New Line aims high, scores low

HIGH POINTS: New Line went after the gold with pics like “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and “In Love and War.” But it settled for bronze with solid returns on “Set it Off,” a pic that hearkened back to the company’s earlier days, when it made features on the cheap and watched them rake in the cash. “Set it Off,” directed by F. Gary Gray, was budgeted under $ 10 million and grossed $ 34

million.

The Martin Lawrence starrer “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” was the only solid showing from the ill-fated Savoy Pictures deal, which provided New Line with domestic and some international rights to five of the now-defunct company’s pics. “Thin Line” grossed $ 34.8 million and was squeezed out at the end of the

year by what has quickly turned into New Line’s biggest hit, the John Travolta starrer “Michael, which grossed $ 35 million by the end of the year.

LOW POINTS: “Long Kiss” was probably the most disappointing of New Line’s 1996 crop. The Renny Harlin-directed, Geena Davis-starring femme actioner cost

nearly $ 70 million, plus an additional $ 25 million to $ 30 million in marketing. New Line had its hopes high, but auds have only paid $ 32.8 million so far for the pleasure of watching Davis blow things up real good. Now the

studio is counting on foreign returns, but it wasn’t the blockbuster New Line expected.

The studio was plagued by a number of misfit movies and slack box office showings, including “The Island of Dr. Moreau” ($ 27.6 million), “Last Man Standing” ($ 18.1 million), “Heaven’s Prisoners” ($ 5 million, another Savoy

carryover) and “Feeling Minnesota” ($ 3.1 million).

THE ONCE AND FUTURE PLAN?: The one-time indie geared itself up over the last two years to put out big-budget star turns. So far, they haven’t exactly been

turning out. But marketing and distribution president Mitch Goldman says they’ll continue in that direction. “The worst you can say is that we stubbed our toe with some of the bigger ones,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t make new ones. We will continue to do all kinds of pictures, as we always have.”

To be sure, New Line still has plans for such expensive fare as the remake of “The Women,” starring Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts, and for star-driven vehicles like “Wag the Dog,” with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

New Line has been on the block ever since it was officially acquired by Time Warner as part of the Turner Broadcasting System marriage. Without a big-pocketed investor, the indie may well rely on its tried-and-true niche pics to continue.

MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION CONFUSION: Marketing and distribution at New Line

was for a long time under the reign of Mitch Goldman. When Chris Pula joined the company four years ago, he was given command of marketing, but the division

still reported to Goldman. Last year, New Line chairman Robert Shaye granted the marketing purview to Pula, separated the two divisions, and started a simmering

dispute between the two men.

In December, Pula ankled New Line to go to Warner Bros. to run its creative marketing side, and Goldman was given back the marketing team. “We’ve all learned from the experience, and we’re not going to do it again,” says Goldman.

“It’s just part of the curve. Everybody has a bad year.”

TURNER PICTURE: Turner Pictures, which was supposed to be Ted Turner’s pride and joy, was dismantled in the wake of the Time Warner/Turner Broadcasting

System merger. Turner, the man, decided that Turner, the feature company, didn’t need to exist. Despite a healthy development list under president of production Amy Pascal, its sole contribution was “Michael,” which opened on Christmas, went on to gross $ 27 million its opening five-day stanza and ended the year with $ 35 million.

When Turner, Castle Rock and New Line were all grouped under the TBS banner, New Line was supposed to be distribbing Turner Pics product. Now, most of what’s

left will be distribbed under the Warner Bros. flag.

FINE LINE SHINES: Fine Line Features, the arthouse division of New Line, struggled most of 1996 with minimal returns on its specialty fare. That all changed with “Shine,” the Aussie pic helmed by Scott Hicks that sparked a heated battle for its acquisition at Sundance between rivals Miramax and Fine Line. When the dust settled, Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein was left out in the

cold with the consolation prize of overseas rights, and red-hot when Fine Line came up with the pic domestically.

“Shine” is already jamming arthouses in Gotham and L.A. The recipient of a handful of Golden Globe nominations (star Geoffrey Rush has already racked many critics awards), “Shine” has Fine Line prexy Ruth Vitale planning on serious Oscar consideration. If that works out, the company wants to go wide with the pic and expects it to be a top-grossing specialty item.

RISING STARS: Mary Parent, VP of production, oversaw the studio breadwinner “Set it Off.” She has risen quickly at New Line, handling a number of development projects for the low-budget niche pics, including the upcoming “Woo,” starring Jada Pinkett, and “America’s Most Wanted,” with Keenen Ivory Wayans.

OUTLOOK FOR ’97: New Line doesn’t have any blockbusters planned, but is hoping that some of its mid-range fare will break out at the box office. Theodore Witcher’s “Love Jones,” Mike Myers’ “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” Jonathan Lynn’s “Trial and Error,” Brett Ratner’s “Money Talks,” Mike Figgis’ “One Night,” Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s “Woo” and Alex Proyas’ “Dark City” are all possibilities. “Wag the Dog” may be ready for Christmas 1997, but at this point it’s not definite.

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