Michael Moore's new film gets blocked by Disney

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Michael Moore's new film gets blocked by Disney

Postby BlueChair » Wed May 05, 2004 9:25 am

Love him or hate him, this is ridiculous:

Moore: Disney blocking film about Bush
Filmmaker makes charges on his Web site

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore said the Walt Disney Company has blocked distribution of his new film critical of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The film -- which links Bush with powerful Saudi families, including that of Osama bin Laden -- is set to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in France later this month.

In a letter posted on his Web site Wednesday, Moore said, "Yesterday I was told that Disney, the studio that owns Miramax, has officially decided to prohibit our producer, Miramax, from distributing my new film, 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'

"The reason? According to today's edition of The New York Times, it might 'endanger' millions of dollars of tax breaks Disney receives from the state of Florida because the film will 'anger' the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush."

The New York Times and Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety said in their Wednesday editions that Disney had moved to prevent its Miramax Films unit from distributing "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The Times quoted a Miramax spokesman as saying that the company was "discussing the issue with Disney. We're looking at all of our options and look forward to resolving this amicably."

But the paper said Disney isn't willing to budge on the issue.

"We advised both (Moore's) agent and Miramax in May of 2003 that the film would not be distributed by Miramax," said Zenia Mucha, a company spokeswoman.

Officials from Miramax and Disney were not immediately available for comment Wednesday morning.

The Disney edict could herald the bloodiest political battle yet between Miramax's feisty co-chairman Harvey Weinstein and Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who oversaw the purchase of Miramax a decade ago, Daily Variety said.

Rumors had been circulating of a July release date in North America, but the film does not appear on Miramax's summer schedule, the paper said.

Independent stock analyst Dennis McAlpine said there has always been a tension between Miramax and Disney since the media conglomerate bought the independent studio in 1993.

"They've done their own thing for the most part. Disney has been content to leave them alone and give them money and pull in all the Academy Awards," said McAlpine.

McAlpine said that he could see Miramax releasing the film under a separate label, as it has done with some controversial films in the past. The controversy and attention the battle is getting will help draw viewers to the film, he said.

Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, told the Times that Eisner asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax.

Emanuel said Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, is governor.

The Times reported that Disney executives denied that allegation. One executive told the paper it did not want to be seen taking sides in the election and risk alienating customers of different political views.

"It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle," said the executive, who was not identified by the paper.

But Moore said he believed the protection of tax cuts was the reason for the media conglomerate's position, and that he has been fighting to keep the project alive for more than a year.

"The whole story behind this (and other attempts) to kill our movie will be told in more detail as the days and weeks go on," Moore said on his Web site.

"For nearly a year, this struggle has been a lesson in just how difficult it is in this country to create a piece of art that might upset those in charge (well, OK, sorry -- it WILL upset them ... big time. Did I mention it's a comedy?).

"All I can say is, thank God for Harvey Weinstein (Miramax founder) and Miramax who have stood by me during the entire production of this movie.

"I will tell you this: Some people may be afraid of this movie because of what it will show. But there's nothing they can do about it now because it's done, it's awesome, and if I have anything to say about it, you'll see it this summer -- because, after all, it is a free country."

Moore won an Oscar for best documentary feature at last year's Academy Awards for his film "Bowling for Columbine." His acceptance speech, in which he lit into Bush, the 2000 election and the Iraq war, earned applause as well as boos.

CNN/Money contributed to this report.
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Postby crash8_durham » Wed May 05, 2004 1:00 pm

That is ridiculous. I still can't stand Moore though. Or, for that matter, any of the other entertainers who use their stage to share their politics. I like Tim Robbins but if he starts on his political soap box I have to turn him off. They have the right of free speech and can do it if they want but I am just personally sick of it all.

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Postby BlueChair » Wed May 05, 2004 9:11 pm

The bottom line is art has always been a way of expressing personal views, whether you agree with them or not. To pull out of distribution becuase you are scared that a politician will stop giving you lots of money is foolish.
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Postby seanpointblank » Thu May 06, 2004 3:12 am

Disney isn't an artist, it's a corporation whose key interest is profit. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

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Postby Boy With A Problem » Thu May 06, 2004 11:24 am

The film will get distributed and you can't buy the kind of publicity this is generating.

That being said, Disney surely coulndn't have been surprised by the content of the film. They should have pulled out earlier (is there a Big Ern McKrackin joke in that last sentence?)
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Postby miss buenos aires » Thu May 06, 2004 11:47 am

But isn't it a little unsettling that Disney will lose sweetheart tax deals in Florida if it distributes a film critical of that state's governor's brother? Is there some patently obvious reason for this that I'm missing?

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Postby alexv » Thu May 06, 2004 12:34 pm

I think the highlighted language in Blue Chair's original post is creating some confusion here. The New York Times did not say that the reason for Disney not distributing the movie was the possible loss of tax breaks in Florida. That is an assertion made by Moore and by his agent, and has been denied by Disney. The reason given by Disney for not releasing the movie is that they don't want to take sides in the upcoming election. Which side is telling the truth? I sure as hell don't know, but I wouldn't accept Moore's statement as gospel on this issue. He has an ax to grind.

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Postby El Vez » Sat May 22, 2004 1:59 pm

It is now the first documentary since Jacques Cousteau's The Silent World (way back in 1956) to win the prestigious Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

(In full Laugh-In mode) Very interesting.

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Postby alexv » Tue May 03, 2005 1:29 pm

My computer skills are shitty, so I am reuscitating an old thread, and pasting the text of an article in today's Slate on-line magazine which does a summary of the whole saga from almost a couple of years ago about Michael Moore, Disney, and whether Disney refused to release the movie in order not to endanger tax breaks in Florida. It looks as if both Moore and Disney (and the Weinstein brothers) made out like bandits and the whole "censorship" angle was just another brilliant publicity stunt by Moore. Slate, by the way, is not a conservative mag.

[b]Mo' money?

Michael Moore had a problem. By the end of April 2004, he'd finished making Fahrenheit 9/11 but had no American distributor. Mel Gibson's Icon Productions rejected the project back in April 2003. (Moore claims he had a signed contract before Gibson acquiesced to White House pressure. Icon executives deny any such contract existed.) Moore then went to Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. Weinstein agreed to back the movie and signed a contract with Moore to acquire the rights. But in order to distribute the movie, Weinstein still needed the approval of his superiors at Disney. Although he does not discuss this publicly, Weinstein's contract explicitly prohibits Miramax, a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney, from distributing any film that's vetoed by the Disney CEO. When then-CEO Michael Eisner exercised his veto in May 2003, Miramax, though it still held the rights to the film, could not distribute Fahrenheit 9/11.

By the time Eisner told Weinstein of his decision, the Miramax head had already given Moore $6 million from Miramax's loan account. Weinstein agreed that this advance was to be "bridge financing" that he would recover when he sold off the film's distribution rights. To make sure there was no misunderstanding, Disney's Senior Executive Vice President Peter Murphy, who was also at the meeting, wrote Weinstein a letter on May 12, 2003, affirming that this money was "bridge financing" and that Weinstein had agreed to dispose of Miramax's interest in the film.

For Moore, this $6 million in "bridge financing" was more than enough to make Fahrenheit 9/11. He acquired most of the footage from television film libraries at little, if any, cost and did not pay any of the on-camera talent (except for himself). On April 13, 2004, after Weinstein saw a rough cut, he went back to Eisner and asked him to reconsider his year-old decision not to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11. After getting a report on the content, which included footage from such sources as Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television, Eisner saw no reason to change his position. He again declared that Disney wouldn't have anything to do with the movie.

Continue Article



With the presidential election heating up, Moore needed to get his movie into theaters. Although Weinstein had told Eisner and Murphy that he planned to sell the film's distribution rights after it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, Moore had a more expedient strategem. On the Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD, Moore says he resolved to get the film seen in America "by hook or by crook." His hook was censorship.

On May 5, 2004, the New York Times ran a front-page article headlined "Disney Is Blocking Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush." The story included the sensational charge that Eisner "expressed particular concern that [choosing to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11] would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor." The source for this allegation was Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel. Two days later, Moore claimed on his Web site that Disney's board of directors rejected Fahrenheit 9/11 "last week." In fact, the Disney board had not made such a decision in 2004—the project had been vetoed in 2003.

Moore's excursion from reality proved a boon at Cannes. On May 22, 2004, the Cannes jury defied putative efforts to censor Moore by awarding Fahrenheit 9/11 the prestigious Palme d'Or. Moore now had a golden palm in his hand and the media at his feet—with more free publicity than any Hollywood studio could afford to buy, Fahrenheit 9/11 now stood to rake in a fortune. And Disney, which still controlled the movie's rights through its subsidiary Miramax, now got to decide who was going to profit from it.

Disney had some experience dealing with Miramax's hot potatoes. Rather than distributing the controversial Kids and Dogma, Disney allowed Miramax founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein to buy the films back and set up short-lived companies to distribute them. But those potatoes were as small as they were hot. In the case of Fahrenheit 9/11, Eisner wasn't about to let the windfall escape into the Weinstein brothers' pockets. Nor could Disney take the PR hit that would result from backtracking and distributing the movie itself.

Eisner's solution: Generate the illusion of outside distribution while orchestrating a deal that allowed Disney to reap most of the profits. Here's how the dazzling deal worked. On paper, the Weinstein brothers bought the rights to Fahrenheit 9/11 from Miramax. The Weinsteins then transferred the rights to a corporate front called Fellowship Adventure Group. In turn, that company outsourced the documentary's theatrical distribution rights (principally to Lions Gate Films, IFC Films, and Alliance Atlantis Vivafilms) and video distribution rights (to Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment).

Because of the buzz and prestige attached to Fahrenheit 9/11, Harvey Weinstein extracted extremely favorable terms from these distributors, about one-third of what distributors typically charge. Their cut amounted to slightly more than 12 percent of the total they collected from the theaters. As a result, Fahrenheit 9/11's net receipts—what remains after the distributors deduct their percentage and their out-of-pocket expenses (mounting an ad campaign, making prints, dubbing the film)—would be much higher than those of a typical Hollywood film.

Fahrenheit 9/11, now an event, took in more than $228 million in ticket sales worldwide, a record for a documentary, and sold 3 million DVDs, which brought in another $30 million in royalties. After the theaters took their share of the movie's gross (roughly 50 percent) and distributors deducted the marketing expenses (including prints, advertising, dubbing, and custom clearance) and took their own cut, the net receipts returned to Disney were $78 million.

Disney now had to pay Michael Moore's profit participation. Under normal circumstances, documentaries rarely, if ever, make profits (especially if distributors charge the usual 33 percent fee). So, when Miramax made the deal for Fahrenheit 9/11, it allowed Moore a generous profit participation—which turned out to be 27 percent of the film's net receipts. Disney, in honoring this deal, paid Moore a stunning $21 million. Moore never disclosed the amount of his profit participation. When asked about it, the proletarian Moore joked to reporters on a conference call, "I don't read the contracts."

What of Disney? After repaying itself $11 million for acquisition costs, it booked a $46 million net profit, which Eisner split between two subsidiaries, the Disney Foundation and Miramax. While it was far less than Disney made on children's fare such as Finding Nemo, it was not a bad outcome. The Weinstein brothers also made a multimillion-dollar profit. They had a deal with Disney that contractually entitled them to a bonus of between 30 percent and 40 percent of the net profits on any film that they produced—in this case, that came out to about $8 million per brother. (The Weinsteins are now in the process of leaving Miramax.) But Michael Moore had perhaps the happiest ending of all. Not only had he made $21 million, he already had a sequel in preproduction—Fahrenheit 9/11 ½.[/b]

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Postby bobster » Tue May 03, 2005 2:42 pm

Alex --

Haven't read it all yet, but thanks for posting this...but who's the writer?

I agree that Slate is not a conservative magazine (their main bias I would describe as "snark"), but entertainment journalism can be prone to other influences more insidious than mere political slant, so it's good to know exactly who's saying this. (For example, the L.A. Weekly's entertainment reporter is Nikki Finke -- I trust most of their writers, I suppose largely because their [clearly stated] biases are mostly pretty to close to my own, but I totally distrust everything she writes, which is rarely political, because I sense it's mostly based on her personal vendettas/affections.)
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Postby alexv » Tue May 03, 2005 3:00 pm

Sorry, Bobster, the name of the author is Edward J. Epstein, and Slate notes that he is the author of "The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood".

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