Output is down, but 'Hobbit' is still on tap

The staff is 20% of its former roster, and its planned output is six films a year (about half its usual lineup). But beyond that, it’s easier to say what New Line isn’t than what it is.

Warner Bros. prexy Alan Horn says he wants New Line president Toby Emmerich and production prexy Richard Brener to do what they want, with Horn and Warner Pictures Group prez Jeff Robinov having ultimate greenlight authority.

“There’s no mandate to make a particular kind of movie,” Horn states. “We’re not going to wind up bidding against each other across the table. And New Line will not just be doing genre, since that’s a space filled pretty well by Lionsgate, Screen Gems and Dark Castle.”

There are also the two “Hobbit” films and a possible sequel to “The Golden Compass.” The question is how much Warner Bros. will get involved in those tentpoles. “The Hobbit” has Guillermo Del Toro prepping to direct with the expectation that the films will be ready for release for Christmas 2011 and 2012 as New Line’s next tentpoles.

And gone is the New Line financing scheme, in which foreign presales provided much of the budget for films. The company funded big projects like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Golden Compass” by preselling overseas rights to a network of distribs, who thus shared the rewards and the risks. “Compass” and “Sex and the City” are recent reminders of the downside of such a strategy, as they combined for $500 million overseas — money that won’t make it back to Warners (except for German-speaking markets).

As for defining a New Line style of film, that’s hard. There are possible sequels to “Wedding Crashers” and “Sex and the City.” Matthew McConaughey’s comedy “The Grackle” is a go movie due to his pay-or-play deal; vidgame adaptation “Gears of War” has Len Wiseman signed to direct; the exorcism drama “The Rite” could start shooting by the end of the year; remakes of “Escape From New York,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Orphanage” and “Torrente” are in development, along with a Garry Marshall project called “Valentine’s Day.”

“Richard Brener and I keep saying ‘Is it one of the six?’ ” Emmerich notes. “So we are much pickier now. The bar is much higher than it was when we had a dozen per year.’

Horn says Emmerich and Brener — both vets of more than a decade at New Line — will capitalize on their unique relationships. “There’s no budget number required,” he adds. “They’ll be doing about six per year, though the number may go from four to seven; it’s not going to be 10.”

New Line has completed close to a dozen pics that will roll out under the Warner Bros. logo over the next year, starting with “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in July. They include a new “Friday the 13th (due out Feb. 13) “Inkheart”; “My Sister’s Keeper,” with Cameron Diaz; “Time Travelers Wife,” with Rachel McAdams; and several midpriced comedies — “He’s Just Not That Into You” with Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Connolly; “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” with McConaughey and Jennifer Garner; and “Four Christmases” with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.

Following a colorful 40-year run, founders Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne have moved into indie production, and most of the company’s 600 staffers made their exit last week, with the remaining staff split between the Warners lot and New Line’s West Hollywood offices.

Emmerich acknowledges that seeing the old New Line unravel has been very tough to watch. “People having to leave — that’s been really difficult,” he admits. “There’s nothing good to say about it.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more