Warner Bros. shape shifts

Robinov mulls new paradigm for WB, New Line

While Time Warner topper Jeff Bewkes made the call to fold New Line Cinema into the Warner Bros. studio, it’s up to Warner prexy Jeff Robinov, with guidance from his bosses Barry Meyer and Alan Horn, to figure out how to put the pieces of the new studio paradigm together.

Warners will release the streamlined New Line’s slate throughout the world, but many questions remain unanswered. Who will stay, and who will go? What pictures will ultimately make it to the slate, and when will they be released? Who will run what?

One Warners exec simply asked, “What is it, and how big is it?”

This week, Robinov rolled up his sleeves and started to do his homework. On Tuesday, Robinov and his team screened the comedy sequel “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo,” which is scheduled to open April 28, and they will soon see the “Sex and the City” movie, which is set to bow on May 30. New Line’s next release after that is “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D,” currently slotted for July 11.

Also on Robinov’s agenda Tuesday was a preliminary meeting with Picturehouse chief Bob Berney. Studio specialty division Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse, which is co-owned by New Line and HBO Films, are likely to merge.

Based in Burbank, WIP has not scored any hits since May 2006, when Warner hotshot production exec Polly Cohen replaced outgoing topper Mark Gill, who sought more autonomy from Robinov.

While New York-based Picturehouse had a rough run at the 2007 box office, and HBO Films withdrew from the partnership after “Rocket Science” flopped, Berney is an experienced indie distributor with many hits behind him, from Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and the sleeper comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” to “Y tu mama tambien” and the Oscar-winning “Monster” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” On Feb. 24, Berney’s company notched two more Oscar wins, for the French-language hit “La Vie en rose.”

Whatever Robinov chooses to do, it will be up to Cohen and Berney to decide if they can live with it.

Speculation is rife about who will run the cut-back version of New Line. In the short term, Robinov may want to hang on to New Line production prexy Emmerich, with whom he will meet this week, if only to help Robinov get a handle on what’s in the development and production pipeline. But many in Hollywood expect Emmerich to exit eventually.

Speculation on replacement candidates centers on New Line chief operating officer Richard Brener and rising Robinov acolyte Greg Silverman.

Needless to say, producers, filmmakers, screenwriters and talent and agents connected with New Line projects are on tenterhooks as they wait to hear the fate of their films. “It’s sad for everybody,” said one former New Line production executive now at another studio. “It’s bad for the town. It’s one less buyer, 50% of the output and one less indie voice in a marketplace that doesn’t have a lot of them,” the exec added.

“The guillotine has been falling for two years,” said ICM literary agent Ron Bernstein, who has two projects at New Line. “It’s not a surprise to anyone; they’re looking to cut costs. But the reality of it is surprising. Everybody is terrified.”