Disney said to be in deal to sell Miramax to Ron Tutor group

Ending more than six months of speculation over the fate of the pioneering independent film label, Walt Disney Co. has reached an agreement in principle to sell Miramax Films to an investor group led by construction executive Ron Tutor for about $650 million, according to people close to the situation.

The new owners of Miramax would include Tutor and Los Angeles-based private-equity firm Colony Capital, along with minority investors James Robinson, the chief executive of film production and financing company Morgan Creek Productions, and an unidentified investor group from the Middle East.

They would invest $300 million in cash, financing the remainder with debt.

The newly reconstituted Miramax would distribute a library of 611 movies, including prestige titles such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love,” along with genre pictures like “Scream.” In addition, it is expected to produce several new movies annually.

It’s unclear whether several unreleased Miramax movies, including “The Switch,” starring Jennifer Aniston, would be part of the transaction or remain at Disney.

In January, Disney decided it wanted to get out of the independent film business to focus on titles with blockbuster potential that could be used in multiple media including theme parks and Internet games. The company laid off 80 employees and put Miramax up for sale, drawing several bidders including the label’s co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who came close to reclaiming it in May as part of an offer made with supermarket magnate Ron Burkle.

After the Burkle-Weinstein talks collapsed, Tutor, who had previously made an offer, emerged as the lead candidate and entered exclusive talks with Disney in June. More recently, Colony and Robinson joined as partners.

Colony principal Richard Nanula, a former chief financial officer at Disney, is expected to oversee the new Miramax on behalf of its new owners, who would hire an experienced movie executive to handle day-to-day operations, including production and domestic distribution. Morgan Creek is likely to handle overseas distribution of Miramax’s movies.

Miramax has been one of several prime Hollywood assets seeking a new owner or financing this year, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Overture Films. Film libraries have declined significantly in value over the last several years as a result of falling DVD sales and uncertainty over the future of digital distribution.

Tutor and his partners apparently see Miramax as a bargain in the current environment and also believe there are opportunities in the low-budget “prestige” movie market as competing studios’ labels like Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent Pictures have shut down.

Troubled film financier David Bergstein, who has been advising Tutor, would not work for the new Miramax, said people familiar with the matter.

If all goes smoothly, the deal is expected to close by July 28, said a person familiar with the matter.