Downsized distributor keeps busy under WB

It’s a true Hollywood scenario: Warner Bros. absorbs New Line. Warner Bros. fires most of New Line staff, including its co-founders, Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne. Warner Bros. embraces a new New Line with one-tenth the staff making virtually the same number of movies.

New Line in its present guise is arguably one of the most important indies in the film business, except it’s not an indie. Instead, it’s a wholly owned arm of the Warner Bros. studio with an unusual mandate.

It doesn’t focus on genre films like Screen Gems or on specialty films like Searchlight. Indeed it doesn’t seem to have a focus at all, which seems OK with both the studio and with its inventive, hyper-active new boss, Toby Emmerich.

New Line’s eclectic slate includes blockbusters (shooting two “Hobbit” films back to back) classic horrors (“Friday the 13th,” “The Nightmare on Elm Street”), romantic comedies (“He’s Just Not That Into You”) and raunchy edginess (“Harold and Kumar 3″ in the works).

In a bit of irony given its downsizing, the minimajor racked up a solid 2008 with “Sex and the City,” “Journey 3D,” “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo” and “Four Christmases.”

Another romantic comedy, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” opens Feb. 6 and looks likely to score respectably with tracking showing high interest among female patrons.

New Line’s autonomy ended with a sale to Turner in 1994. Two years later, Turner merged with Time Warner, and New Line was left to its own devices until February, 2008, when it became a subsidiary of Warner Bros. and its staff was reduced from 600 to 40.

Emmerich is pulling the levers of the machine invented by Shaye and Lynne, without the autonomy enjoyed by the founders but with the benefit of Warners’ massive marketing and distribution organization. By all accounts, Emmerich has stayed on an even keel with Warner Bros., where Alan Horn and Jeff Robinov have greenlight authority.

“Our mission hasn’t really changed much over the past year, which is very helpful,” Emmerich says. “Alan, Jeff and I are in agreement over priorities.”

Emmerich is mostly occupied these days with pulling together the rest of the 2010 slate, which he hopes will be led by a “Sex and the City” sequel and vidgame adaptation “Gears of War,” with Len Wiseman directing.

New Line’s output of six films a year makes it among the single largest contributors to the Warner pipeline, which features such heavyweights as David Heyman, Legendary Pictures, Joel Silver and Village Roadshow.

Horn says Emmerich deserves the credit for making New Line work in its new incarnation without Shaye and Lynne.

“Not to take anything away from Bob and Michael, who had their own style and did a great job,” Horn adds. “I think that Toby’s very ambitious about what he wants to get done but he’s not ego driven at all. This has been a painful transition for us all but I think he’s really successfully assimilated.”

With his rise through the ranks, from a music exec to Shaye’s protege, Emmerich’s intensity stands out among the town’s execs. His late father Andre was a renowned art dealer in New York and his brother Noah is an accomplished thespian/producer.

Spyglass president Jon Glickman, who recently produced “Four Christmases” with Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum for New Line, says Emmerich is a pragmatist above all.

“He doesn’t need to be the guy who always has the solution,” Glickman notes. “Movies have a lot of moving parts and he’s very inclusive in terms of how he operates. ”

New Line’s remaining completed films — greenlit while Shaye was still in charge — include the just-opened “Inkheart,” a new “Friday the 13th (due out Feb. 13), “My Sister’s Keeper,” with Cameron Diaz; “17 Again” with Zac Efron, “Time Traveler’s Wife” with Rachel McAdams and “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” with Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner. Bestseller adaptation “Time Traveler’s” is due out around February 2010 and is the final New Line title that pre-sold foreign territories.

Under the auspices of Warners, New Line has focused on its core strength developing mainstream material with an edge at sensible prices — mostly comedies, horror, musicals and the occasional tentpole. The key difference is that new projects lack the traditional New Line financing scheme, in which foreign presales provided much of the budget.

Emmerich says one advantage has been the might of Warners’ marketing machine, headed by Sue Kroll. “The scale and power of Warners has been a big help, and Sue is remarkable in how she’s in there to win, not to lose.”

Emmerich believes that New Line is probably closest in approach to Fox 2000, due to the similarities in output and mainstream-type titles.

Other titles that are most likely to be greenlit this year include an English language remake of Spanish horror film “The Orphanage” with Guillermo Del Toro producing and a high-profile female lead; “Going the Distance,” an R rated romantic comedy about the problems of long-distance love; Matthew McConaughey’s comedy “The Grackle,” with David O. Russell directing; “Harold and Kumar 3,” with Mandate producing; the workplace comedy “Horrible Bosses” with Frank Oz directing; and a spinoff of “He’s Just Not That Into You,” based on the advice book “How to be Single” by Liz Dicillo with Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films producing.

Others in the pipeline include the fantasy adventure “Jack the Giant Killer” with DJ Caruso directing and Neal Moritz producing; “The Rite,” an exorcism story based on actual events, produced by ContraFilm; the adaptation of the musical “Rock of Ages,” replete with 1980s rock tunes; and a 25th anniversary reboot of “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

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