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Miramax's Battsek is absent as ax swings

October 23, 2009 |  4:50 pm

Some folks at Disney's specialty movie unit Miramax Films are dismayed that their leader Daniel Battsek jetted off to the London Film Festival this week while the ax is falling on many of his employees and the company is basically being dismantled. Earlier this month, Disney announced plans to slash 70% of Miramax's staff to 20 people and slice by half the number of movies it releases to a mere three a year.

While Battsek, who's based at Miramax's New York headquarters, told a handful of his direct reports that they would be losing their jobs before he left, he didn't stick around to offer any comfort to other employees who were told the bad news by HR. Some of the 55 people who Miramax plans to let go are still awaiting word on their fate.

BATTSEK Disney has agreed to pay people through the end of January.

Battsek, who went to the London Film Festival for a screening of Miramax's current release, "The Boys Are Back," could not be reached for comment. While the executive may have felt compelled to go to the festival to support the film's star Clive Owen and director Scott Hicks, who were also there, his timing seems poor given all of the drama unfolding under his own roof.

The fate of Miramax's smaller Los Angeles operation on Sunset Boulevard is still unclear,  though many are betting that it will ultimately be shut down. The L.A. office is headed by Battsek's production chief, Keri Putnam, who is among those leaving the company.

Battsek's own fate remains murky. He was picked by Disney's recently ousted movie chairman Dick Cook to run Miramax four years ago after its founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein were run out of the company. While Battsek has continued Miramax's penchant for releasing acclaimed films such as "No Country for Old Men," "The Queen" and "Doubt," his more recent track record has been weak, with misses like the drama "The Boys Are Back," which has grossed just $600,000 since release a month ago, "Cheri" and "Extract."

It will be interesting to see what happens to Miramax once Disney's new movie chief Rich Ross gets around to restructuring it. His boss, Walt Disney Co. chief executive Bob Iger has a bigger appetite for broad audience movies than he does for the more narrow offbeat adult dramas for which Miramax is known.

You can almost bet that if the market for independent films were better, Disney would put Miramax's lustrous library up for auction -- it includes such modern classics as "Pulp Fiction" and "Shakespeare in Love" -- and that would be end of it. Many in Hollywood's creative community are distressed by what's happened to Hollywood's specialty film business with the demise of Warner Independent Pictures, Picturehouse and Paramount Vantage, and now they have Miramax to worry about.

-- Claudia Eller

Photo: Daniel Battsek. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times