Studio eyes production head for film unit

As Warner Bros. figures out how to fold New Line Cinema’s operations into the larger studio, insiders have been surprised to find WB brass aggressively courting New Line production prexy Toby Emmerich to run a scaled-down version of New Line.

WB is in talks with Emmerich to preside over a reconstituted New Line that would make six to eight pictures per year with budgets below $50 million. However, planned New Line pics “The Hobbit” and proposed sequels to “Wedding Crashers” and “Austin Powers” would exceed the $50 budget guideline. An existing exec staff of 15 will likely be pared to as few as four.

Observers believe Emmerich is likely to take the job. If so, he would steer a much tinier ship. Staffers have until late June to sign up for settlement packages that, among other things, provide up to three weeks’ pay for each year of employment (capped at 52 weeks).

WB wants to keep some execs who are being tempted to jump. Outgoing New Line toppers Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne have approached a few about coming with them to start a new company. Shaye and Lynne are still planning their next move.

Considering that producers with comparatively thin track records have been able to raise funds, the two toppers responsible for birthing “The Lord of the Rings” and many other hits will likely be able to secure financing.

While Emmerich presided over a couple of lean years at New Line and co-wrote the script for the Shaye-directed flop “The Last Mimzy,” WB execs recognize the value of Emmerich’s strong relationships and feel he would provide a level of comfort to talent with films in the can or in production.

He has a built-in cushion due to a pre-negotiated producing deal that’s part of his employment contract. The multiyear, first-dollar-gross pact is similar in structure to the one offered to his predecessor, Michael De Luca — who turned it down after he was fired in early 2001.

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