New Line marketing chief Russell Schwartz is ankling the mini-major after more than six years in the post.
The departure, announced Monday, comes as New Line has improved its fortunes in recent weeks after two years of downbeat results. “Hairspray” is its most successful pic since 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” and New Line’s expected to lead the box office this weekend, when it opens “Rush Hour 3.”
Company indicated that Schwartz, who will leave at the end of the month, was departing on his own accord, but the ankling did not come as a huge surprise. He’d been rumored to be on the way out since last year.
Until “Hairspray” opened, New Line had recently chalked up undistinguished box office results on pics including “Snakes on a Plane,” “The Nativity Story,” “The New World,” “Fracture,” “The Last Mimzy,” “Hoot,” “The Number 23,” “Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” Last year, its top performer was “Final Destination 3” with $55 million.
Schwartz said Monday that he’d been in discussions with New Line co-toppers Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne and chief operating officer Rolf Mittweg about moving on because he’d accomplished all he could at the company.
“It was important to me that I oversee the launches of ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Rush Hour 3,’ two projects that are very dear to me,” Schwartz said. “Interestingly enough, ‘Rush Hour 2’ and ‘Rush Hour 3’ bookended my career here.”
Shaye said, “Russell has been a friend and colleague at New Line during stints over 30 years. He is a superb marketing executive, and I sincerely regret our parting. He will continue to succeed.”
Schwartz added that he’ll announce his plans shortly but noted that he will likely remain in showbiz. New Line did not disclose who will be replacing Schwartz as president of domestic theatrical marketing, but execs indicated Monday that they are expecting to tap a successor shortly.
That exec faces a formidable marketing challenge with New Line due to release its most expensive picture, fantasy-adventure “The Golden Compass,” in December. The pic, which carries a pricetag of more than $150 million, is based on the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman and directed by Chris Weitz.
New Line’s upcoming fall slate includes political thriller “Rendition,” crime thriller “Power and Glory,” actioner “Shoot ‘Em Up” and long-stalled comedy “Mr. Woodcock.” Its major 2008 projects include Will Ferrell basketball comedy “Semi-Pro,” “Harold and Kumar 2” and “Journey 3-D.”
The affable Schwartz came aboard at New Line a year before the launch of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. He told Daily Variety that his best memories of his tenure came from the surprisingly strong opening of the first in the series, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the King,” in late 2001.
“The profile of the trilogy was much lower at that point,” he noted. “We were forced to do a massive amount of education at that point about things like Frodo and Middle-earth.”
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” not only won the picture Oscar two years later; it also became the second highest worldwide grosser of all time after “Titanic” with more than $1.1 billion in combined international and domestic box office.
Other box office successes during his tenure included “Rush Hour 2,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Elf,” “Monster-in-Law” and “The Notebook.”
Before joining New Line, Schwartz served as president at USA Films, president of Gramercy Pictures and exec VP at Miramax.