What do Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Aquaman, Deadpool 2, The Grinch, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Bohemian Rhapsody all have in common? Those were the top-10 movies at the US box office in 2018, according to IMDb.
You may also notice that only Deadpool 2 is rated higher than PG13. If you went to a movie theater at any point last year, it’s likely that you were surrounded by kids and families—an increasingly important demographic for theaters. What does that shift mean for production companies whose bread and butter is making dramas and comedies for adults? That’s the question LA-based Miramax faced recently.
“If we’re going to continue to be a player in the theatrical space, we have to make family films and animated films just to be a part of the conversation,” says Michael Lachance, the head of Miramax’s newly created family and animation division. “And if you’re not in the family and animation space then you’re basically left to television, SVOD and streaming.”
The 40-year-old prodco opened the division earlier this month with the intent to make feature animation, TV animation, live-action features and live-action-hybrid films. The company, owned by beIN Media group and led by CEO Bill Block, has more than 700 films and TV series under its belt, though few fall into that family and kids category.
Miramax plans to make two movies a years, and will eventually dive into animated TV series. It brought in Lachance, who has more than 20 years in the business, to steer the venture.
He brings with him a background in family and kids, having worked at Sony Pictures Animation on franchises such as Hotel Transylvania, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and the Smurfs, and at DreamWorks Animation where he conceived the original idea for the animated Kung Fu Panda IP. He also led development on Madagascar, Shark Tale, Monsters vs. Aliens and two Shrek films.
“[At Miramax] I’ll be playing more of an oversight role,” he says. “My hope is to have so many projects that I won’t have time to spend my days writing on one or two projects. And my intention is to create a space for writers and directors and artists to do their thing and step back to give them the creative space that they need to make something really terrific.”
Since he started six weeks ago with a completely blank slate, Lachance has spent the first month-and-a-half meeting with directors, writers and producers trying to find projects that can fill the space. What he is looking for comes down to a great concept, great characters and filmmakers who will sign on to work with Miramax and make those great projects.
The company will begin its slate with films in the US$50 million-or-less range, he says. “I think that the cost of animation has come way down. There are so many vendors out there who are making fantastic films and are doing terrific animation that you don’t necessarily have to spend what you had to spend 20 years ago to make a great animated film.”
His first challenge is inventory. To help get the stories off the ground quickly, Lachance is looking for scripts that are already in good shape and can go into production quickly. However, most have already been snapped up by other studios that have been in the category for longer, he says. What’s more, while franchises and strong brands are a more sure-fire way to get butts in seats, like well honed scripts most have already been snapped up by other production companies and studios.
“The first couple of weeks was just me reaching out to people to let them know that we were doing that now because that wasn’t something that Miramax was known for in the past,” says Lachance.
Miramax’s founders may also present a challenge for the fledgling division. The American entertainment company was founded in 1979 by brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, before being acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 1993. They both left the company in 2005. It was then sold in 2010 to Filmyard Holdings, and transfer ownership to beIN in 2016. No one has brought up the Weinsteins, or all of the assault allegations following Harvey, in any of his meetings thus far, says Lachance.
“I think that all of the people that I’ve talked to in the business are savvy enough to know that whatever people were part of this company in the past, haven’t been part of this company for a very long time,” says Lachance. “I haven’t encountered any resistance to working with us.”
Complicating all of these acquisitions, is that right now Lachance is going it alone. He says the prospect of building a division from the ground up that’s entirely what he wants and drives is exciting. But he will at some point need to start hiring on some production and development executives, hopefully later this year.
Despite these hurdles, he has managed to pick up one new project though. Miramax acquired the film rights to Lauren Iungerich’s screenplay I Won’t Be Home For Christmas earlier this week. Following sixteen-year-old Grace whose plans for the holidays are derailed when her boyfriend breaks up with her, production is slated to begin in June. Lachance is targeting a speedy turn around and hopes to see the movie in theaters around Christmas this year.
Also on the docket to consider this year is licensing. Miramax may be new to the kid space, but Lachance isn’t, and he knows that if you’re going to get into the kid-game you need to be thinking about consumer products as well. He has no plans to bring those operations in-house, saying that he’s begun having conversations with third-party licensing companies and agencies to help build out those programs.
Everything is in place now for Miramax to stick around in the kids space, it just needs to release some content, and hope it’s a hit. It didn’t really have a choice though, notes Lachance, kids is taking over.
“If you’re not in this space right now and you’re a studio or production company, you’re missing out because that’s what people want to see,” says Lachance.