When Ted Turner presents Robert Shaye with the Independent Feature Project’s Gotham Award for Lifetime Achievement on Sept. 19 in New York, the prize will crown Shaye’s nearly 30 years in the trenches of low-budget indie filmmaking.
Since founding New Line Cinema out of his Greenwich Village pad in 1967 – distributing cult pics such as “Reefer Madness” on college campuses – Shaye has blazed a trail as a stalwart and enduring producer and distributor. “Robert Shaye is the quintessential independent – doggedly committed to his vision and an incredible risk-taker,” says Catherine Tait, IFP’s executive director.
The Independent Feature Project, founded in 1979, is the nation’s largest indie filmmakers association, with chapters in Los Angeles, Chicago, Minnesota and Miami.
Since 1990, the IFP’s Gotham Awards have honored producers, directors, actors, writers, agents and below-the-line personnel with a splashy fundraising event for the New York organization. (Not to be confused with the IFP West’s Spirit Awards, given each March.) The Gothams are part of this week’s Independent Feature Film Market, a magnet to producers and distributors in the indie film biz.
‘We created the awards five years ago, at a time when production in New York was down, to draw attention to New York as a unique source of independent filmmaking talent,” Tait says.
“Bob Shaye’s company has been an incredibly important employer here – he helped keep business here at a hard time. Now, there’s an incredible renaissance in film production in New York.” Tait also notes that Fine Line, New Line’s arthouse arm since 1990, “has shown an idiosyncratic cinematic vision and has supported the IFP.” The Gothams are geared toward the promotion of New York as a filmmaking center. Past recipients of the IFP’s Gotham for Lifetime Achievement symbolize the industry’s debt to these quintessential New Yorkers.
The first winner, Irwin Young, chairman of DuArt Film Labs, nurtured scores of indie filmmakers with film processing deals. The next Lifetime awardee was Arthur Krim. As head of United Artists and Orion, Krim was a defender of cinematic quality and invaluable to the careers of helmers Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. Scorsese was lauded in 1993. The NYU film school grad has been a role model for a whole generation of young filmmakers, as well as a tireless proponent of film preservation.
Last year’s recipient, Sam Cohn, “was an agent who allowed the theater and film communities to come together in New York through his relationships with directors and writers such as Woody Allen, Louis Malle, Mike Nichols and Nora Ephron,” says Tait.
As this year’s Lifetime winner, Shaye has shown how to make indie production and distribution profitable over the long haul. As countless other indie film companies have come and gone, Shaye has stuck it out with a disciplined formula he calls “prudent aggression.” New Line’s perennially low budgets, shrewd deal-making and eclectic film slates, from “Nightmare on Elm Street” to “The Mask,” ultimately proved irresistible for a ’90s-style corporate suitor like Turner.
And now that Turner’s wealth has given Shaye room to maneuver – rewarding him for decades of careful planning and methodical growth – New Line’s founder and chairman can proceed with what he has always envisioned: a major film studio that produces and distributes worldwide a full spectrum of movies with a range of budgets. Michael Lynne, New Line’s president and chairman of this week’s Gothams along with Turner, says Shaye “has always had an independent spirit and an informal style” since the two were Columbia Law School classmates in the early 1960s.
“Bob’s always been a free spirit, a little bit of a rebel. He has always been in touch with the boyish element inside him, even today,” Lynne says.
Lynne claims that even with the bigger budgeted, star-driven projects New Line is getting into, New Line’s tried and true modus operandi is unlikely to change.
“It’s all about understanding the value of money,” Lynne explains. “This business is difficult enough – New Line has to honor the procedures and methods that got us here.”