within her book, Indie,Inc. , choosing to specifically focused on Miramax’s accomplishments independently as well as alongside Disney.

It is very important to the media conglomerates to be able to attract any and all kinds of audiences, meaning they would have to increase their focus on the production and distribution of niche-products in order to appeal to a multitude of demographic groups. This business tactic is also seen outside of independent film distribution as the media conglomerates also went after television, choosing to create cable and broadcast networks that are niche-oriented, such as Sundance Channel and IFC. As the popularity of independent films began to grow, the major’s were gaining more of an interest in the indie film market. They wanted to come up with distribution plans that were not targeted at all moviegoers, but instead only attract specific demographics. The best way to accomplish this was to involve an indie subsidiary, also giving the major’s films the ability to keep more of their value as time goes on by passing the film over to the indie-targeted broadcast networks. Perren explains on p.49 of Indie, Inc. that Bob and Harvey Weinstein, founders of Miramax, understood the large amount of value within the low-budget genre market, leading them to create Dimension Films in 1992 and allowing them to compete with New Line, which primarily focused on the genre product. Because Miramax was known for having more low-brow films, Dimension was able to present their independent films as more “upscale”. Their first success was with the horror genre film, Scream, aimed at teenage-moviegoers and proved their success and ability to reach the new generation of youth, just as Miramax was able to do for both the baby-boomers and the Generation Xers. Whereas New Line failed at attracting wide audiences for their new installment of the Nightmare on Elm St series in 1994, Miramax was able to successfully gain in audiences and the respect of film critics for their 1996 Scream. By doing so, Perren explains how Miramax, through Dimension, was able to “ ‘snag’ regular horror moviegoers while also drawing in a “tonier” audience.”(129)

From Dusk Till Dawn, Robert Rodriguez, 1996

From Dusk Till Dawn, Robert Rodriguez, 1996

From Dusk Till Dawn Television Series, Robert Rodriguez, 2014 - present

From Dusk Till Dawn Television Series, Robert Rodriguez, 2014 – present

Dimension’s next huge hit would be in 1996, with From Dusk Till Dawn, earning $25 million at the box-office in North America. It’s success has done so well throughout the film industry that Robert Rodriguez, Director of the independent horror-crime flick, premiered a television series with the same name and premise on the new El Rey Network, launched by Rodriguez in 2013 to target Latino audiences.

This network functions in the same way as Dimension, as they both are able to embrace the trashier, lower-brow genre and present it as much more appealing to a wider audience as well as the regulars.

El Rey Network launched by Robert Rodriguez in 2013

El Rey Network launched by Robert Rodriguez in 2013

Miramax’s accomplishments paved the road for Independent films and since, have given them an entire arena for which they can stand. Without the Weinstein’s business structure, merges, division’s and decisions, it’s very well possible that some of the industries most notable films would never have been seen in the correct light.

Sources:

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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