It was black Friday atMiramax Films today (Friday) after months of speculation ended and 13% of thestudio's workforce was laid off. The move, said a company spokesman, was part of a cost-cutting drive across the company in line withslimmed down production levels.

Meanwhile, companyco-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein continued their ongoing negotiations withparent company Disney over the renewal of their contracts which will likely seeHarvey leave the Disney umbrella to form his own film production operation andBob remain within it to continue running Dimension Films.

Speculation was also rife acrosstown about the future at Miramax of COO Rick Sands, the company's stalwartnumber three. The spokesman Matthew Hiltzik denied that he was leaving, despite persisent rumours tothe contrary and a report about his departure in The New York Post today.

65 of the company's485-strong workforce, mostly middle- to lower-level employees working in thepublicity, production and marketing departments were let go on Friday. The NewYork head office bore the brunt of the redundancies but neither the Los Angelesnor London offices went untouched. Several Miramax International staffers inLondon will not be returning to work on Monday.

"This has nothing to do withDisney and this is no reflection on anyone's performance," Hiltzik

"It'ssimply an effort to bring staff levels in line with a smaller releaseschedule."

In recent years productionand cost levels at the studio have risen. This year Miramax plans to release atotal of 18 titles, an 18% drop from 22 releases last year. From 2000 to 2003inclusive the average number of annual releases was 26.

So far this summer, Miramaxhas released just Takeshi Kitano's Japanese language Zatoichi, and pushed several movies such as Cursed, The BrothersGrimm and The Best Of Youth to next year, although the Aug 27release of long-delayed Chinese hit Hero isgoing ahead given the significance of the film to Disney's relationship withthe Chinese government.

As usual, the company has abusy Oscar season with films including Finding Neverland, The Aviator,Proof, An Unfinished Life, Dear Frankie and Bride And Prejudiceset for release before year's end. Miramax also pulled out of Bridget Jones:The Edge Of Reason which it wasscheduled to release in Nov, giving it back to Universal, whose Working Titleunit produced it.

Michael Eisner, chiefexecutive officer of parent company Disney, is keen to reduce funding toMiramax especially since Harvey Weinstein has started to greenlight big budgetpictures such as the $80m-plus Cold Mountain which grossed nearly $200m worldwide but was thebiggest risk at the time in Miramax's history. Since then, the company has goneit alone on big budget titles like Shall We Dance with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez and TheBrothers Grimm with Matt Damon andHeath Ledger.

Disney allocates roughly$700m in production and marketing funds to Miramax each year.

The last phase of lay-offsat Miramax took place in March 2002 when 80 people, or 17%, of the then workforcewere released.

Hiltzik said that theWeinsteins' talks with Disney were "ongoing and amicable."