Though Russell Schwartz oversees a team of 60 and is responsible for marketing everything from “The Lord of the Rings” to “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” he still believes God is in the details. “The wins are in the little areas,” he says. “How do you change a TV campaign? How do you create awareness for the young teen audience that doesn’t really track?…How do you rely on your gut?”
Indeed, Schwartz is at a company where such attention to detail — and gut instinct — is paying off. Since his arrival at New Line in 2001, he’s launched “Elf,” “About Schmidt” and “I Am Sam,” among many others, and the company will soon release “After the Sunset,” an action caper starring Salma Hayek, and “Raise Your Voice,” which stars Hilary Duff. The secret to combining such disparate projects into a fairly consistent formula for success? He says, “It’s about the passion I’ve had for these movies.”
Schwartz started out in New York, where he ran the repertory Regency theater for five years. “I played nothing but old Hollywood movies and watching them (there) was a very big part of my education,” he says.
When Schwartz transitioned to Hollywood, he worked as executive VP for Miramax beginning in 1989. In 1992, he was appointed president of Gramercy Pictures before it morphed into USA Films, where he held the same title.
Tom Pollock, who was chairman of Universal Pictures when he hired Schwartz to head Gramercy, calls the New Line executive “extremely smart, very passionate and totally knowledgeable about movies.”
Pollock adds that Schwartz “was picking the movies, but from a marketing standpoint; he had to have the knowledge of what was good and what could sell.”
Under Schwartz’s guidance, “Traffic,” the jewel in USA’s crown, managed to nab four Oscars, including the director honor for Steven Soderbergh, who was competing against himself for “Erin Brockovich.”
New Line’s Christina Kounelias, who worked with Schwartz in the early days when they both mounted successful Oscar campaigns for Miramax’s “My Left Foot” and “Cinema Paradiso,” says Russell “has a rare combinations of being both creative and analytical.”
Kounelias, now exec VP of publicity and promotion for New Line, adds that on the company’s “Lord of the Rings” campaign, Schwartz was able to “break down an extremely complex film and subject matter into relatable themes that resonated with moviegoers. The story and material became inviting, not intimidating. We managed to walk the line of positioning the trilogy as an epic, but with a single, emotional storyline.”
Despite his achievements, Schwartz says one of his favorite parts of the job is out of his hands: When art and life — or culture — intersect. He cites the recent release “The Notebook,” a love story in which one character has Alzheimer’s, coinciding with Ronald Reagan’s death and Nancy Reagan’s heartbreak. “All of a sudden, the message of the movie becomes so much more profound,” he says.
But what about his own contributions to marketing? “To me, it really is all about empowering the staff,” Schwartz says. “That might sound modest, but look, I still take credit for it all,” he adds with a smile.
Steve Chagollan contributed to this report.