Following protractednegotiations, Disney and Miramax top brass announced yesterday [29] that Harveyand Bob Weinstein will leave the Disney fold when their contracts expire onSept 30 to set up a fully integrated media company, tentatively titled The WeinsteinCompany.

In a conference call with reporters that revealed little by way of newdevelopments, Disney will keep Miramax as a wholly owned company, as well asthe Miramax name a contentious point because it incorporates the names of thebrothers' parents Miriam and Max and the 550-plus Miramax library.

The Weinsteins take with them the highly lucrative Dimension Films genre banneras part of their broad vision for an expanded portfolio of interests thatincludes film production and distribution, broadcasting, publishing, and atechnology division that Harvey Weinstein promised would rival the cutting-edgespirit embodied in Miramax's film operations. An announcement on the future ofMiramax Books will follow in due course.

The wide-ranging new venture will allow the brothers to combine their artisticsensibilities with entrepreneurial savvy, and will benefit from the insights ofan informal advisory group that includes in its gaggle of hedge fund managersand business leaders none other than Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Until their autumn departure, Harvey and Bob will remain Miramax co-chairmenand work on the extant slate of 15-20 unreleased Miramax pictures, whichincludes <I>Proof</I>, <I>Mindhunters</I>, <I>TheBrothers Grimm</I>, <I>The Underclassman</I>, and<I>The Great Raid</I>. Since acquiring Miramax in 1993, Disneychiefs have seen the company produce more than 200 Oscar nominations and 15best picture nominees including best picture wins for <I>The English Patient</I>,<I>Shakespeare In Love</I> and <I>Chicago</I>.

The Weinsteins will work with the new Miramax management, to be announced inJuly, until Sept 30. During this time the brothers will also set aboutdeveloping an initial slate of titles that will be variously shared with Disneyand wholly owned by the new venture, including pictures by Weinstein favouritesQuentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Anthony Minghella, and Kevin Smith. Seeseparate story for a list of the initial slate.

International releasing plans had not been finalised at time of writing. Whileit seems almost certain that Buena Vista International (BVI) will handle sharedtitles on the Weinstein Company slate like <I>Scary Movie 4</I> and<I>Mrs Henderson Presents</I>, it remained unclear whether BVI orthe Weinstein Company would distribute the new venture's wholly owned titles.

It is understood Miramax staff will either stay with the unit at Disney or gowith the Weinsteins, who now that the deal has been announced can make a playfor preferred employees. The parties did not comment on the subject during theconference call.

The Weinstein Company will work with Disney on future projects and will acquireand produce new titles for itself. There should be no shortage of backerslining up to work with the new venture. Harvey told reporters yesterday thatthe reaction to the news in New York and other financial hubs had been one of'incredible excitement', adding, 'The amount of money that will be raised willbe significant.'

Aside from the usual corporate platitudes about talent, respect and experiencethat flew between Harvey Weinstein and Disney chairman Dick Cook, proceedingstook a slightly edgier turn when the parties were asked why it had all come tothis.

Cook made euphemistic noises about growing productioncosts at Miramax, while Weinstein pointed to three missed opportunities thathad riled him, namely Disney's refusal to let Miramax set up a channel onCablevision, acquire the <I>Lord Of The Rings</I> franchise, andbuy the Artisan library.

Weinstein praised Cook and colleagues at Disney for the amicable negotiations,adding that incoming Disney chief executive Robert Iger had been 'incrediblyhelpful' in moving things forward.

He gamely reserved a few words for Michael Eisner, the current chief executiveofficer with whom he has endured a tempestuous relationship, telling reporters:'He gave us the freedom not only to make movies we love but ones that were agreat asset to Disney and its shareholders.'

As for Disney keeping the Miramax name, Weinstein said: 'That's the tough partof all this. My mum is 79 years old and my dad passed away when we were youngerand never got to see the name in his lifetime.'

The informal advisory board includes Paul Newman, Robert Redford, New RegencyProductions founder Arnon Milchan, Quadrangle Group managing principal SteveRattner, Cablevision chief executive officer Jim Dolan, Ziff BrothersInvestments chairman Dirk Ziff, Tudor Investment Corp chairman and chiefexecutive officer Paul Tudor Jones, J Crew chairman and chief executive officerMillard 'Mickey' Drexler, Quinta Communications' Tarak Ben Ammar, and TriArcCompanies chairman and chief executive officer Nelson Peltz.